It’s only a cartoon: part two

February 26, 2017 in General

© 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.



4 responses to It’s only a cartoon: part two

  1. Well said as ever Rupert. It would appear that this humour disconnect will continue, even in the face of Ian Hislop going on record, saying that P Eye’s increase in circulation is because the Eye is now using more cartoons. Hislop’s a publisher. Are other publishers listening ? Evidently not.

  2. Another fine article, Rupert. Your points about the lack of young, female, non-white (…supply your own identity group here) cartoonists is well made. But why would they become involved? The only places cartoons are seen are in newspapers (on their death legs) and occasionally in the more sedate, reflective weeklies (read by a few thousand elderly fantasists and nostalgists like me). In this age of coarsened public debate, it’s easy to see why political cartoons are seen as impotent tongue-poking. Even people of my generation look upon political cartoons and groan about how irrelevant they are (see for example Rich Hall’s knockout tirade against us recently). As a (sort of) political cartoonist, I often feel like an elderly vicar posting a rude cartoon of the bishop in the vestry and running away, while outside the church the people are burning effigies of the pope and dancing naked in mescalin-fuelled satanic rites [well, I don’t often think that – I just made it up, but you get the idea of irrelevance I’m trying to portray]. But I don’t so easily understand the loss of the gag cartoon – that sublime haiku of the cartoonists art that can cheer us to out-loud laughter in a second or two, from a standing start. Surely, now more than ever, what the average human needs every day is a shot of humour to lift the spirit. Lifting your own spirit is the start of lifting the world’s spirit. 

  3. It’s the British way: we don’t imprison cartoonists, we just don’t give them that level of importance. Much better to ignore the babbling uncle in the corner with that slight smell of wee about him. As such, I don’t think cartoonists will become extinct, more that all we’ll have left is your gentleman cartoonist.Diversity: the shorthand of set-up in cartoons is a real issue, and I’m at a loss how to get around it. The actual diversity in society – but just about to get less diverse in the UK – is woefully under-represented in cartoons. If I draw a cartoon with anything other than a Western white person, it will read as important somehow to the pay-off. If not, it will be seen as a distraction or an irrelevance. Thankfully, there are a few other nibs who break this barrier, and with ease, but you won’t find their work much in the mainstream. In theatre, particularly, there have been concerted efforts to promote and encourage gender-blind and colour-blind casting (though the debate often rocks around from ‘not nearly enough’ to ‘political correctness’ and ‘sheer tokenism’), but there is an awareness of a lack of true representation there. Would a bearded, middle-aged man feel restricted representing much else than ‘the norm’ for himself or what lies immediately around him? If we’re not dinosaurs – again, a curious label, as dinosaurs were rather adept at evolving – are we not on the endangered list, like Music Hall acts of the last century? Or perhaps we’re merely just gentleman cartoonists wandering the artistic salons upstairs, barely tolerated by polite society, and wondering just what the effects of the Great War will have upon our culture?Thanks for the excellent piece, Rupert. Sorry not to use.

  4. Well, it was worth my while boring on at such length in order to have got back such interesting and thought-provoking (and witty) rejoinders. Thanks, all. The Davey analogy of vicar and bishop cartoon sums up one aspect of the present situation quite beautifully. It’s an image that will stick with me a long time. From the vestry -The Revd RB.

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