It’s only a cartoon: part one

@ Rupert Besley

Rupert Besley writes:

Nobody likes to be kicked about. Or just hurled in the bin. But that’s what cartoonists have to get used to much of the time. Rejection is a major part of the business and always has been. Even the top professionals in established posts have long been required to come up with multiple offerings before one is accepted (by then under pressure and with little time to complete).

What is new is the kicking about. Much of this is in the scramble for life-rafts as the print publication industry drops below the waves. Together, the digital revolution along with the internet should mean a bright new future for cartooning. Cartoons look great onscreen and their quick gags and nutshell analyses are ready-made for social media. But nobody has worked out yet how to make them pay.

In the slow death of newsprint, cartoons are among the first things to go. First marginalised and then kicked out, all too often in ways that offend. The PCO has a growing list of top cartoonists who, having given sterling service in providing ace cartoons without fail over lengthy time-spans (15, 30, even 50 years), have then been shown the door. Not on grounds of quality, simply budget. And the irony is that use of cartoons in publications has been shown to boost sales.

What we’ve seen happen next, more than once, is indefensible. The long-running cartoon disappears from the paper, readers ask why and the editor gives out that the cartoonist has retired. A lie. These are highly skilled pros now seeking new avenues for work.

Cartooning suffers maybe from never quite being accepted on equal terms by Art or Journalism. These are the Ugly Sisters, grabbing all attention at the expense of Cartoons, the scrubber down below. There has always been rivalry for space. Now it’s getting nastier, as the space reduces. Magazines are closing down. Others, that once took many cartoons, now take none. Among those few left in the market are ones that struggle to keep up with the pressure of supply. Submissions pile up for months unanswered, long beyond the shelf-life of the gag. The PCO continues to push (without great success) for dialogue with – and answers from – editors.

Editors tend to keep cartoonists at arms length. That makes it easier to dismiss them, having first characterised them as anti-social oddities who rarely emerge from their holes. The cartoon festivals that flourish (with PCO backing & involvement) at Shrewsbury and Herne Bay (along with Hastings last year) give the lie to this suggestion. Those who come (never editors, not counting PCO patrons) will find cartoonists to be a mixed bunch of ordinary people. Extremely normal (if that’s possible) but with added gifts for crap-detection and humour, observation and graphic ability.

Part two of this article will follow soon. In the meantime you can take a look at Rupert’s PCO portfolio here.

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