The Rules of Cartooning

August 15, 2012 in Comment, General

Cartoon Rules No1 © Bill Stott @

© Bill Stott @

Bill Stott our man with the Gillott 303 Leonardt nib reveals the Rules of Cartooning:

Oh yes, there are rules. Hundreds probably, but most of them are best known to students of cartooning rather than cartoonists (well at least, this cartoonist who finds scholarly texts on humour a bit anaesthetic). Below are a few which probably don’t appear in learned treatise on cartooning.

1. Some of them are domestic, heralded by questions like, ‘‘Are you going to be up there ALL night ?’’, or, ‘‘Dear God, look at the state of this place !’’, and, ‘‘How on earth can you work in this MESS?’’

‘‘Up there’’ refers of course to the upstairs bedroom, or ‘‘studio’’ to those who’ve never seen it. This cartoonist lives in awe of colleagues whose working spaces can double as operating theatres. On the other hand, it must be a bit boring not finding the upright piano you thought you’d lost, from time to time.

2. And you musn’t steal others’ jokes, which is an absolute no-no. It doesn’t mean that two cartoonists won’t come up with the same gag at the same time occasionally, but in an age of instant internet access, it’s all too easy to nick ideas.

Cartoon Rule No2 © Bill Stott @

" I don't suppose you've seen the lawnmower? " © Bill Stott @

That’s not to say that you won’t be influenced by other cartoonists’ humour and that inevitably leads to similar scenarios. During those bleak days when the ideas just won’t come, I often wish I was Bud Grace or Mike Williams. But then I’ve seen Mike’s spotless studio and realise I’m not. On the other hand, can Mike talk to the spiders?

3. Then there’s the thorny business of pricing. Cartooning is a weird business. Much-loved but not generally well-paid. Not as well-paid as the technician who comes to fix the machine which prints the magazine the cartoon appears in.

So pricing can be a lottery.

So really, that’s about it. Ask another cartoonist and you’ll probably get a whole slew of different answers. There is one common factor though, a dreaded and terrible one called Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Never mess with the pointy-heads. Always remember that going after a sole trader is dead easy for HMRC – far, far easier than nailing big rich tax avoiders.

Cartoon Rules No4 © Bill Stott @

Cartoon Rules No4 © Bill Stott @

I did a couple of cartoons for HMRC ages ago, all about tax evasion. Felt strange. A bit like Joan of Arc reaching for her own Zippo.

Editor adds: There will be more from Bill when we can rescue him from under his own paper mountain – and the Revenue. If you have your own ideas on what the Rules of Cartooning should be please suggest away in the comments below.

16 responses to The Rules of Cartooning

  1. Rule 49b, before he gets to it:
    Never place a cup of coffee/ink/engine oil/drain-cleaner/turkey giblets/absinthe on the upward side of a slope bearing work in progress.

  2. And its not a Gillot. Its a Leonardt. And Rupert ! Turkey giblets in absinthe ! You’re not an old boy of St Neredowells are you ?

  3. Rule 12b. Answer your email!

  4. Bugger – rumbled at last.

  5. What the hell are you doing revealing to the general public that our “studios” are in fact the upstairs bedroom?! I’ve lived off that lie to clients for nigh-on 20 years. I’ve even convinced some that my “studio” has an inker, a colourist, a runner and even a nubile young secretary (she’s the one who I used to blame for not answering the phone)! 

    Now they’ll know I draw my cartoons in my pyjamas and under a duvet.
  6. Not so much a rule as a handy hint. Most of the “clients” don’t know it’s a bedroom, or even a kitchen table; they think, like them, you’re a corporation. So if the deadlines slip over the summer, just send an email apologising profusely and saying it’s all because you’ve “got a temp in”. This they understand, because they think you have a massive staff of idiots, just like they do. Never fails…

  7. ‘‘I thank you’’.

    Quotation extracted from The Corporate CartoonistPage 12, sub-section III paragraph iv

  8. Good point from Martin [and Lee but he can’t hear me under his duvet]. How many times do you get, “And what company are you ?” after you’ve said your name, exactly who you need to speak to and why ?.

  9. Why, Rule 1, of course: “Keep drawing, no matter what!”, which doesn’t go down at all well with traffic cops.

  10. If the quality plummets, blame the ink. and don’t let the wine go off.

  11. Don’t put a cup of coffee next to the small jar of water when using watercolour. This can go wrong in two ways, one more unpleasant than the other.

  12. Always answer the ‘Could you just add/alter/start again and change one tiny…’ call with, ‘Sorry, I could have done so any time till yesterday, when, pruning in the garden, I managed to slice deep into the thumb of my drawing hand -‘.

  13. It also helps if you can think up a gag in a few short seconds of rumination and draw it – convincingly – in a few strokes. It’s a gift not given to many, certainly not me. One annoying person who has such skills in spades is that Stott fellow. I’ve tried on may occasions to take him out of the game completely by stealthy subterfuge. The poison didn’t work; merely producing an episode of flatulence. I have tried to bore him to death several times, but he just gets up ands walks away whistling a jaunty tune. 

    How can a drawing of a man holding a letter and an envelope make me laugh out loud, despite myself? Am I that facile? Possibly, but I think the better answer is that Stott is a genius of the nib. 
  14. Rule 13b. Make sure you note the right nib

  15. Further to Mr Birch’s astute observation about not placing your coffee next to the water jar when using watercolour… don’t let a budgie bathe in your paint water either.

  16. You mean you’ve got a separate room dedicated Lee? I’m stuck in the back half of the living room, but to be honest how else would I be able to watch Doctors and shout at Matthew Wright in a morning?

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