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Spectator Article: the future of cartooning

July 30, 2020 in Comment, General

A rare mass-gathering of Private Eye cartoonists in 2013 (Rob Murray standing, 9th from right)

Rob Murray writes in response to Nick Newman’s Spectator piece (see previous post):

Nick Newman, one of the UK’s best and most prolific gag cartoonists, has written an article for this week’s Spectator about the challenges facing our art form. He very kindly gives me a mention.

It makes for sobering reading: the number of open-call outlets for cartoonists has dropped massively in recent years; meanwhile, younger artists seem to be dissuaded by the likelihood of rejection, or simply prefer the perceived glamour and relative accessibility of monetising their work through social media platforms instead.

These are trends I recognise. When I was starting out as a cartoonist in the 2000s, more experienced nib-wielders would often tell me how unlucky I was to have missed out on Punch (which had folded several years earlier) – a magazine that would publish dozens of gags per issue, often phoning cartoonists out of the blue to offer them a double-page spread on which to go crazy.

These days, Private Eye is the undisputed champion of gag cartoons in this country, and I’m delighted to be counted among its regulars. The Spectator and The Oldie also provide a fair few spots – and encouragingly, there are new titles embracing the art form, such as the recently launched Critic magazine.

The issue of young cartoonists coming through is a tricky one to solve – and something of a doubled-edged sword.

One of Rob’s first Spectator cartoons © Rob Murray

I sold my first cartoons to Private Eye and The Spectator when I was 26; I’m now 39 and I’m only aware of two – yes, two – cartoonists younger than me who currently sell to these magazines.

At the risk of falling into fogeyisms, the evidence does seem to suggest that younger artists are dissuaded by the demands of the job: it’s great fun, but can also be hard graft – and it can take many, many rejections before you even sell your first gag. When I started, I was working long hours in a ‘proper’ job – then spending late nights at the drawing board to meet self-imposed deadlines for work that would never be published. But without doing that, I would never have broken through.

At the same time, every cartoonist is fighting for their inch of white space in these magazines – do I really need some young star player rocking up and giving me a run for my money? In a word, yes.

Without new talent coming through and attracting the attention of the editors, even the most cartoon-friendly magazines might eventually run out of decent material, and give up on the gags.

And yet the audience for cartoons remains strong and enthusiastic. They are hugely popular with readers – and people are immediately intrigued when I mention what I do for a living.

A very early © Rob Murray from Private Eye

Like any artist, the cartoonist needs to adapt to the marketplace. It’s true that it can be difficult (if not impossible) to make a living by relying exclusively on the best-known publications. And even with fewer new cartoonists on the scene, competition for space remains fierce.

To some extent, I see these big-name magazines as my shop window – the place I can show off some of my best work, and reach a big audience. I then try and use those credentials to find well-paying jobs elsewhere – often by tempting the editor of a more obscure or niche title to add my work to their pages, when they’ve previously never even thought of using cartoons.

Instead of assuming the art form will become extinct on the printed page, we should all be finding ways to create our own markets and ensure that cartoons are here to stay.

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)

Mike Turner 1942 – 2020

March 17, 2020 in News

Mike and Anita O’Brien at Ayr Cartoon Festival

Pete Dredge writes:

Like many cartoonists of a certain age, I first met Mike in the late 1970’s through membership of the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain. In those days the Club would meet monthly in The Cartoonist Pub in London’s Shoe Lane, as well as regularly arranging various “out of town” weekend, brewery-sponsored jaunts and an annual 5 day convention at Butlins. Mike, being one of the most sociable of chaps you’d ever wish to meet, was in his element. Nothing cliquey about Mike, he would find the time to talk to anyone and everyone in the room. This of course was no mean feat and Mike would usually sustain this time-consuming endeavour with a pint of best bitter and pin-sharp wit to hand.

Mike was a slightly built Mancunian but had the constitution of an ox and would often be found propping up the bar into the wee small hours as others fell pathetically by the wayside. I have only twice gone 24 hours without sleep and both times were in Mike’s wonderful, mischievous company. The first was on the CCGB’s 1979 trip to New York and, more recently, at the Ayr Cartoon Festival in 2001.

Sadly Mike contracted prostate cancer about 7 years ago and this put paid to his legendary imbibing and although his treatment appeared to be successful the cancer returned a few months ago with devastating effect . I last saw Mike about 3 years ago but spoke to him regularly on the phone over the years. Latterly the usual ‘mock bewilderment ‘ conversations about the machinations of cartoon editors was gradually replaced by more serious discussions of a medical nature.

Mike was a great gag cartoonist (Private Eye, The Spectator, The Oldie etc) who should have graced the pages of magazines much more frequently than he did. He served the CCGB well, not only as a lifelong member but as a distinguished chairman and put great store on the importance of the newsletter as a means of keeping distant, more remote members in touch with what was going on. As well as being a member of the PCO, Mike was also a member and regular attendee of BCA dinners.

Mike and joyous laughter (seasoned with a hint of cynicism) were synonymous and I, and all his colleagues will miss him greatly.

 

Opinion: The curse of Management

June 9, 2014 in Comment, General

Bill Stott from Punch magazine: "Be positive! At least  now we know that being able to fly has got noting to do with having a pointy head"

Bill Stott from Punch: “Be positive! At least now we know that being able to fly has got nothing to do with having a pointy head!” Click image to enlarge

In a somewhat acrimonious departure, Richard Ingrams has resigned as editor of The Oldie. In this opinion piece, Bill Stott sees echoes from the latter days of Punch magazine and hopes that cartoonists will not see history repeat itself.

Whilst it might sound uncomfortably like a medical examination, there’s interesting stuff coming out of The Oldie right now. Quite a bit of bile. The departure of the multi-faceted, sometimes contradictory Richard Ingrams will be a huge loss, not only to The Oldie, but to gag cartooning in the UK.

Logically, bearing in mind the fact that his team apparently liked and respected him, the job should go to one of them and a cartoon-friendly status quo will spread a warm glow throughout Humourland. However, given James Pembroke’s apparent management style and his grasp of the purse strings, that may well not happen.

The Oldie’s predicament reminds me of the beginning of the end for Punch, a magazine strong on cartoons and humour but which never made a profit in its 500-year existence, unlike The Oldie which has loads of readers and does make a profit.

The similarity lies with “management”. Alan Coren, probably one of the best Punch editors, fell out with those who bought the mag and got sacked. He was locked out of his office, in fact.

After a few false starts, a new bought-in editor was presented to a restaurant full of cartoonists in thatLondon. He foolishly delayed them from getting at the free food and drink by climbing on to a rostrum to tell all hands about his vision for the new Punch. I seem to remember the sixth-form market being mentioned. Honest!

The new ed was apparently a very good manager. Quite soon after his appointment, which was made despite the existence of excellent candidates already on board, Punch ceased to be.

Could this happen to The Oldie?

Thanks Bill. We hope the answer to your last question is no! We will continue to follow developments at The Oldie, noting for starters that Mr Ingrams appears to have influential friends

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.

 

The Round-up

September 1, 2013 in Events, General, Links, News

© Stanley Franklin @Procartoonists.org

Cartoons of Margaret Thatcher – including The Pit and The Pendulum by Stanley Franklin, above, has been showing at Leeds Gallery over the summer. Read a review of the exhibition here.

The British Cartoonists’ Association is on the lookout once again for Young Cartoonists of the Year and will now also accept digitally produced artwork (although a hard copy must be submitted). Find out more about how to enter the contest here.

Artwork from Procartoonists.org member Hunt Emerson‘s adaptations of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Frankenstein will be exhibited by The Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, Cumbria, for one month from 4 October. Read more at downthetubes.net.

Procartoonists.org member Steve Bell discusses his depictions of US presidents in this audio interview and transcript.

Those interested in going behind the scenes with cartoonists and illustrators should check out both The Tools Artists Use and 20 Questions With Cartoonists.

The Oldie, one of the most high-profile markets for UK gag cartoonists, has reached 300 issues. Richard Ingrams, founder of the magazine and former editor of Private Eye, looks back on his time with both organs in this piece from The Telegraph. A new Oldie Book of Cartoons is released next month.

Also due to land on bookshelves and coffee tables in September is Private Eye: A Cartoon History. Edited by longtime Eye man Nick Newman, the book will feature more than 1,000 gags from the past 50 years. It certainly looks jam-packed, if these sample pages are anything to go by.

Ed adds: Late entry from Sarah McIntyre, aka @Jabberworks, at the Telegraph: Comic adventures for kids of all ages.

The Round-up

July 26, 2013 in Events, General, Links, News

© Kipper Williams @Procartoonists.org

Kipper Williamspocket cartoonist for The Guardian, member of Procartoonists.org, and the man behind the excellent cartoon above – has provided the illustrations for a new book of anecdotes from record shops. Read more here.

Ian Hislop and Richard Ingrams – editors of Private Eye and The Oldie respectively – will be joined by Nick Newman, long-time contributor to both magazines, for a panel session at the Soho Literary Festival on 26 September. The Cartoon Show will feature a slideshow of some of the best gags from the last 50 years, and the trio will talk about what they look for when selecting cartoons for publication. Tickets are available here.

Burmese cartoonist Kyaw Thu Yein tells Cartoon Movement about the way he works, as well as the impact of censorship, in this interview.

As The Beano celebrates its 75th birthday this week, cartoonist Nigel Parkinson talks about the success of Dennis The Menace while drawing a new strip in this short film for The Telegraph.

London’s Southbank Centre is currently host to Beanotown, a celebration of the comic that runs until 8 September and features a range of original artwork on the walls, as well as activities for the kids. Wilbur Dawbarn, a Beano cartoonist and PCO member, produced this huge map of Beanotown, which greets visitors by the entrance:

Wilbur Dawbarn for The Beano @Procartoonists.com

And finally, a brief reminder that next Saturday (3 August) will see a plethora of UK cartooning talent descend on Herne Bay in Kent, to take part in a festival celebrating the seaside town’s connection with Marcel Duchamp. Read more here, and visit us in the coming week for a more detailed post.

The Round-up

February 15, 2013 in General, Links, News

© Katharina Greve @Procartoonists.org

Above: The Pope wins the lottery and decides to quit his job, in an eerily prescient cartoon by Katharina Greve that appeared in a calendar on the very day of Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement.

Journalist Matt Geörg Moore argues that comic strips in print should be given more space and more freedom, despite the decline in newspaper revenues. Read his argument here.

Wally Fawkes, the cartoonist and jazz musician better known to cartoon fans as Trog, has been named one of the Oldies of the Year by Richard Ingramsmagazine. Read more about Fawkes, and the other Oldies, here.

Finally, some news of contests and awards. The BBC has launched a competition asking illustrators, photographers and film-makers to share their visions of the future. Meanwhile, the nomination process has now opened for the 2013 British Comic Awards.

The Round-up

October 28, 2012 in General, Links, News

MAD Magazine Alfred Champagne 300x411 Happy 56th Birthday, Alfred E. Neuman!

MAD's Alfred E. Neuman @Procartoonists.org

Fastcocreate.com looks back at the 60-year history of MAD, the subversive comic magazine, in this in-depth article and slideshow. For even more on the subject, MAD’s editors have put together an exhaustive new book.

In a short video, BBC News talks to the US cartoonists Pat Bagley and Nick Anderson about lampooning Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Watch it here.

Martin Rowson draws our attention to the announcement that a former Daily Mirror showbiz reporter, 93-year-old Donald Zec, has won The Oldie’s first art award. See Donald’s winning portrait, and the other shortlisted pictures, here.

Is it a bird? A plane? Or yet more evidence of the decline of the newspaper industry? Clark Kent has quit his job at the Daily Planet (thanks to Pete Dredge for spotting the report).

If you are Oldie enough …

July 24, 2012 in Events, General, News

Ingrams_by_Honeysett_@_Procartoonists.org

© Martin Honeysett @ Procartoonists.org

UK procartoonists.org logoMartin Honeysett writes with news of a London social occasion:

The Oldie magazine 20th anniversary party at Simpsons on the Strand was the ideal moment to present to editor Richard Ingrams a PCO award commemorating his services to cartooning for the past fifty years.

The award was gratefully received by the editor who then duly sang the praises of cartoonists and their work in his following speech (pictured).

Sadly, only a smattering of cartoonists had been invited. Setting up camp in a corner by the bar they included Sally Artz, Nick Baker, Bob Wilson, Arthur Robins and PCO members Nick Newman and Huw Aaron. The latter aroused much interest amongst the female element of the surrounding throng by being at least half the age of everyone else there.

Huw had also been instrumental in organising the award itself, tastefully designed, inscribed and eerily looking like a maquette of the recently opened London Shard.

Our thanks to the PR agency, AM&T – All Mouth & Trousers – recently appointed by the PCO at great expense and represented by Mr Honeysett.