PCO Procartoonists – Graphic humour and photomontage

November 25, 2007 in General

Following on from the start of our adventures into the broadest definitions of graphic humour, Bloghorn has asked Neil Hepburn, or Beau Bo D’or, one of the best exponents of photoshop jokes in the country to write for us and very kindly, he has agreed. This is the first of a number of pieces we are going to publish here examining the crossover between drawn and mechanical imagery and how the two can combine and conflict. Over to Neil and his thoughts on what exactly it is a photomontage artist does…

I‘m both intrigued and concerned to be asked to write a few lines for the Bloghorn and give my views on image manipulation, the media and promotion – even though I was just asked to discuss image manipulation (IM).The other topics are, however, inextricably linked to IM, or, some anticipated responses to what I have to say about it, so please bear with me.

First of all, I don’t consider myself a cartoonist.

I believe this term implies all or at least the greatest part of an image is created by hand and from scratch. I obviously don’t do that. If I could turn back the clock and regain some of the skills I had when I was a kid, then I would and I would be attempting to do what you guys do, maybe with the odd photographic twist. Maybe, with a little more patience, I could get my eye back in but I see that as a remote possibility. So, I cut up and piece together, mostly, photographic imagery but sometimes include my own ‘artwork’.

This ‘mashing up’ of existing images has its benefits but many more drawbacks. You are limited in what you can create and to get anything near to what you initially saw in your mind’s eye, you have to compromise on composition, accuracy, quality and frequently abandon any reasonable attempts at caricaturing. An audience (and some editors) may like the concept of photo-realism in a ‘cartoon’ but when you use photographic sources, your editing/manipulation must be of a sufficient standard to manage the expectation of a degree of photo-realism, which is both time-consuming and sometimes just too bloody difficult.(There are of course some IM styles, the screen/halftone tear and paste which can be quite valid which do not require skintone matching, proportion etc.)

Many may think IM is a quick process. It isn’t. Some images take a considerable amount of time and, if you do cut corners, it is painfully obvious. The sarcastic comments of ‘seamless’ can be deafening.

Talented artists do not have these constraints. You create from scratch, stretch, shrink and caricature but most of all, simplify while creating recognisable figures, scenes and faces, each of which can either be an integral part of the humour or so simple (yet so difficult to create well) that it does not distract from the humour or the message of your cartoon. Simplification is much more difficult when you work with a medium that is supposed to convey minute detail. So, what I do is compromise when I create an image like the one published here.

Bloghorn says there will be more from the talented Mr Hepburn coming up, so loosen up that creative thinking muscle.

25th November 2007
British cartoon talent

4 responses to PCO Procartoonists – Graphic humour and photomontage

  1. Neil

    You seem to be saying that your choice to use this medium was because of a difficulty, or impatience, with drawing. I suspect you’re being modest here, since your work is head and shoulders above most of the other photomontage illustration work we see in the print medium. Your satirical “voice” is very like that of a political cartoonist, even though you don’t consider yourself one.

    Was this really the driving force, or did you make a conscious style choice in favour of photomontage as a more “postmodern” medium? You’d be forgiven for doing so, given the lack of enthusiasm for drawn cartoons by editors right now.

  2. Thanks Andy.
    Without revealing the second (and possibly third) part of the article, my using IM was accidental. If I didn’t have an old copy of Paint Shop Pro, I wouldn’t be doing what I do at all.
    I cover the media’s fondness for photomontage as well.
    One thing I didn’t mention about this is that its pre-occupation may well be driven by the sheer volume of photo-montage floating around the web, particularly in virals.
    It’s obviously a gross error to use volume as a measure of popularity.
    Later, I also touch on confusion between popularity of content and the ease and intrusiveness of the method of delivery and how cartoonists can hopefully rectify this situation.

  3. A very interesting post Neil,

    but like Andy I’m left feeling that you’re being slightly too modest here, possibly in fear of getting beaten up by enraged fanatical ink-users. Now, you’ve met a fair few of us, so you should know better than to think that any of us have the physique to beat up anyone at all.

    So first of all: you don’t consider yourself a cartoonist – why not?!

    Maybe you’re not one in the truest definition of the word, but in a modern satire context, like it or not, you most certainly are!

    You focus a great deal on the limitations of your medium compared to the more traditional drawn approach, and I’m not going to argue too loudly, because what you say makes a great deal of sense.
    Like you say, it has it’s limitations. Many probably also think it’s an easy way of working, but it most certainly is not!

    However, it has some great advantages that you don’t elaborate on at all.
    Like the simple fact that it’s funny to see an actual picture of someone put into a different, amusing setting.

    The Private Eye approach is a very basic example, where they on the cover simply alter the image with speech bubbles. The same joke with a drawn image would in most cases not have made a similar impact.

    It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on what you think the benefits of IM is in comparison with the drawn cartoon.

    An interesting name to drop into this debate would be Dwayne Booth, aka Mr Fish, who in my opinion is one of the most exciting American cartoonists working today. He uses a ‘photo-realistic’ drawing style that probably places him more in the category of image manipulators than traditional cartoonists, yet he retains the creative options of the drawer. In our business to manage to come up with something so stylistically unique, is nothing short of genius.

    I’m very much looking forward to more posts from you Neil. But after respectful beginnings, stop selling yourself short.

  4. Cheers Morten,

    I think what I do is valid but, as you acknowledge, I am not a cartoonist in the truest sense.
    I think it important that there is a definitive separation in terminology between what I do and the ‘traditional’ cartoonist.
    To bundle everything up under one definition can only help erode the standing and perception of ‘traditional’ cartoonists and
    play into the hands of the lazy editor.

    Yes, there can sometimes be advantages to a photographic style when the image is relatively seamless, a double-take is necessary and the image is consistent in style with other genuine images that appear in the same medium.
    There are other advantages and some are in the distribution of the work but that is something that I cover later and can be easily addressed by the ‘traditional’ cartooning community.
    Apologies, but I should bring up another downside to using images and that is cost.
    Everything I do commercially is created from images that I’ve paid for, which decimates any revenue I make.
    Some libraries do not allow manipulation of their images, so my sources, particularly for international topics are rare.

    You mention Private Eye’s front cover image, something I don’t always like.
    Without wishing to appear in Pseud’s Corner, I think it’s a deliberate attempt at pretty simple schoolboy humour which reflects a seam that runs throughout the magazine but which is far from representative of the whole.
    However, I have always thought that an image can make a simple one-liner or pun be much more effective and Private Eye does
    it well.

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