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In praise of the gag cartoon

March 16, 2011 in News

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Whenever the media spotlight is turned on cartoons it is often those of a political variety. These cartoons shout the loudest and have news impact. But Bloghorn writer Royston Robertson thinks it’s time to speak up for its more modest cousin: the gag cartoon.

I have been drawing gag cartoons for the magazine market for about 15 years. I love the process of coming up with new ideas and, hopefully, getting them published.

Recently I’ve been sifting through my drawings from magazines such as Reader’s Digest and Private Eye in order to put together a book collection. I’m not friends with any famous people so I had to write my own foreword for the book and decided to to put down exactly what it is I like so much about gag cartoons as a medium. This was the crux of piece:Early man cartoon by Royston

“The single-panel joke is a perfect, self-contained unit of comedy, an instant hit of humour that doesn’t demand much of your time.”

I once heard the writer Will Self describe gags as “the haiku of cartoons”. That may sound a little pretentious (from Will Self? Surely not?) but I think it’s true.

A gag cartoon is like a poem. Or a one-liner joke, perhaps. It is a small, carefully crafted article. It doesn’t have the grandeur or the, let’s be honest, occasional self-importance of the political cartoon, but it is still designed to provoke a reaction: hopefully laughter.

I have heard some claim that the gag cartoon is in some way an old-fashioned form. This is probably because it is so closely connected with magazines, so people think of crumpled, yellowing copies of Punch in the dentist’s waiting room.

Plus, magazines and newspapers are “dead-tree technology”, and that, we are constantly being told, is on the way out. But, when you think about it, the gag cartoon is actually perfectly suited for this age of the short attention-span and sits just as easily on a web page, or an iPad app, as a magazine page. And long may it continue to do so.

Royston Robertson's cartoon book
Royston Robertson’s book Penguin vs Polar Bear and Other Ridiculous Cartoons is available online here, priced £5.99 (plus £1 p+p) or you can get a digital download version for £1.99

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by Royston

Cartoonists doing it for themselves

January 11, 2011 in News

Cartoon by Huw Aaron
Cartoonists are continuing to use the print-on-demand services provided by various websites to get their work out there.

These sites mean that they can print collections of their drawings as and when they are needed, so they don’t end up with boxes full of unsold books cluttering up their sheds.

While the cartoonists probably won’t get rich off these books, they can work well as a “calling card” for potential clients, a kind of mini portfolio. And, crucially, they allow cartoonists to sell their books online.
Cartoon book by Huw Aaron

Huw Aaron is the latest to use this model, producing a book of joke cartoons published in magazines such as Private Eye, Reader’s Digest and The Oldie in 2010, plus a few unpublished cartoons. The book is called Does This Breastplate Make Me Look Fat? He has also produced a book compiling cartoons from 2009, his first as a professional cartoonist, called Gentlemen, I’m Off to Join the Circus. Bloghorn cornered Huw to ask him a few questions …

You’re relatively new to the world of cartooning, why did you decide to do not one, but two cartoon books at this stage?

My intent from the start was to produce a collection each year of my full-time cartooning career. After one year, I was already a year behind schedule. I’ve now managed to catch up.

The first book comes with a recommendation from Richard Ingrams, editor of The Oldie. Fair enough. But also … Jilly Cooper?! How did that come about?

I had a lovely phone call from Ms Cooper last year, asking to buy a cartoon of mine she’d seen in The Oldie. As my only celebrity “fan”, she was a clear choice when looking for a few words to stick on the back cover!

You seem to be trying out lots of different drawing styles, particularly in the first book. Is that deliberate or do you just go with what feels right?

I do think that an “Aaron look” is slowly emerging, but until it does, I hope there’s enough humour in these collections to make up for the mishmash of styles.

Does This Breastplate Make Me Look Fat? and Gentlemen, I’m off to Join the Circus can be purchased online at Lulu.com for £5.99 each in paperback, or £1.99 each for a digital copy.

The cartoonist as endurance athlete

October 4, 2010 in Comment

Marathon cartoon by Nick Newman
In the week when applicants for the London Marathon find out whether they have been successful in securing a place in the 2011 event, Nick Newman, cartoonist for Private Eye and the Sunday Times, tells the Bloghorn why he takes part:

I’ve always had the itch. Since living in London since the early 1980s, and seeing the first London Marathons on television, I always felt that the distance was the pinnacle of human endeavour – after all, the Greek Pheidippides died as a result of running the very first one.

At school, I was the fat boy who tried to get out of all games. The annual steeplechase – 4 miles of muddy terrain – was the source of nightmares. Running was, quite literally, a punishment.

Yet now I “enjoy” nothing more than a 6-mile run. This is, of course, a joke. It’s all hell, pain and regret – instead of warmth, comfort and breakfast. I enjoy it when it stops. So why do I do it?

I started running to try to lose weight. While that worked, I found an unexpected side-effect: solitude. A chance to think. And when I was really thinking, I forgot about how annoying the running was. The result was ideas, jokes, storylines for potential scripts and jokes about running which could be converted into ideas about storylines for potential scripts.

Cartoonists are well primed to run long-distance. It’s lonely and introspective. Road, road, road, dog waste, road – she’s nice – road. You just have to think of something else. Russell Taylor (of Alex fame) wrote an excellent book about his own marathon experience after he ran the New York Marathon. The fact that he wrote a humorous book about it shows how it can stimulate the creative juices, as well as blisters.

My own marathon experience began with me hooking up with a friend who put me in touch with a charity (the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign) which was all too happy to take me on as a potential runner and give me a marathon place – provided I could guarantee £1,500 of sponsorship. This year I ran for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, on a similar basis.

Still, it puts a strain on your loved ones, who weary of the decrepit, bow-legged invalid shuffling round Sainsburys after a 15-miler. Falling asleep spilling your wine down your front doesn’t help either (though, to be honest, I was doing that long before I started running seriously).

The result is a truly life-changing experience. I’ve now run two of the buggers, and I can honestly say they are the most life-affirming events I’ve ever experienced.

This is an extract from an article which is in the running for an appearance in our print magazine, Foghorn, later this year. Bloghorn thanks Nick.

Tortoise Husbandry

August 2, 2010 in General, News

Tony Husband tortoise cartoon
Tony Husband’s tortoise take on England and the World Cup

Many gag cartoonists have had their fruitful areas of interest over the decades. The very wonderful Larry (Terry Parkes) spent productive years milking the world of art, and the great, and recently late, Ray Lowry would have been bereft without rock ‘n’ roll or Nazis.

PCOer Tony Husband’s simple style of drawing – like Larry’s – belies an understanding of the joke-telling format not given to many. He has made a career as one of cartooning’s generalists, able to make a gag about anything. That was until recently, when something strange happened to the Husband oeuvre. It began to become invaded by testudines.

Gags appearing in his normal haunts like Private Eye and The Oldie began to feature tortoises with curious regularity. The Bloghorn was keen to investigate and approached Mr Husband with a demand to come clean about the tortoise invasion. Was it a failed book project – “101 Uses For A Tortoise” – or a batch of rejects from “Tortoises and Tortoisemen (incorporating Tortoise Monthly)”? We needed to be told.

Husband finally revealed all: “The Lord of all Tortoise summoned me to his palace in the deserts of Org. He gave me a mission, to bring the tortoise to the forefront of popular culture. It’s as simple as that.”

Yes, that’s what we suspected.

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by Royston

Joke cartoons show opens

January 27, 2010 in General

pak_joking

The Only Joking! exhibition, a collection of gag cartoons old and new, opened at the Cartoon Museum in London today (Jan 27).

The show is designed to raise spirits in the deep winter with a few much-needed hearty chuckles, though when PCOer Martin Honeysett attended the private view yesterday he found that many people were clearly at home nursing winter colds (like this Bloghorn writer!)

Martin said: “I suppose the sparcity of cartoonists in the pub beforehand should have indicated the smallness of the throng attending. Never mind, all the better to get a good view of the fine work on display, extolling the virtues of this form of comic art and the lack of current appreciation.

“It’s a nice mix of old and new and an opportunity to see some gems from the museum collection. Well worth a visit.”

So, sup up your Lemsip (other cold remedies are available) and get down to the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street before the exhibition ends on March 1. For more details visit the website.

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by Royston

Joke cartoons to lift the winter blues

January 11, 2010 in General

pak_joking An exhibition entitled Only Joking! is at the Cartoon Museum, London, from January 27 until March 1. The show is billed as a collection of joke cartoons old and new designed to raise spirits in the deep winter. Meanwhile, you have until January 24 to catch 30 Years of Viz at the museum. For more, visit the website.