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Opinion: Cartoonists and a new world

November 19, 2013 in Comment, General, News

You are here © Roger_Penwill_@_procartoonists.org

© Roger Penwill @ Procartoonists.org

The internet is a perfect medium for cartoons. Images can look much more striking on a backlit screen than they ever did in muddy print.

So the news that The Sun was dropping Andy Davey’s weekday editorial cartoon slot just as it finally attempted a serious transition to digital first publication is ironic.

I am a member of an endangered species … the cartoonists. In fact, my small colony is a sub-sub-species – the few who actually (well, as I write) make a living from the practice. The fact is that habitat change is threatening us.”
Andy Davey in an article for E!Sharp magazine

(In a fitting footnote, E!Sharp magazine moved from print to digital with the loss of Davey’s regular cover illustration).

Newspapers have been shedding journalists, photographers and cartoonists by the hundredweight over the past few years, as their print revenues have shrivelled. Few papers have managed the transition to digital presence while finding an alternative online revenue stream.

Obfuscation about their digital revenue clouds the facts but the basic problem of converting casual digital readers into paying subscribers remains.

© Ger Whyman at Procartoonists.org

© Ger Whyman @ Procartoonists.org

Publishing companies have tried two basic strategies. News UK papers The Times and The Sun are now both largely behind subscriber paywalls, amid huge tidal waves of PR and free giveaways. This was a a principled decision (nobody should work for nothing) but a rather brave one in a world where news and information is now free, instant and ubiquitous. The results are presently understood to be mixed.

The other model is the new-media idea that you give away your content and hope that spin-off merchandising and advertising revenue will flood in on the back of your increased global readership. Online services can be developed for a motivated and loyal crowd of customers.

© Dave Chisholm @procartoonists.org

© Dave Chisholm @ Procartoonists.org

The Guardian has attempted to make itself into the best upmarket liberal global news brand in this fashion. The Daily Mail has morphed silently into a sort of daily global Hello! magazine, titillating the masses with its “Sidebar of Shame”, in the process becoming the most widely read digital newspaper worldwide.

Significantly, neither of these organisations have been over keen to reveal how much revenue this accrues  and how it stacks up against their legacy costs of business.

But publishing companies and newspapers as product form only a small patch of land in the shrinking traditional habitat of the cartoonist. Magazines used to be a source of welcome revenue for scribblers. However, the rates of pay have been slashed over the years to levels of vanity publication. Regular readers and subscribers to this blog will also know about the direct-to-audience efforts that many cartoonists have made in recent years.

© Matt Percival at procartoonists.org

© Matt Percival @ Procartoonists.org

The traditional confidence in the utility of our skills leads the Guardian cartoonist and PCO member Martin Rowson to characterise our trade as parasites. Once the carrier dies, “like any hideous sensible parasite, we’ll just jump off on to the next host”.

And there is some truth in this.

In Georgian times, cartoonists plied their trade by selling prints of their work in coffee shops. The radical coffee shop died a death as the prim Victorians arrived. Consequently, cartoonists jumped on to new hosts ushered in by advances in print – Punch and similar magazines.

Newspaper circulation wars in the 1900s then saw a race to hire cartoonists, providing a very welcome long-lived carrier for us parasites. The chronic morbidity of printed newspapers means we have to find a new habitat.

Ed adds: And, of course, many of us are adapting successfully. If you have comments about any of themes in this piece please do add them in comments.

Opinion: The Sun drops editorial cartoons from weekday editions

November 7, 2013 in Comment, General, News

Rome Burns © Andy Davey for The Sun @ procartoonists.org

© Andy Davey for The Sun @ procartoonists.org

Andy Davey writes:

After more than 40 years, The Sun has cut editorial cartoons from the weekday editions of the paper.

The paper has boasted a roster of excellent cartoonists to poke fun at the political shenanigans of the day. Names such as Stanley Franklin, Dave Gaskill, Keith Waite, Paul Rigby, Posy Simmonds, Tom Johnston, Bill Caldwell, Bernard Cookson and Charles Griffin have all served on the super soaraway paper. But recently, circulation of printed publications has sunk, taking with it into the deep briny blue a huge wad of advertising revenue.

I write as the most recent regular incumbent and my cartoons have now been dropped. No reason was given to me, but it seems likely it was a financial decision. Cartoonists, together with many journalists and photographers, are apparently too expensive for these times. It’s much more cost effective to fill the editorial page with a splash headline and a crowdsourced free or cheap image.

The paper will still run editorial cartoons by another PCO member, Brighty (Steve Bright), in the Sun on Sunday and in Trevor Kavanagh’s Monday editorial column.

Traditionally, papers have run editorial, gag and strip cartoons but this has begun to change over the past few years.

The loss of daily editorial cartoons from The Sun is significant but it is not alone in ditching its cartoonists. Last month, The Sunday Times cast off several long term freelance cartoonists. The Mirror dropped daily editorial cartoons years ago and The Observer had a clear-out recently.

Alongside this, rates of pay have been cut. In 2011, The i newspaper, sister to The Independent, decided it needed strip, gag and editorial cartoonists to make its content shine. Instead of hiring cartoonists at a standard industry rate, it ran a competition in the oh-so-fashionable form of a “Cartoon Idol” to find new talent. The pay was so derisory that only one cartoonist could afford to take up the offer.

We at Procartoonists.org may be biased, but we think cartoons are still loved and appreciated by readers. It is a shame to see them disappearing at a time when humour and satire is desperately needed.

Ed adds: Procartoonists.org thanks Andy for sharing his thoughts here.

What sort of cartoonist?

April 8, 2010 in Comment

Bloghorn_cartoonists ©http://thebloghorn.org for the UK Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation http://www.procartoonists.orgBill Stott writes for Bloghorn about different sorts of cartoonist:

The UK boasts quite a few inventive, informed and highly skilled political cartoonists many of whom don’t fool easily and must be the bane of leader writers’ lives in their ability to prove that the picture is often worth more than words.

However – don’t you love the word  cartoonist? It usually presages a disagreement, and here is a head above the parapet.

Peter Brookes, of the Times, was recently named “Cartoonist of the Year” [read it here – Ed]. I wouldn’t have started digging this hole if the title had been “Political Cartoonist of the Year” because that is essential and its remit is admirably fulfilled, not least by Mr Brookes. But political cartooning is only part of the whole picture of cartooning.

The vast majority of cartoonists in the UK are not political cartoonists. Logic suggests that, because this majority has not just politics to lampoon but the whole of life as we know it, Jim.

So, I think there’s a problem. The usually non-political joke or gag cartoonist is disappearing fast from newspapers. Quite a few publications are buying in cheap syndicated stuff which struggles to be relevant. Recently a long-established Welsh newspaper dropped its regular gag and used a Canadian cartoon poking fun at Obama’s healthcare reforms instead. Cheaper, but hardly relevant and deeply unfunny to boot.

Stalwart magazines like Private Eye, the Oldie, Prospect and the Spectator do what they can, but they can only run so many cartoons. The UK’s never been big on nationally recognised cartoon users and nowadays Punch, and more recently Readers’ Digest, are either memories or at risk.

The cavalier way newspapers and many magazines presently ignore good joke cartoons makes the political cartoonist into a sort of protected species, and suggests that editors only think a cartoon is funny or useful if its got a very direct political subject.

So, long live our superb political cartoonists. Long live awards for our political cartoonists. But call the award “Political Cartoonist of the Year”. Otherwise folk might get the idea that political cartooning is THE only cartooning form.

Bloghorn agrees that variety is key to good cartooning. After all, it’s drawing life, innit? This also applies to where cartoons are seen and it doesn’t just have to be on pieces of dead tree.

Shortsighted Observer found wanting

February 22, 2010 in Comment

Bloghorn_cartoonists ©http://thebloghorn.org for the UK Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation http://www.procartoonists.org
The UK’s Observer newspaper relaunched with a “new look” yesterday, and to ensure publicity it grabbed the headlines with a story about the alleged workplace bullying of the Prime Minister. But the revamp also brought with it another controversy: it ditched cartoons.

Gone are the funny and colourful spot cartoons by Robert Thompson, which were once scattered throughout the paper. Gone too is Andy Riley‘s funny strip Roasted, which had been poking fun at the foibles of modern life in the Observer Magazine since 2002.

In addition to editorial survivor Chris Riddell, the paper will each week feature a cartoon drawn for another newspaper from somewhere else in the world. Bloghorn suspects this art will be sourced from an agency which means lower costs for the impoverished newspaper. We think it’s both cheaper and cheerless.

Bloghorn believes this is not good news for British cartoonists, or the readership of The Observer.

People like a laugh, it’s a given, particularly for a Sunday title published on a day that’s supposed to be about putting your feet up and forgetting the woes of the week for a few moments.

Dropping cartoons is undoubtedly a quick cost-cutting measure for a newspaper that was recently staring closure in the face. But Bloghorn believes it is confused thinking.

Other newspapers understand the power of cartoons: The Telegraph knows it needs Matt and The Daily Mail made sure they got a replacement sharpish when Ken Mahood retired recently.

Why has the Observer been so short-sighted? Please dive in and tell us in the comments below.