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.

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

  1. Brilliant, trenchant article. Thank you!

  2. Its quite simply because those who have power in newspapers are of the same ilk as that dreadful person who ran the Indy Cartoon Idol fiasco.

    Hey Wayne was part of the Manchester Literary Festival. Do people like cartoons ? Yes, they do. We had a room full to bursting and lots of laughter. Its the newspaper publishers who are the dummies here. He said. With feeling.

  3. Echo above. Maybe next gig on the Newman/Hislop Book Tour should be the Newspaper Publishers Association Quiz Night.

  4. Amen to that!

  5. Newspaper Publishers Association Cull Night.

  6. Excellent.  And agree that cartoons are of more value than ever to journalism, in an increasingly time-poor, digital device centred age.   I think editors will realise this, but only when the print and paper part of the business finally dies and with it all the old notions of what constitutes a news publication.

    Advertisers will go where people’s eyes are directed.  Because of this there are kids making a living from their bloody YouTube videos!  Surely thoughtful and entertaining insight, analysis and satire can bring in enough of an online readership and with it the advertisers to sustain a quality digital journal?  The big trick that no-one on Flett Street seems able to pull off, as Nick points out, is presentation.  But I think we’ll see a change in the next five years.  We have to be optimistic!
  7. Agreed Terry. And if [and when] print does die [listen up Matt !], cartoonists will remain. We’re always going to be there. But if all goes digital, how are we to be paid ? Nobody’s explained that to me yet. Possibly because there are lots of ways of being paid – all rather more complicated and open to abuse than sending a cheque or BACS in return for a copyright protected drawing.

  8. Good comments.

    Bill – I’ve never believed ‘print would die’ I have however argued that it would as the dominant method of mass market communication. And I think the fact we are talking about this here, bears that out somewhat.
    For the ‘how-to-make-money bit’ see you in the membership forum!
  9. Fair enough Matt. Its just that as things stand [or totter] at the moment, getting paid is RELATIVELY simple. Getting paid for stuff which goes on line, explodes and ends up on Mars isn’t. Not unlike the cliche of getting stuck next to somebody on a long haul flight who got their ticket loads cheaper than you did.

  10. I think it is simply down to the fact that the primary role of managers now is as accountants and concerns for quality of service comes second. Therefore, in such a mindset cartoons are, to them, an unnecessary expense and take up room that could just as easily filled with yet more text.

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