Opinion: The Young Cartoonists of the Year 2012

October 25, 2012 in Comment, Events, General


We recently published details of the annual Young Cartoonists of the Year awards, run by our sister organisation the British Cartoonists’ Association. We received a large reaction from readers which included this piece of opinion from cartoonist Alison Sampson.

You should know that fairly recently I picked up a pen again, not least because of the work of the Professional Cartoonists Organisation – and thankfully, the internet.

We publish her reaction to the competition below:

I am 12. I am just leaving the old hen hut where we keep and read the tattered, second-hand comics our mum buys from jumble sales. We have 2000AD, Valiant, Victor and Misty. Also in the hut are my felt pens and the printer’s offcuts I have to draw on. I like drawing. I can’t imagine a life without it.

As I’m passing through the door, I wonder how could I do this for the rest of my life and think through the options. All I can think of are jobs as a newspaper cartoonist, or working for Private Eye. All our comics are old and it doesn’t occur to me anyone draws them. I dismiss the option. All those jobs are full, with the people who are doing them. A couple of years later I see Posy Simmonds’ work in the newspaper and my heart breaks. I wish I could have a job like that.

Later I will work as a perspective artist for a local construction company and go to university to read architecture. I will not draw for myself again, or look at a comic, for twenty-plus years. Fast forwarding to now, imagine my disappointment on seeing that the apogee of cartooning, as represented by the judges list for the BCA Young Cartoonists prize, is still entirely composed of newspaper cartoonists.

I now know that there were are other forms of cartooning: comic books, web comics, posters and so on. Not everybody knows this. The competition is an important way of reaching out to those outside the circle. The judges list should represent the profession, not just one exclusive segment, no matter how skilled. This would help in informing other young cartoonists that their work is worth persevering with, and that it has a future.

She added:

 I also do not want to cast aspersions on any of the work of the judges or the BCA. However, not everyone has been, or will be so lucky as to know about the possibilities for cartooning, and my getting back into it was only by accident. When I saw the competition, I had to remind myself I was too old, despite thinking of myself as the youngest of the young cartoonists, I am just starting at the age of 42.

You can find Alison’s own work here and read some in the collection – Solipsistic Pop.

Editor adds: We’d like to thank Alison for taking the time to write about this and we welcome your thoughts in the comments below.


27 responses to Opinion: The Young Cartoonists of the Year 2012

  1. Interesting stuff, Alison. 42 ? Nothing of an age. Obviously, you can draw and there’s a pleasing development from objective to cartoon. Send work to all and sundry. Shrug at rejection. Keep on keeping on.

  2. Full disclosure: 1) I entered the Young Cartoonist of the Year a few times, never won anything but did receive lovely hand-written feedback from Martin Rowson which was very much appreciated.  2) I have tried and failed to join the PCO. 3) For ten years I produced illustrations for The Herald in Glasgow before editors were informed to stop using such things because of lack of money.Alison raises an important point.  Of course the judges are among the best cartoonists in this country.  The danger here is the implication that someone who doesn’t do a regular single panel, captioned cartoon for a paper periodical isn’t a cartoonist.  My generation of cartoonists have missed the boat as British newspapers stagger on through ever-dwindling circulation, facing judicial enquiries and public distrust as well as the ravages of the encroaching internet.  Sadly the majority of us will never know the discipline of the daily editorial cartoon.  And doubly sadly the idea may be entirely unknown to the next generation.Nonetheless I make a living by drawing cartoon images, therefore I am a cartoonist and I don’t need a third party to endorse what’s demonstrably true.  But young people crave and thrive upon such validation.  By rethinking the parameters and/or presentation of their competition the BCA have an opportunity to create an inspirational event for all young people trying to build careers in cartooning, whatever shape they take in the decades ahead.

  3. Alison and others have eloquently described how ‘cartooning’ has splintered in to many different directions and disciplines far removed from the ‘traditional’ definition of what a cartoonist is or was. I would guess that the majority of aspiring creators are now producing sequential comic art rather than the traditional ‘gag’ cartoon. Joke creating is not the overriding raison d’etre in most cases. 

    In the case of the competition, apart from lifting the restriction on how the artwork is presented, the criteria (making the judges laugh) only requires the insertion of ‘Gag’ in the title to clarify matters.
    The point I’m rather clumsily trying to make is that it would be impossible to satisfactorily pick one winner from a diverse range of artwork styles and formats.
  4. Fine words, Alison and Terry, which hopefully the BCA will take on board, along with reviewing their insistence upon original artwork only (unreturnable) as entries for the competition, thereby excluding an ever-increasing sector of cartoonists who routinely employ digital methods, either in part or wholly (as I do, and I passed the age criterion many, many moons ago), and further diluting the veracity of their claim to be acclaiming The Young Cartoonists Of The Year. 

  5. As far as the competition goes, I think one of the problems with the
    insistence on sending originals is that they also say they won’t return
    them. That’s where sending a digital work – or even a print of something
    that was originally done in pen and ink – would be beneficial to a lot
    of possible entrants. I wonder whether some truly talented youngsters
    are put off entering because they know they will never get their lovely
    (original and irreplaceable) work back.

  6. Pete, I’ve been a cartoonist for thirty years, and never had a gag cartoon published. This doesn’t represent the woeful success rate it might suggest – it’s because I’ve never submitted to the spec gag market. I’ve been a cartoonist who has specialised in sequential art since Day One, the vast majority of which has been humour based. I cannot recall any time in my life when the “traditional definition” of a cartoonist referred solely or even largely to the creator of gag cartoons. 

    As a child, a cartoon meant moving pictures on the telly, or at the cinema. As I grew older, cartoonists were those who drew gags certainly, though editorial ones in particular, but also comics, strips and books, where the illustration was drawn in a cartoon style. Today, there are probably more avenues than ever for a cartoonist’s skills, although very sadly, some of the more traditional markets are diminishing. Hopefully they will rise again, but meantime, it behoves all cartoonists to recognise that in order to make a career out of this profession, all aspects of the job are important, and that should, in my view, be reflected in awards that claim to celebrate ‘the cartoonist of the year’. 
    The obvious answer would be more categories, with judges that cover all the skills. And I don’t see that it would be inconceivable to anoint a Supreme Champion from the category winners, providing their coat was well groomed and nose moist. 
  7. Steve, even as someone who still prefers paper and ink, I absolutely agree on the digital point.  I know why competitions and exhibitions insist on originals; partly the erroneous idea that digital media is a short cut and anti-craft, partly that a show of physical objects is meaningful in a way that reproductions, prints, projections or on-screen images isn’t.But we’ll all soon have to accept that for a substantial portion, if not majority of commercial artists and cartoonists, there are no more “originals”.On a related note and entirely unknown to me when I wrote this morning’s comment, the Cartoon Museum recently returned the original drawing I sent in to the BCA’s competition in 2003.  Not sure why but nice to have it back anyway!  

  8. Wise and interesting words from Alison and
    Terry. It’s instructive to hear views from cartoonists outside the small
    community we inhabit. They raise questions about the PCO/procartoonists and
    about the Young Cartoonist of the Year (YCotY). I should state an interest
    before I start windbagging; 1) I used to be chairman of PCO, so must take
    partial responsibility for entry criteria and 2) I am nominally on the
    committee of judges of the Young Cartoonist of the Year.

    First, the YCotY competition may seem to outsiders
    (as Brighty’s comment underlines) to represent THE cartooning
    industry/community/artform. Unfortunately, it’s a lot less organized than that.
    Yes, it IS an initiative to encourage young people to draw cartoons but it
    doesn’t really represent anything. It is, in short, a PR exercise – but with
    the best of intentions. Yes, the judges comprise a woefully restrictive band of
    middle aged, middle-class white blokes who work in newspapers, but that doesn’t
    seem to stop young entrants sending in all manner of indefinable artwork that boldly
    crosses boundaries of taste, genre, intelligibility and quality without fear. There
    are practical reasons for demanding work sent in on paper – as with most
    international cartoon competitions – it’s much easier to pass sheets of paper
    around the judging table. As for digital vs analogue, Chairman Rowson does have
    a natural bias towards the inky stick but I doubt if anyone would notice if
    someone submitted a print of a drawing that had used a drawing program. And
    what are rules for, other than breaking? I’m sorry to disappoint the paranoid
    cynics, but it’s cock-up rather than conspiracy. Winning the competition is not
    going to get anyone a job. That usually requires years of sending stuff of to
    the right places. Or marrying an editor.

    Now for the PCO and its shortcomings, of
    which I am painfully aware. We set out in 2006 to be a “PR agency for the art
    form of cartoons” which showed the very best of British cartoon art in an era
    when cartooning is under serious threat.

    Alison and Terry may understandably not be
    encouraged to learn that the PCO committee spent many hours and many terabytes
    of forum discussion on the impossible subject of what a cartoonist is. But, oh
    Boy, we did. Steve (Brighty) will no doubt tell you – with justification – that
    we failed on this task. I think we did employ an unstated bias towards the
    gag/strip end of the spectrum because we felt this was the sector which was at
    most peril.  We felt that other cartoon
    genres – caricature, comics art and illustration each had their own
    organisations to represent those sectors. What’s more, it also allowed the
    organization to have some much-needed focus when showing off to the disparate
    digital markets for these sectors.

    I have realised I have drifted inexorably into
    mindless management-speak. More importantly, I suspect you all have drifted
    into comas, so I will stop here.

    The point is…cartooning of all stripes
    faces a difficult, uncertain future. The PCO is a bunch of people shouting
    “hey, we’re still here, we can still draw and we’re still funny (sometimes,
    given the right fee)”. The YCotY competition is a bit of fun. Anyone young
    enough can enter. Don’t let the rules put you off. Who heard of rules in

    Oh, and Alison should not think it’s too
    late. I was about that age when I began to submit work to newspapers. I have
    since sunk without trace. Let that be a lesson.

  9. Its obvious from comments so far that YC of the Y judges should consider widening their criteria [it doesn’t hurt these days] They might do that, they might not.

    The other point which comes up is where cartoonists find work. Digitally and otherwise.

    I’ve long maintained that despite what Terry calls the ravages of the encroaching internet, the work IS there, especially in niche, specialist magazines. And I don’t mean the rude ones. Of course, the shotgun technique via internet and snail mail, of peppering editors with relevant gags is time consuming – and I think prints posted with an sae is better than emailed letters with attachments – but eventually, somebody bites. That wipes out the bitterness of rejection.

    As for the internet, it has encroached. We’re knee deep in it. And its massively useful.

    Two PCO members have just launched a blog called The Pangolin featuring, eventually, all hands’ gags. It, like all blogs, gets fired off like a shotgun. Its got links to all and sundry and it will bring work in. But the targeted, focused nature of prints in an envelope is best for individual approaches, I think.

    Like Steve, I’ve done this job for a long time. On balance, its excellent. It keeps the wolf down the bottom of the garden and it uses whatever skills I have. Of course, at the other end of the scale are the editors who reject me;the cartoon ideas which get nowhere, and arthritis in my drawing hand thumb.

  10. Had a look at solopsistic pop. ‘Struth !

  11. Oops ! solipsistic. Apologies

  12. Hmmm. Just looked up “solipsism” in OED. It says, “a view that the self is the only object of real knowledge or the only really existent thing. ” That’s a bit convenient, isn’t it ?

  13. Thanks for the comprehensive reply, Andy. 

    My own disclosure? 1) PCO member, 2) fellow Sun editorial cartoonist to Mr Davey –  Andy’s batman, or Robin to Andy’s Batman if you prefer, 3) not a member of any other organisation relating to cartooning or cartoonists, and so distantly beyond the entry age for YCotY that attempting to break that rule would be laughable and futile. 
    Andy, I appreciate your honesty about the status of the YCotY contest, but the big question that arises, given that you profess to have “all manner of indefinable artwork”, in copious amounts by the sound of it, do those entrants realise that all they’re taking part in is a PR bit of fun? I suspect that vast majority of them do not, when they are required to submit hand-crafted original artwork that will not be returned to a panel of judges of the highest calibre and fame within the editorial cartooning world (UK branch). It would appear to me that neither Alison or Terry were aware of the ill-organised PR fun nature of the event, and I would also suspect that anyone who was to discover the cost of attending the awards dinner would think of it as anything less than a highly grand and important affair.

    And I actually think it ought to be, matching up to its highly-sought-after title (if number of entries is anything to go by. Regardless of whether there is a job at the end of it, and especially in light of these uncertain times that face cartoonists, to be named as Young Cartoonist Of The Year by a large panel of eminent cartoonist judges should be a proud boast for the winner, and without any doubt, an inspiring launchpad towards greater things, and not just a bit of fun.

    It should also allow all young cartoonists, from every sphere of cartooning, to enter using their chosen medium, without fear of bending or breaking any rules.
  14. Yes, Steve.
    I can’t disagree with any of your comments – and you floor me as ever with your
    forensic arguments. Perhaps I made too light of the award itself – after all,
    several currently working excellent cartoonists were recipients of it, including
    Messrs Buck and Hughes of this digital parish. And last year’s winner (I think)
    got a gig at the Indy. But – as you say – in these uncertain times, the winner
    can expect nothing beyond the bauble.

    However, we
    all know that anyone who is serious about making some kind of living out of
    cartoons won’t be discouraged by that negativity. They know that – as Bill
    explains above – the lot of the cartoonist is unrelenting mailing of work to
    magazines, newspapers and media buyers…and then marrying the editor.

    Just to
    clarify one point; I don’t “have” any artwork from any entrants. I have no
    knowledge of this year’s entries. They are all collected by the Cartoon Museum
    and brought along to the judging meeting. That meeting is the first time any
    judge sees any of the work. I was talking generally about previous year’s
    entries. In my brief experience, I think there are usually around 200 or so
    entries for each age category . They vary wildly in quality, genre, content and
    intelligibility. There are often one or two entrants who stand out, which makes
    it simpler. In other years, it is virtually impossible. However, I should
    stress that – despite my tendency towards flippancy – the judges do take the
    judging seriously. And yes, I’d have been proud to win it as a yoof.

  15. The “marrying the editor” bit should really be dropped from this debate. It simply didn’t work for me. He snored.

  16. I can empathise completely with Alison as I came back to cartooning after thinking pretty much the same things as her about the chances of actually being one of the lucky ones able to make a living in the profession. As many others I had a career as first a scientist and then teacher I thought I would do til retired and had drawn a thing for well over ten years (and it certainly showed) when I was lucky enough to win the first cartooning competition I had ever entered at about the same age as Alison is now. Although I make a a good percentage of my income from newspaper work my regular jobs are with non-political magazines. So my message to her and anyone else who thinks similarly is not to despair and it’s never too late.

    On the subject of originals, I am in full support of this as there are so many opportunities for  plagiarism and/or the use of software which can be used to suggest there is artistic drawing talent where none actually exists. And as the BCA is small non-profit organisation it’s understandable there aren’t the resources to return the originals especially if there are a large number of entries.

  17. Personally, I’m waiting for the Late Middle Aged Cartoonist Who Doesn’t Use Anything Electric and Who Lives Near Northwich Cartoonist of the Year competition.

  18. Andy- thanks for your perspective.  But I must say that to an outsider the YCotY competition looks VERY official.  I never entered as a child but certainly did in my twenties, motivated by the thought that winning would further my career.  I knew enough about the business at that point to be aware that there are no guarantees and, ultimately, the quality of our drawings will always speak louder than any qualification or gong ever can.  Nevertheless, the award seemed an honour truly worth having.I’m not in the least surprised that much blood, sweat and tears went into the constitution of the PCO.  I’ve been there myself with the SAU in Scotland.  Our entry criteria are sometimes cited as being too exclusive, although it hasn’t stopped nigh-on a thousand visual artists joining, nor a cartoonist being president for three years ;)All I can say is that looking at the “portfolios” page on the PCO site today I get the strong impression that this a cartoonists’ org first and foremost, with the format of work given less consideration than its quality.  On that basis I don’t think you need to drastically change anything in your internal processes.  Some people will make the grade, some won’t, them’s the breaks.Bill- I’m glad you’re finding work in magazines and the like but I can’t relate similar experiences.  I personally don’t have the energy, inclination or temperament for the “shotgun” approach.  I admire those who do.I didn’t mean to sound like a luddite.  Clearly the internet offers great opportunities.  What I’ve failed to see – and I’m willing to accept I’m looking in the wrong places – is any magazine or newspaper that’s really got to grips with all the wonderful possibilities of cartooning in their e-reader or web editions.  Many drop whatever cartoons they use in print, which is nuts.  There’s actually a strong argument to be made that the move from paper to pixels should INCREASE the quantity of cartooning in the press.  Can you imagine news events being routinely summarised in the way the RSA use Cognitive Media for their animated chalk talks?  But if the editors don’t have the money, what can we do?

  19. Gary Barker wrote:  “On the subject of originals, I am in full support of this as there are so many opportunities for  plagiarism and/or the use of software which can be used to suggest there is artistic drawing talent where none actually exists. “

    This is a total red herring, and underlying it is the implication and suspicion that the use of technology is somehow an advantage, especially to ‘cheats’. It is only an advantage to those who take the time to learn how to use it, no different to a nib and bottle of ink. I have seen many, many pig’s ears from both camps, by those who have no sewing skills with either. And digital cheating actually requires greater knowledge and skill than the use of tracing paper. Taking digital art out of the picture will not eliminate cheating, but it will take out many fine young cartoonists who employ digital technology in the creation of their work. 

    If a panel of eleven time-served elite cartoonists at the top of their game can’t spot an incidence of plagiarism within a cartoon, then I despair, and wouldn’t then expect them to notice if one of the young ‘traditional’ blighters had traced another’s work. It’s not going to happen, but missing out on the true Young Cartoonists Of The Year under the present rules is a distinct possibility. 
  20. Then I suggest you take that up ther Chair of the BCA who I believe is leading the judges panel then if you feel so strongly because my points about plaigerism are also the reasons given for why originals are required by him too.

  21. Already have, Gary. 

  22. Then I guess we must all bow down to your greater ability than all the rest of us put together then and it’s only right the BCA hand over all the judging to you Steve

  23. Sigh!

  24. That’s NOT what Steve’s suggesting. This has been, so far, an interesting and informative discussion. My suggestion [above] about older cartoonists’ awards wasn’t entirely by way of a joke, but I’m experienced enough to know that it probably won’t happen in my working life. That’s just the way it is. Whilst I think most of us – in and out of PCO – would agree that a Best Cartoonist of the Year in Any Category knees-ups would help the profile of cartooning nationally, we’re realistic and see that the rather more hum-drum business of presenting a professional , considered [and funny] face to the industry through PCO and other bodies is the best way forward..

    I haven’t detected anyone in this discussion who would appear to want to be the sole judge of any competition. I have noticed acceptably worded disagreement – not much  admittedly- but then, without disagreement, there can be no debate. Can there ?

  25. I’d like to take issue with that, Bill… except I can’t. Beautifully put, and I’d also welcome and Old(er) Cartoonist Of The year category, although I suspect that trying to define the numbers on that one may result in the mother of all controversies. 

  26. Terry – hear hear to what you say about the stupidity – the downright counterintuitive dumbness – of ditching cartoons just when your publication transfers to a medium which is designed for pictures. I just do not understand it. Part of our (PCO) raison d’être was/is to try to point this out in the kindest way to those editors and decision makers, while showing them just what they are missing. I fear it will be a long job. 

    You have a thousand members? Bejayzus? What do you do, offer applicants free money?
  27. Terry, to my shame I didn’t know of the SAU. Wow! That is one impressive set of aims. Hats off all round, I think. And blimey – a thousand members. I am stunned. Setting that up must have been a Sysiphean task. Despite all this, your criteria for membership are quite – correctly – stiff. You must have an impressive engine running all this. 

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