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Why does no one want to be a cartoonist any more? The lack of new blood doesn’t bode well for the industry’s future

July 25, 2020 in Comment, General

Written by Nick Newman for (and courtesy of) The Spectator with bonus cartoon content.

‘Nightmare!’ is how The Spectator’s cartoon editor Michael Heath has been describing cartooning for at least 30 years, but it’s truer now than ever. Eighty years ago, cartoonists were so celebrated that waxworks of Low, Strube and Poy were displayed in Madame Tussauds. Today, all that remains of Low is a pair of waxy hands in Kent University’s British Cartoon Archive. We are a vanishing species.

A © K.J. Lamb cartoon from Cherwell Magazine done during the time Kathryn was still at college.

There is a lack of new blood in the industry that doesn’t bode well for the future. When I was a student, getting published in Punch and Private Eyewas seen as the pinnacle of a career in humour. Many tried —and succeeded — from an early age. K.J. Lamb was selling gags to the Eyewhile still at Oxford. Ken Pyne was published in Punch when just 16 — as was Grizelda in Private Eye. The FT’s Banx was also a Punch stalwart by the time he was 20. That was then. Now we are all middle-aged and there are few youngsters snapping at our heels. The last time six cartoonists met at a Spectator party we had a combined age of over 350. In a recent photo of Eye cartoonists, featuring 45 of the top names, only one was under 30.

Punch cartoon from 1983 by a youthful © Jeremy Banks

Yet there’s every indication that cartoons are as loved by the public as ever. They are tweeted, shared, posted on Instagram; they go viral and get printed out and stuck on fridges. Pocket cartoons, pioneered by Sir Osbert Lancaster in the 1930s, are a particularly British art form and one that is still prized. Editors place topical gags on the front pages of newspapers, a practice rarely seen in France, Germany or America.

So why the dearth of new cartooning talent? The simple answer is that the opportunities have narrowed. Since the death of Punch, the main outlets for freelancers are Private Eye, The Spectator and the Oldie — and competition is fierce. Private Eye receives more than 500 submissions per issue and publishes up to 50. Every newspaper used to have regular pocket cartoonists — now only a handful survive. In straitened times for print media, the cartoons are often the first to go. Many of us lost work when lockdown was announced.

Another problem is financial. Some publications haven’t raised their rates since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, while others pay as little as £50 per cartoon. Compare that with the New Yorker, which is reported to pay between $700 and $1,400 per gag, depending on the artist’s ‘seniority’. One British publisher once asked me: ‘If we pay more, will the jokes be any funnier?’ I wish now I had said yes.

It isn’t just the lack of money that’s deterring new talent. There is also fear of failure. Rejection is a way of life for even seasoned cartoonists and today’s snowflakes can’t cope with it. I recently encouraged a promising young cartoonist to try The Spectator, which he did with immediate success. I still warned him: ‘You will get rejected. Everyone gets rejected.’ After two issues of ‘no thanks’ he has abandoned cartooning.

We veteran cartoonists do try to encourage the next generation, although it’s akin to committing professional suicide. The Cartoon Art Trust’s Young Cartoonist competition — judged by Fleet Street cartoonists — receives 1,000 entries a year. We joke that the objective is to identify the talent and then break their little fingers, but we stupidly don’t, and instead celebrate new stars and extra competition. Former winner Will McPhail is now a New Yorker regular; Rob Murray draws for Private Eye and the Sunday Times; Ella Baron for the TLS. All were in their twenties when they won, which suggests the talent is out there.

© Rob Murray’s first cartoon in Private Eye.

Oliver Preston, chairman of the Cartoon Art Trust, thinks alternative outlets distract comic artists. Graphic novels such as Kingsman, which was turned into a successful Hollywood movie franchise, are a more enticing means of earning aliving. Also, the ability to self-publish online cuts out editors who say, in the words of Heath: ‘You are not funny, Mr So-Called Funnyman.’ Ruby Elliot is a young illustrator better known as ‘rubyetc’ on Instagram, where she has 277,000 followers. Through her website, she sells merchandise, artwork and subscriptions to her cartoons.

Jon Harvey, the creator of Count Binface (who stood against Boris in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat in the last election), is the sort of sharp-minded political gagster who in another era would have drawn up his ideas and sold them to publications. Instead, he puts his jokes on Twitter to boost his online profile. It’s quicker, the response is immediate and, as he quips: ‘The editor of my Twitter page is more likely to take it.’ The theory is that getting noticed online may lead to commissions for radio and TV. He describes the internet as a ‘Wild West’ of opportunities for those who know how to self-promote or nurture a following.

For those of us brought up on dead wood who still find magic in newsprint, it may be too late to grasp these opportunities. So we continue to live the ‘nightmare’. How long the nightmare continues remains to be seen.

With many thanks to The Spectator for allowing us to reproduce this piece.

You can see an item featuring Nick on this story from BBC Newsnight (around 37 mins in)

The Round-up

June 4, 2014 in Events, General, Links, News

Never Again, World War One in Cartoon and Comic Art, will be held at the Cartoon Museum

Never Again, World War One in Cartoon and Comic Art, will be held at the Cartoon Museum

Kasia Kowalska writes:

The next exhibition to at the Cartoon Museum in London is titled Never Again and will be on the subject of cartoons drawn during the First World War. It will run from 11 June to 19 October. Until then, there is still time to catch the Spitting Image 30th anniversary exhibitionwhich ends on 8 June.

Private Eye’s Scene & Heard comic strip, by Procartoonists.org member David Ziggy Greene, is to be published in hardback at the end of the month. The cartoonist is currently choosing the 50 strips that will feature.

The artist/cartoonist David Shrigley talks to The Guardian about how it is difficult in the world of fine art to have a comic voice.

Alex Salmond cartoon © Brian Adcock

Alex Salmond cartoon © Brian Adcock. Click to enlarge

The Norfolk-based cartoonist Brian Adcock is celebrating a hat-trick at the Scottish Press Awards this year. He is best known for his political cartoons for The Scotsman and The Independent.

Meanwhile, another political cartoonist, Christian Adams of the Telegraph, has given behind-the-scenes access to his cartooning process via Instagram. And if you have Sky Atlantic, you probably want to tune in at 9pm tonight (4 June) to see For No Good Reason, the documentary about Ralph Steadman.

© Michael Heath. The cartoonist's first ever cartoon for The Spectator

© Michael Heath. The cartoonist’s first ever gag for The Spectator, from 1960

A new Twitter feed has been set up to showcase cartoons from The Spectator, old and new. It kicked off this week with the magazine’s first ever cartoon by Michael Heath, its cartoon editor, from 1960, above.

If you are a fan of the comics artist Dave McKean, do not miss the UK premiere of 9 Lives at the British Library on 6 June. The collection of songs, images and animation was first shown at Sydney Opera House last October and coincides with the Comics Unmasked exhibitionMeanwhile, it has been announced that the 5th International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference will be hosted at the library in July.

Returning to the centenary of the First World War, two other exhibitions open this month: Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour at the British Library, which is to examine how people coped with life during the conflict, and Charley’s War at Durlston Country Park, near Swanage, which will display artwork by Joe Colquhoun from the acclaimed comic strip.

Finally, this is great fun and very clever: the storyboard artist Marty Cooper takes an animated look at ordinary objects.

The Round-up

December 12, 2013 in General, Links, News

© Peter Brookes @Procartoonists.org

The death of Nelson Mandela inspired poignant tributes from UK cartoonists, among them Peter Brookes in The Times (above), Peter Schrank in The Independent and Christian Adams in The Telegraph. Elsewhere, the South African cartoonist Zapiro tells the BBC a personal anecdote that demonstrates Mandela’s appreciation of satire.

Congratulations to Len Hawkins, who has been named the first-ever recipient of The Spectator’s Michael Heath Award for Cartooning. Already an established gag cartoonist, Len has won a year’s contract with the magazine, an original drawing by Heath, a bottle of gin, and a hand-made pair of shoes from John Lobb, which sponsored the competition.

Bill Watterson, creator of the much-loved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, looks set to be the subject of a feature film from Warner Bros., with Leonardo DiCaprio among its producers.  Visit The Daily Cartoonist for more information. Watterson and his strip were also recently the focus of a documentary film.

According to Forbes, Bitstrips are now being used by French politicians to connect with the electorate. For the PCO‘s view on the popular automated ‘cartoons’, read this previous article.

Special report: 50 years of cartoons in Private Eye

September 27, 2013 in Events, General, News

Left to right: Nick Newman, Ian Hislop and Richard Ingrams

Fans of Private Eye cartoons were in for a treat this week, as editor Ian Hislop and cartoonist Nick Newman took to the stage for two separate events looking back over 50 years of visual humour in the magazine – where they picked out a few favourite gags and discussed the challenge of selecting the cartoons that make it into the magazine.

Monday night saw the pair speak to a packed auditorium at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank. On Thursday, they were joined for their appearance at the Soho Literary Festival by Richard Ingrams, Hislop’s predecessor at the Eye and now editor of The Oldie.

The talks were scheduled to coincide with the launch of Private Eye: A Cartoon History, a handsome new hardback book edited by Newman and containing more than 1000 of the best cartoons published by the magazine over the last five decades. Ingrams was promoting his latest collection of Oldie cartoons, also published this month.

© Ed McLachlan @Procartoonists.org

Hislop and Newman began their National Theatre talk by looking back at some of the Eye cartoons that have gone on to become classics, including drawings by Willie Rushton, Martin Honeysett, Michael Heath, John Kent and Ed McLachlan (above). They observed that cartoons became increasingly surreal and absurd during the 1970s – with the giant hedgehog being a case in point – and Newman noted that many of the best political cartoons have not made it into his book because their impact has been lost over time.

Libby Purves, the journalist, broadcaster and Procartoonists.org patron, was on hand to steer the conversation. She pointed out that there still seems to be life in cartoonist cliches such as the desert island and the suicidal man-on-ledge. Hislop agreed, observing that “Private Eye is nothing if not repeated jokes with slight twists.” He referred to two recent psychiatrist’s couch gags, both by Procartoonists.org member Royston Robertson, which played with the formula and made it into the magazine.

More generally, Hislop praised gag cartoonists for their ability to distil their observations of the world around them into pithy and memorable scenes. “They’ve observed it, frozen it, and made it more or less permanent,” he said.

© Alexander Matthews @Procartoonists.org

The issue of ‘bad taste’ was raised when a cartoon by PCOer Alexander Matthews (above) was met by explosive laughter – and some gasps. Purves asked where Hislop draws the line when it comes to offending his readership.

“I always have to be able to justify it – to myself, if to no one else,” said Hislop. “And sometimes there are things that might offend people, but that you think just have to be said. We got a lot of complaints about this cartoon, but I just thought it was incredibly funny.”

Newman explained to the crowd that a cartoonist’s life can be defined by whether he or she is able to cope with having most of their work rejected on a regular basis. He also agreed with Purves’ observation that there are fewer high-profile markets for cartoons these days, following the demise of Punch and with newspapers not currently running standalone gags.

Hislop said that “without Matt, The Telegraph would be in real trouble”, and argued that readers would welcome non-topical joke cartoons in the newspapers. “Editors are missing a trick; cartoons are not expensive,” he said, turning to Newman with a threatening grin before adding: “and they’re getting cheaper next week!”. We hope he was joking.

***

“I’ve got a much smaller book, but it’s also a lot cheaper,” said a deadpan Ingrams of his Oldie paperback collection, when he joined the others on stage at the Soho Theatre on Thursday. “Nick’s book is terribly good, but you can’t take it into the toilet – my book you can.”

The presence of Ingrams at this second talk meant more anecdotes about the 1960s satire boom – for example that it was Willie Rushton who persuaded Gerald Scarfe to stop drawing desert island gags and have a go at caricature.

But Ingrams was also keen to talk about the current crop of cartoonists, and his slideshow of gags from the Oldie book included one or two from younger talents, among them the cartoon below by Procartoonists.org member Huw Aaron.

© Huw Aaron @Procartoonists.org

Hislop explained that the sheer number of cartoons flooding in to the Eye means he is required to make quick decisions over what to publish.

“When I choose cartoons, I think ‘is that funny?’, rather than ‘is it beautifully drawn?’,” said Hislop. Ingrams agreed, but added that the drawing itself should be amusing, not simply the idea behind it.

“Cartoonists don’t realise that they’re probably the most important part of a magazine,” said Ingrams, citing a recent readership survey in which roughly 80% said that cartoons were their favourite part of The Oldie.

Both talks were packed and the audiences were extremely appreciative, filling the room with laughter at pretty much every cartoon shown – and with several jokes even eliciting a round of applause.

***

Also this week, Private Eye launched Newman’s book with a party at Kettner’s in Soho attended by Eye staff and dozens of the magazine’s cartoonists. A great night was had by all and it was an excellent opportunity for the cartoonists to mingle and swap stories.

Private Eye cartoonists at the book launch party © Philippa Gedge

More images from the party, by photographer Philippa Gedge, can be seen here. Head over to the BBC for a slideshow of selected cartoons from the new book.

On behalf of its members, Procartoonists.org would like to thank Private Eye and offer a toast to the next 50 years.

 

Human rights in cartoon form

September 16, 2013 in News

Know Your Rights. Cartoon © Ali Ferzat @ Procartoonists.org

Amnesty's Know your Rights booklet. Cover cartoon © Ali Ferzat @ Procartoonists.org

Amnesty International has come up with a memorable way to remind people about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: it has issued the document as a booklet illustrated with cartoons.

Know your Rights is published in conjuction with Waterstones and features 14 cartoonists, including the Procartoonists.org members Tony Husband, Fran Orford and Royston Robertson, illustrating various articles of the Declaration.

© cartoon Tony Husband

Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude © Tony Husband @ Procartoonists.org

The booklet features an introduction by the writer A.L. Kennedy and includes thoughts on human rights from the cartoonists themselves. Michael Heath accompanies his cartoon with a succint thought: “It’s nice to be able to draw anything you want without being arrested.”

The cover is by the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat who was beaten up because he drew cartoons critical of the Assad regime.

Publication marks the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified 60 years ago this month. The booklet contains the full text of the Declaration.

© Royston Robertson cartoon

Article 27. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community © Royston Robertson @ Procartoonists.org

The other cartoonists in the booklet are: Steven Appleby, Liza Donnelly, Merrily Harpur, Neil Kerber, Martha Richler (Marf), Chris Riddell, Gerald Scarfe, David Shrigley [Does this mean he’s officially a cartoonist now? – Ed] and Judith Vanistendael.

Know your Rights can be found by the tills in branches of Waterstones nationwide, priced £2.

by Royston

Cartoons for sale

February 7, 2012 in News

“Ask anyone you meet in the street what the most popular feature of The Spectator is, and they will reply in unison, ‘The cartoons, of course’,” says Michael Heath of the magazine.

Of course, he is a cartoonist and the magazine’s cartoon editor, so he would say that … but the Bloghorn agrees heartily!

Following a succesful exhibition at Browse & Darby in London, The Spectator is now selling cartoons online. Originals and prints, framed and mounted, are up for grabs, including work by gag cartoonists from the PCO.

Visit the online exhibition

Cartoon by Denise Dorrance

Heath on Heath

November 23, 2011 in News

Michael Heath cartoonMichael Heath, cartoon editor at The Spectator is interviewed over at the magazine’s arts blog.

Bloghorn doffs its cap to Mr Heath, who has been commenting on the way we live, in his merciless cartooning style, since 1954. But we can’t quite agree with his pessimistic view of the cartooning profession. The talent is certainly out there.

He’s on safer ground commenting on Britons’ declining sartorial standards, as Bloghorn has noticed what a bunch of scruffs we all are.

Read the blog: Heath on Heath

by Royston

Cartoonist of the Year nominations

March 2, 2009 in General

bpa09The nominations for the Press Gazette’s British Press Awards have been announced. The event takes place on Tuesday 31 March. There are seven people in the running for Cartoonist of the Year, and they are as follows:

Steve Bell, The Guardian
Dave Brown, The Independent
Michael Heath, The Mail on Sunday
Stan “Mac” McMurtry, Daily Mail
Matt Pritchett, Daily Telegraph
Chris Riddell, The Observer
Peter Schrank, The Independent on Sunday

The British Press Awards have been running for more than 30 years. This year’s ceremony is being held at the Grosvenor Hotel and will be hosted by Channel 4’s Jon Snow.