It’s only a cartoon: part two

© Rupert Besley

Rupert Besley writes:

Perhaps it’s because most cartoons get viewed for no more than a second or two that people seem to imagine that is also all the time it takes to complete one (thanks, Rolf). Despite a fine tradition over two centuries of world-class cartooning, this country does not value cartoons as others do. Too often these get chucked about as lightweight ephemera, with no understanding of the work and skill that goes into them. Too many instances exist of high-quality originals (pre-digital hard copy) being dumped, sold for peanuts or simply not returned from publication or exhibition to rightful owners (we call it theft).

Of course, not everyone behaves in this way. There are wonderful people around (gallery owners and editors, academics and punters) who understand the value of cartooning and who work all hours to promote the art-form and help its development. The PCO does what it can in gratitude to recognise their efforts by presenting special awards.

Cartooning comes in many forms, whether just to give amusement and brighten the day or to give comment and analysis of the issues of the moment. Amid present crises, does anyone provide better insight – or opposition – to developments than the likes of Steve Bell, Martin Rowson and Dave Brown (all of whom we are proud to count as PCO members)? There will always be need for top political cartoonists, but, if the nursery slopes for practising the craft are gone, how will high-level cartooning survive? It is no longer a profession that any young person could be well advised into or that more than a handful or two can make a living from. Cartoonist gatherings are inevitably of the predominantly elderly, white, male, bearded variety and woefully short on diversity of gender, age or ethnicity. None of this will change till greater value is put on cartoons and the role of the cartoonist.

Everything is relative. This country may not rate cartooning as do other countries, like France. But cartoonists here can still spotlight double-standards and ridicule governments without fear of torture, imprisonment or exile, as faced by colleagues in so many other places. Never before has there been such need for organisations like CRNI to defend the human rights of cartoonists. That still gives no excuse for conduct in this country that falls short of courtesy, ethics or professional practice. In other words, kicking about. It remains the case that cartoons in this country are not taken seriously. They’re just a joke. That’s why we’re losing them.



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