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by Royston

John Jensen on wit and wisdom: Part 3

February 18, 2010 in Comment

In the final part of his series on wit and wisdom (read part one here and part two here) PCOer John Jensen argues that sometimes cartoonists get better results on a smaller canvas

International cartoon exhibitions should be encouraged and they will continue throughout the years. The symbolic stone walls, barbed wire and the dying doves will still be there, awaiting to be transmuted into the pure gold of a beautifully drawn idea.

Continental cartoonists are happy seeking and finding wit. British cartoonists treat wit with suspicion. Fortunately, not all cartoonists are limited to generalising, tut-tutting and philosophising about Life.

Political cartoonists, even though their symbolism is also limited, have an ever-changing world on which to draw. Topicality generates excitement, which is great.

Then there are the niche cartoonists: nerd speaking unto nerd, where words can be used, thus freeing up the ideas, and ideas are more specific. On the downside, many of the ideas, like some wines, would not travel well.

The problem is that broad themes can become boring. Topicality and the occasional use of words can sometimes produce more interesting ideas. Niche stuff, limited though it is, and usually not wanted by Fleet Street, is where the some of the best cartoons are found.

Small may not be beautiful but it is often very, very funny. What’s the problem?

What do you think about John Jensen’s article? Have your say in the comments below.

by Royston

John Jensen on wit and wisdom: Part 2

February 15, 2010 in Comment

In the second part of his series on wit and wisdom (read part one here) PCOer John Jensen pinpoints a crucial difference between the British and European senses of humour

Cartoon competitions are a great tourist draw. In lands where overt or even covert censorship persists, an appearance is given that freedom of speech is encouraged. It isn’t.

The exhibitions are usually broad generalisations filled with visual euphemisms: there are countless brick walls, endless rolls of barbed wire, and doves of peace in need of a vet.

Words are not wanted here, so that the cartoons can speak to everyone. But not everyone appreciates the same visual language. UK cartoonists contribute to many of the exhibitions but their work is in a minority and is markedly refreshingly different to that from most European cartoonists.

Brits like humour, Europeans appreciate wit. Wit is serious stuff, humour is fun. They are two different worlds. Both worlds, the witty and the humorous, are limited by the subjects that are set: global warming, freedom of speech, pollution, sexual liberation, female emancipation, domesticity in today’s world … and on and on.

The cartoons are not only wordless, they are timeless – immediate topicality is not an option – and there must be nothing directly political. The ingenuity of the cartoonists is stretched to the limit and the limits are much the same as those felt by the surrealists: there is only so much symbolism to go around.

Eventually the terrain looks all too familiar. Beautiful draughtsmanship can’t hide threadbare ideas.

What do you think about what John is saying? Have your say in the comments below. The final part of John Jensen’s article will appear on Bloghorn soon.

by Royston

John Jensen on wit and wisdom: Part 1

February 11, 2010 in Comment

In the first of a three-part series on wit and wisdom, PCOer John Jensen looks at the international language of cartoon competitions

I have just received through the post a beautifully printed catalogue of cartoons. It contains the results of the annual Turkish Aydin Dogan International Competition, with seven Brits vigorously waving the Union Jack, among them PCOer Ross Thomson who picked up a ‘Success Award’. Iran contributed 162 cartoonists.

The catalogue lists the judges and shows their work. It lists the competitors and shows their work, spread throughout 220 glossily printed pages. The quality of the draughtsmanship is, as always, varied but there is a mass of genuine talent there too.

Where once I would have been delighted by the catalogue, however, today the elation is just not there. Grumpy old man? Of course. Complaining about the new, fresh talents? Not at all. Draughtsmanship is not the problem. Ideas are.

Bloghorn cartoon - The End of Ideas © John Jensen

Back to square one for just for a moment – don’t run away now, this is important. When Freud, way back when, revealed the workings of the unconscious mind there was a feeling that a new world of endless vistas had been opened up: sex, horror, fantasy, cans of worms (lots of those). Surrealism was born, but before long it died, because it became boring. There was only so much the unconscious mind can offer up. This seems to hold with some forms of cartooning.

If you are young and fresh to the game there is a thrill and great pleasure in discovering what’s going on in the rest of the cartoon world, of submitting your work to great international exhibitions.

But if you have followed the exhibitions for more than four or five decades, you realise that there are limits to the cartoon imagination too, particularly in international exhibitions.

What do you think about what John is saying? Please jump into the comments below. There will be more thinking about the end of ideas from Jensen on Bloghorn next week.