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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)

PCO Cartoon Review of 2017

January 1, 2018 in Comment, General, News

 

Everyone else is doing it so we thought we’d have our own look back at the year…with cartoons by PCO members. The Big Issue drawing above by Andrew Birch manages to fit the whole year into just one cartoon!

© Ralph Steadman

We started the year with Trump’s bigly attended inauguration. Trump was undoubtedly (Mad) Man of the Year although he was closely followed by Kim Jong-Range Missile. This flattering portrait of Trump is by the inimitable Ralph Steadman.

© Steve Bell

At the beginning of the year Theresa May visited Washington to hold hands with The Donald. This cartoon from Steve Bell on the ‘special relationship’. You can see more of Steve Bell’s favourite cartoons of the year on the Guardian website.

© Wilbur Dawbarn

June saw Mrs M making another bad decision in calling a snap election. Who’d of thunk this would turn Jeremy Corbyn into a headline act at Glastonbury! This on the election race by Private Eye regular Wilbur Dawbarn.

© Andy Davey

The election didn’t go too well for Theresa. Here’s Andy Davey on the costly deal she was forced to do with the DUP (from The Indy). Unsurprisingly the figures weren’t heralded on the side of a bus.

© Jeremy Banx

Russian cyber interference in overseas elections has been a big story in 2017. This cartoon by FT cartoonist Banx. (although this could easily be a drawing of The Daily Mail newsroom)

© Martin Rowson

In June we had the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. This is Martin Rowson’s response in The Guardian on the Government hiding from responsibilities.

© Zoom Rockman

…another illustration on Grenville Tower by prodigious talent Zoom Rockman taken from Private Eye. ‘Things That Wouldn’t Happen’. Would the House of Parliament use cheap cladding for the renovation work?

© Ros Asquith

The NHS is still desperately underfunded. This was a very funny cartoon by Ros Asquith after doctors warned in July about Government plans for ‘brutal’ NHS cuts.

© Dave Brown

October started with the awful mass shooting in Las Vegas – one of many atrocities in 2017. This was Dave Brown’s reaction in the Independent.

© Sarah Boyce

In a year where it seems every male in a position of power is a sexual predator an excellent cartoon from Sarah Boyce in Private Eye

© Will McPhail

Workplace equality has also been an issue throughout the year. This perfectly summed up in a Private Eye cartoon by New Yorker regular Will McPhail.

© Steve Bright

We couldn’t review the whole year without mentioning B****t. Here’s a fine summing up of how negotiations are going by Brighty in The Sun.

© Royston Robertson

…we have though restricted ourselves to just two on the ‘B’ word. This corker by Royston published in Private Eye.

© Matthew Buck

Ok, that was an ‘alternative truth’ we now have three ‘B’ word cartoons, this from Matthew Buck for Tribune.

© Guy Venables

…and on the same subject word(s) of the year was ‘Fake News’. This take on it from Guy Venables in the Private Eye 2017 Annual.

© Steve Jones

Trump has recently been denying global warming again because the East Coast has had a bit of a heavy cold spell. Here’s a strip on Trump’s view on climate change by Jonesy (from Resurgence & Ecologist magazine)

© Mike Turner

Finally, on a rather apocalyptic note to end the year, this is from Mike Turner in The Spectator.

Happy New Year from the PCO…although I suspect 2018 will be another year of global calamity and abject misery – at least we’ll have plenty to draw cartoons about. 

The Round-up

October 13, 2013 in Events, General, Links, News

Cartoon © Tony Husband / Photo © Rob Doyle @Procartoonists.org

Above: It’s difficult to whinge when your work is given pride of place in a fancy art gallery, but Procartoonists.org member Tony Husband still managed to include this observation of the cartooning community in the Hey Wayne! cartoon show currently taking place in Manchester. Tony’s art-related cartoons share the walls of the Richard Goodall Gallery with the work of fellow PCOers Bill Stott and Chris Madden, as well as that of Bill Tidy. Thanks to Rob Doyle for the photo, taken at Saturday’s private view. (There are many more pictures available here on Facebook.)

Another of our members, the fresh-faced and talented Will McPhail, was featured on ITV News last week after being named Young Cartoonist of the Year.

Steve Bell will be at the University of Aberdeen next month to give a free talk about early visual satirists including Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank. Find more details here. Another of those early satirists, Thomas Rowlandson, will be the subject of an exhibition in Edinburgh later this year.

Denise Dorrance talks about Mimi, her new cartoon series for The Mail on Sunday’s You supplement, in this interview.

And finally, the Illustration Cupboard gallery in London will be holding a selling exhibition of Daily Express cartoons by Paul Thomas, opening on 24 October. See the invite here.