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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.