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Opinion: The cartoonist and the editor

November 12, 2013 in Comment, General, News

Editor_and_editorial_cartoonist_a_metaphoe_@_procartoonists.org

© Andy Davey @ Procartoonists.org

Following the news that one of the UK’s mass market national newspapers had removed its weekday editorial cartoonist we asked Andy Davey to write about the strange relationship that lies at the heart of such jobs.

For the UK cartoonist, working outside of the beneficence of a major newspaper brings benefits and troubles; editorial freedom and financial uncertainty. Creative freedom and money are rarely thrown together at the same artist.

In general, print editors and proprietors control content with an iron hand, especially when they are paying for it. Tabloid editors for example, are a clever bunch. They know how to run tight, focused media organisations. There is little or no room for a dissenting voice. The paper has to speak with one voice on a narrow range of issues.

Cartoonists are not hired to express their idiosyncratic views of the world, they are there to draw an on-message gag about something that is being highlighted in the day’s paper (preferably on the same page). Topics that are fair game are often defined and limited by who the paper “likes” (politicians or celebs they seek to cultivate) at any one time.

This can become wearing for the cartoonist who likes to come up with his/her own ideas – and that is pretty well all cartoonists (It is one of the key identifiers between cartoonists and illustrators – Ed).

The constraint of the ‘‘family paper’’, hard as it has sometimes been to believe in the era of phone hacking, also prevents anything too graphic from being published. Consequently, editorial cartoons in the tabloids can often look like sad toothless pastiches of the deferential 1950s.

Tabloid readers are conditioned to expect short, snappy articles and plenty of photos. The editorial pages, unlike the rather type-heavy pages in the broadsheets, are awash with images and banner headlines. Cartoons must fight to make themselves seen amid all this; even more so amid the flashing ads and animated pop-ups on the web versions.

A looser hand on the editorial tiller would allow stronger satirical graphic cartoons to attract the eye in traditional print and also in the relatively new digital environments.

Editor adds: Thanks to Andy to writing this. What do you think about editorial cartoons in the newspapers? Please free to dive into the comments below.

Opinion: The Sun drops editorial cartoons from weekday editions

November 7, 2013 in Comment, General, News

Rome Burns © Andy Davey for The Sun @ procartoonists.org

© Andy Davey for The Sun @ procartoonists.org

Andy Davey writes:

After more than 40 years, The Sun has cut editorial cartoons from the weekday editions of the paper.

The paper has boasted a roster of excellent cartoonists to poke fun at the political shenanigans of the day. Names such as Stanley Franklin, Dave Gaskill, Keith Waite, Paul Rigby, Posy Simmonds, Tom Johnston, Bill Caldwell, Bernard Cookson and Charles Griffin have all served on the super soaraway paper. But recently, circulation of printed publications has sunk, taking with it into the deep briny blue a huge wad of advertising revenue.

I write as the most recent regular incumbent and my cartoons have now been dropped. No reason was given to me, but it seems likely it was a financial decision. Cartoonists, together with many journalists and photographers, are apparently too expensive for these times. It’s much more cost effective to fill the editorial page with a splash headline and a crowdsourced free or cheap image.

The paper will still run editorial cartoons by another PCO member, Brighty (Steve Bright), in the Sun on Sunday and in Trevor Kavanagh’s Monday editorial column.

Traditionally, papers have run editorial, gag and strip cartoons but this has begun to change over the past few years.

The loss of daily editorial cartoons from The Sun is significant but it is not alone in ditching its cartoonists. Last month, The Sunday Times cast off several long term freelance cartoonists. The Mirror dropped daily editorial cartoons years ago and The Observer had a clear-out recently.

Alongside this, rates of pay have been cut. In 2011, The i newspaper, sister to The Independent, decided it needed strip, gag and editorial cartoonists to make its content shine. Instead of hiring cartoonists at a standard industry rate, it ran a competition in the oh-so-fashionable form of a “Cartoon Idol” to find new talent. The pay was so derisory that only one cartoonist could afford to take up the offer.

We at Procartoonists.org may be biased, but we think cartoons are still loved and appreciated by readers. It is a shame to see them disappearing at a time when humour and satire is desperately needed.

Ed adds: Procartoonists.org thanks Andy for sharing his thoughts here.

Sun shine wears off for Davey

November 7, 2013 in Comment, General, News

The_sun_logo_@_procartoonists.orgThe Sun, the largest circulation print newspaper in the UK is now without a weekday editorial cartoonist after Andy Davey, one of our members, left the paper.

With Andy’s help we shall be writing about this story and what it represents during the next week but you will get advance warning if you read one of our recent posts from Nick Newman of Private Eye (also a member) and a large piece produced by the New Statesman magazine during last summer.

Opinion: Tearing a strip off automated online cartoons

October 30, 2013 in Comment, General

Bitstrips @ Procartoonists.org

Bitstrips @ Procartoonists.org

The Procartoonists.org blog notes with interest the rise of Bitstrips, an app that allows anyone to make clip-art style cartoons featuring themselves.

Billed as “instant comics and cards starring you and your friends”, they are popular for Facebook e-cards and status updates.

We have seen this kind of automation of cartooning skills before. And now, as then, we believe it is a poor substitute for bespoke cartoons created by a professional cartoonist. The software may be clever but it does not produce hand-drawn, unique cartoons.

On the plus side, perhaps it is of little threat to professional cartooning, because as with previous fads the novelty appears to be wearing off quickly.

If you are interested in commissioning real cartoons by real cartoonists, take a look at the Procartoonists.org portfolios.

Opinion: People love cartoons,
so why let them go?

October 13, 2013 in Comment, General

Cartoon by Tony Reeve

Private Eye cartoon © by the late Tony Reeve

Nick Newman, cartoonist, PCO member and editor of Private Eye: A Cartoon History, writes for the Procartoonists.org blog:

The sound of 1,000 people laughing out loud at cartoons from Private Eye: A Cartoon History left me feeling elated as I departed from the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

The town hall, the largest venue in town, was packed to the rafters by a sell-out crowd of unlikely Eye fans on a Monday afternoon.

The demographic was definitely more staid than I’d expected, and I wondered how some of the Eye’s more risqué gags would fare on the big screen. I needn’t have worried. Alexander Matthews’ bishop saying of his choristers “God, it’s like everyone I’ve ever slept with is here!” raised the roof, as did Tony Reeve’s little girl saying to woman washing up “Mummy, why are your hands so soft?”, ” I’m twelve”.

Afterwards, the audience was fulsome in their praise and voted with their wallets by buying stacks of books. The story was the same at the Henley Literary Festival, the Soho Literary Festival and the National Theatre. People love cartoons – and not in a wry, chucklesome sort of way; in a roaring boom of belly laughter.

My euphoria was short-lived – returning to London to hear that four of my cartoonist newspaper colleagues had been axed for budgetary reasons. Two of these were the same cartoonists whose work was met with such a rapturous reception on the literary circuit.

Times are, of course, very hard for print journalism – hacks too are being laid off in their droves – but at the same time that newspapers are shedding freelancers, the online departments are desperately looking for ways to enliven the dull, digital, monotonous “swipe-me” editions.

There, the backlit cartoons look bright, cheerful and vibrant. But cartoonists have to be employed in order to do the job and getting rid of exclusive visual content surely can’t be the answer to attracting digital readers.

A week of contrasts left me feeling that the game is up for print journalism, if the demands of the digital age have left papers so strapped for cash that they can’t afford humour and creativity – assets desperately in short supply on Fleet Street.

And if newspapers let them go, it will not be because readers don’t appreciate them.

They do. I’ve heard them. In their thousands.

Editor adds: Many thanks to Nick. He and Ian Hislop, the Private Eye editor, will be doing another talk at the V&A on 19 November. He suggests that anyone wanting to hear how much people like cartoons should go along.

Opinion: Cheerleading for art, part 2

September 25, 2013 in Comment, General

Bill Stott at the Shrewsbury Cartoon festival

Bill Stott at the Shrewsbury Cartoon festival @ Procartoonists.org

Bill Stott continues to put the case for better art education in schools.

You can read part one here.

Of course, Michael Gove could be a keen and knowledgeable student of the arts – first in line when there’s something new at Tate Modern, burning his thumbs on disposable cigarette lighters at Glastonbury, and clamouring for Bob Fosse retrospective tickets at the Albert Hall. Could be. He could be utterly distraught at the arts’ demotion.

Maybe he removed the arts from the core curriculum because he simply had to make cuts. Something had to give. And he couldn’t possibly cut maths or English or the Blessed Sciences could he? Couldn’t he? Why not? Well because there’d be a national outcry wouldn’t there?

And he couldn’t dare cut P.E., not after the glorious Olympic Games and their glittering, noble legacy. And we simply must have more physicists. We’re way behind Norway here, and standards in English literature in the UK are bettered by kids in Japan.

How about standards in arts education in the last 20 years? Anybody bothered looking at those in comparison with other countries? The UK would probably do well enough. But doing well in arts education overall, certainly in the secondary sphere, has never counted for much in the UK, mainly because those who judge it had a meagre arts education themselves.

So in demoting arts education to the fringes of the National Curriculum, Mr Gove is on safe ground. The majority of the enfranchised population will not rise up in horror. They are drip-fed the notion, mainly through the popular media, that dance is only for the naturally violently talented Billy Elliots of this world and that their dogs could do what Tracey Emin did to become a millionaire.

And yet, while we all know that nobody can expect to live a fulfilled and rounded life without having studied compulsory geography, the arts will out. Arts workshops, nearly always run on a shoestring, abound. Successful arts professionals give their time for not much money, and often for nothing at arts festivals, like – dare I say it ? – the Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival.

Their workshops are always full, not with the naturally capable but with all ages who want to know how. Is that how geography workshops operate? At geography festivals? Is there a “Big Geog” jostling for a place in the nation’s affections with the evangelic barnstorm that is the Big Draw? Of course not.

Who’d go to a geography workshop? Don’t need to. That’s all looked after in school after cheerleading on Tuesday afternoons. The Big Draw probably doesn’t ask for tick-box answers about Jasper Johns, but it IS hands on.

Making communicative marks is probably the one thing the human animal can do which other animals can’t. Yes, some humans can draw well naturally. But by the same token, other humans like Sebastian Vettel can drive cars naturally well. Their prowess doesn’t put the majority of us off learning to drive. But we do that for socio-economic reasons. We don’t learn to draw for the same reasons.

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

So why do we/should we do it? Why should Mr Gove do it? Its because its EDUCATIONAL, that’s why. To “educate” means to “bring out”, and I’d bet a pound to a penny that an arts workshop or a practical, hands-on Big Draw session will bring out more hitherto unseen natural ability than would a geography festival.

I suppose I’d better apologise now for having a pop at geography. Its probably down to Mrs Leeming fifty-odd years ago. She was very keen on my class knowing all the facts and figures surrounding worldwide ground-nut production in countries that are no longer part of the British Empah and have names of their own now. It was hugely boring.

Mrs Lemming (her nickname) was a bit limited. There’s nothing limited about the arts education potential in this country. Sadly, should the essentially inexperienced, non-drawing, non-painting, non-sculpting Mr Gove get his way, that will all get booted into the long grass (quite close to where they’re practicing core curriculum cheerleading).

And who’s fault is it? Let’s start alphabetically: The Arts Council?

Editor says: Thanks,  Bill. Feel free to join the debate by commenting below.

Opinion: Cheerleading for art

September 20, 2013 in Comment, General

Bill Stott at Big Board

Bill Stott at the annual Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival

Bill Stott writes:

Remember your school reports? They become ingrained. Like your first snog. Mine weren’t bad. English, history, art, even P.E. (he was a bully) were all good but then they fell into the maths abyss. That bit was never good. I really didn’t care how long it took six men with rubber teaspoons to fill six wheelbarrows etc.

Last week I saw my 11-year-old grand-daughter’s report . She’s in Year 7 (that’s first year in old money and is a term thought up by some non-teaching think-tanker to give the impression that the learning process is seamless. It most definitely is not.) It was a good report apart from maths where the rubber teaspoon brigade didn’t quite click.

But there were a couple of subjects Grandad didn’t quite understand, i.e. why they were being taught and how they being taught. One was, you won’t believe this, cheerleading. That’s right, cheerleading. I mean, dear God, this is an all-girl comp. What on Earth is the school encouraging here ? Cheerleading is where a group of comely young women wiggle about celebrating male sporting prowess, isn’t it?

And the other was – gimme an A, gimme an R, gimme a T – Art, art art! (See? We got there eventually). Emily – for it is she – got a good comment in art. So I asked her what they did in art. “Well,” she said. “We’ve just done Jasper Johns.”

Now, I think that art, unlike cheerleading, is useful and teachable, and I’m all for the Big Draw events. But Emily and her 11-year-old chums don’t get all hands-on with clay, ink and paint. No. They DO Jasper Johns. She did say that “sometimes” they were allowed to draw. But mostly they DID artists. Don’t misunderstand me, nothing wrong with history of art. But exclusively? With 11-year-olds?

So who’s the villain here? I will tell you. It is Michael Gove, that’s who. I know that cheerleading sneaked in under the common-sense radar because apparently it’s accepted as being an alternative to P.E. Do they do history of cheerleading too?

Mr Gove doesn’t care about the arts subjects – quite possibly because his own art education was a bit thin. He sees dance, drama, music and art as hobbies. Pastimes. They no longer merit a place in the core curriculum (from September 2014) but because it bumps and grinds in under the P.E. banner, cheerleading does.

A pound to a penny Mr Gove believes that being able to draw is a “gift” and cannot be taught. He probably believes he can’t draw. I could teach him.

Ed adds:  We hope Mr Gove takes up Bill’s kind offer. We think a lesson would make some fine Reithian-style television for the British Broadcasting Corporation or similar. Don’t miss part two of Bill’s thoughts on art in education which is due next week.

Cartoon © Bill Stott @ procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org

 

At the front: The Wipers Times

September 6, 2013 in Comment, General, News

Nick Newman writes:

“It’ll all be over by Christmas,” I joked, as we all shook hands with the general staff at BBC Two and agreed to produce a scripted, filmed and edited version of our World War One comedy-drama The Wipers Times before the end of 2012.

It’s now September 2013 – Christmas has come and gone – and we are in the midst of publicising our  recreation of the trenches filmed  over two months at the stately home Ballywalter Park, near Belfast.  Bombs exploded, ricochets whined, and actors began to comprehend what life in the trenches was really like. “We get the picture,” said Julian Rhind-Tutt (of Green Wing and The Hour fame).  “We’ve been in the trenches for seven days and we understand … the horrors.”

The Wipers Times story has been almost 100 years in the making. My  co-writer Ian Hislop came across it some ten years ago while working on a documentary for Radio 4. It’s the story of a humorous newspaper  produced amidst the chaos of the trenches by a group of soldiers who had found a printing press in the ruins of Ypres (translated by military slang into Wipers).

Amazingly, their Captain, Fred Roberts, decided to produce not a journal of record, but a journal of jokes, with no experience at all. It was, by turns, subversive, mawkish, groaningly punny – and incredibly funny. It was this printed lampoon of the Great War, written under fire, that we have attempted to celebrate on the screen.

As a cartoonist, I’ve always enjoyed turning gags into sketches for TV – which I’ve done for numerous shows from Spitting Image to Harry Enfield and beyond. A good cartoon is, I think, a perfectly formed sketch (forgive the pun). Extend the sketch and you have a scene. Extend the scene and you have an act. Add a splash of character and you have a play.

So writing Wipers was, for me, a process of linking gags, sketches, and scenes into a comprehensible – and true – screenplay. We were helped by the original text, which is wonderful, the authentic voice of troops on the Front Line. Wherever possible we tried to use the authors’ own words rather than our own – so full credit should go to Captain Fred Roberts and Lt Jack Pearson, his sub-editor. Some of their jokes (and many of ours) are terrible. But that’s not the point. The point is that they were making jokes at all, as opposed to staring wistfully into space and writing  poetry, as most World War One dramas would have you believe (though to be fair,  there is quite a lot of poetry in Wipers).

The Wipers Times_and_Bruce Bairnsfather from Fragments from France @ procartoonists.org

Bruce Bairnsfather from Fragments from France @ Procartoonists.org

Research took us to Flanders, still a fractured landscape where farmers are regularly blown up by unexploded bombs, and France where the Somme glides through Amiens with a tranquility it’s hard to equate with events of a century ago.

On the way we picked up some exciting new primary source material – memoirs of Roberts and Pearson ( both of which we’ve included in our film). And we’ve encountered some strange coincidences: J.H. Pearson, played by Julian Rhind-Tutt, was in fact the brother of the Edwardian actor Edward Hesketh Pearson, who had an affair with Kitty Muggeridge, wife of Malcolm Muggeridge who was played by Julian Rhind-Tutt in a BBC film about P.G. Wodehouse … and filmed in exactly the same locations as Wipers.

So here we are in September, with shooting (real and imaginary) over.  In the editing suite the whizz-bangs and gas-gongs have whizzed, banged and chimed. I have seen the great Michael Palin deliver my lines – so shall die happy – been bought a drink by Emilia Fox (likewise), swapped cricket nerdery with our star Ben Chaplin  and marvelled at the skill and enthusiasm of our Belfast crew.

And it really WILL all be over by Christmas. But, as happened in the Great War, not the Christmas we were expecting.

Ed adds: Thanks, Nick. The broadcast is scheduled for this time on BBC Two. Watch it on IPlayer here.

And if you are interested in the cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, creator of “Old Bill” and who sneaked into the middle of Nick’s story, you can download a full copy of Fragments from France from  Project Gutenberg.

There’s a bit more about the show over at History Extra and both Nick and his co-writer Ian Hislop were interviewed on BBC Front Row.

We say gags, they say single-panel

July 2, 2013 in Comment, General

Pete Dredge offers a British perspective in reaction to an American cartoonist’s views on the cartooning game

“Single-panel” or “gag” cartoonist? The former is the default description from over the pond and is infinitely preferable to the UK’s more downmarket “gag” label for those of us who create the stand-alone joke.

Cartoon by Pete Dredge

Single-panel or gag? Cartoon © Pete Dredge

Apart from that, there appears to be little difference in attitudes to gag cartoonists on either side of the Atlantic, if the video talks by the New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee – as recently featured on this blog – are anything to go by. (Well, apart from the fact that most US cartoonists seem to be equally as eloquent with a microphone as they are with a pen, something that the reserved UK cartoonist can find difficult to master.)

It was comforting to know that our US counterparts are bombarded with the same probing questioning from inquisitive admirers. “Where do you get your ideas?” appears to top both the UK and US list. Diffee perceptively regards this as “a good question, it is the only question because without an idea there is no cartoon”. He then offers up the disarmingly honest answer “We think of ’em!”

Brilliant!

Why haven’t we ever thought of that? UK gagsmiths start to ramble on about lateral thinking, brainstorming and word association whilst our inquisitor’s eyes start to glaze over.

“I wish I could do that” and “I could never do that” are supplementary statements thrown up by the misguided onlooker. Diffee believes that these admissions underline the misconception that cartoonists draw “for fun”, something that can be churned out at the drop of a hat. “How long have you tried?” he asks. He points out that it takes several hours and a pot of coffee to come up with ideas.

Then there’s the ability to handle rejection. Diffee likens the inevitable low hit rate – at The New Yorker one in ten is “top of the game”, more often it’s something like one in 30 – to the a mother sea turtle laying thousands of eggs. After being subjected to the ravages of crabs, birds and fish, if one baby makes it through then it’s job done.

Another characteristic shared by both US and UK cartoonists is the requirement to develop stoicism when confronted by other media types. One video featured Diffee being interviewed after his talk by a hack from Forbes magazine.

Trying hard to describe the idea-creating process, he says: “It’s about concepts, like comedy writing, it’s about language, not drawing, at this stage.” The journalist seemed to struggle with this abstract notion.

But Diffee soon has the measure of his inquisitor and describes how he is trying to keep up with the latest hi-tech devices. “Have you seen them? They’re amazing. You click on the end and it comes out here,” he says, describing a propelling pencil to his bemused interrogator.

Many thanks, Pete. Do you have any views on cartooning US and UK style? Let us know in the comments below.

Copyright and coffee

June 17, 2013 in Comment, General

Courtesy of one of our members, Chris Madden:

© Chris Madden @Procartoonists.org