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We say gags, they say single-panel

July 2, 2013 in Comment, General

Pete Dredge offers a British perspective in reaction to an American cartoonist’s views on the cartooning game

“Single-panel” or “gag” cartoonist? The former is the default description from over the pond and is infinitely preferable to the UK’s more downmarket “gag” label for those of us who create the stand-alone joke.

Cartoon by Pete Dredge

Single-panel or gag? Cartoon © Pete Dredge

Apart from that, there appears to be little difference in attitudes to gag cartoonists on either side of the Atlantic, if the video talks by the New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee – as recently featured on this blog – are anything to go by. (Well, apart from the fact that most US cartoonists seem to be equally as eloquent with a microphone as they are with a pen, something that the reserved UK cartoonist can find difficult to master.)

It was comforting to know that our US counterparts are bombarded with the same probing questioning from inquisitive admirers. “Where do you get your ideas?” appears to top both the UK and US list. Diffee perceptively regards this as “a good question, it is the only question because without an idea there is no cartoon”. He then offers up the disarmingly honest answer “We think of ’em!”

Brilliant!

Why haven’t we ever thought of that? UK gagsmiths start to ramble on about lateral thinking, brainstorming and word association whilst our inquisitor’s eyes start to glaze over.

“I wish I could do that” and “I could never do that” are supplementary statements thrown up by the misguided onlooker. Diffee believes that these admissions underline the misconception that cartoonists draw “for fun”, something that can be churned out at the drop of a hat. “How long have you tried?” he asks. He points out that it takes several hours and a pot of coffee to come up with ideas.

Then there’s the ability to handle rejection. Diffee likens the inevitable low hit rate – at The New Yorker one in ten is “top of the game”, more often it’s something like one in 30 – to the a mother sea turtle laying thousands of eggs. After being subjected to the ravages of crabs, birds and fish, if one baby makes it through then it’s job done.

Another characteristic shared by both US and UK cartoonists is the requirement to develop stoicism when confronted by other media types. One video featured Diffee being interviewed after his talk by a hack from Forbes magazine.

Trying hard to describe the idea-creating process, he says: “It’s about concepts, like comedy writing, it’s about language, not drawing, at this stage.” The journalist seemed to struggle with this abstract notion.

But Diffee soon has the measure of his inquisitor and describes how he is trying to keep up with the latest hi-tech devices. “Have you seen them? They’re amazing. You click on the end and it comes out here,” he says, describing a propelling pencil to his bemused interrogator.

Many thanks, Pete. Do you have any views on cartooning US and UK style? Let us know in the comments below.

In praise of the gag cartoon

March 16, 2011 in News

Bloghorn Opinion logo

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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