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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Can't Draw, Won't Draw

I haven't exactly given up drawing gag cartoons, but I've phased it out for all but a very few markets, about 6 worldwide (I feel I should add here that they are the most prestigious publications in the world, and that I feel they are the only publications left that care about cartoon art and treat cartoonists well).

I'm not finishing the cartoons I draw either, unless specifically asked to do so; I'm submitting pencils only, which they can work with (this is probably why these are prestigious markets, they still care enough about the cartoons they publish to ask for redraws and tweaks and they still use the original art - it may sound old fashioned, but I like working that way).

I'm cutting down on the work because I believe gag cartooning is a trade/craft that is all but dead, here in Britain at any rate. The British market for gag cartoons once included Punch, Private Eye, The Spectator, The New Statesman, almost all the broadsheets, all the tabloids, and almost all the regional press, along with Weekend, Reveille, Titbits, Chat, Woman's World, a range of Trade Journals and special publications like The Weekend Book of Jokes and The Daily Mail Motorshow Review. These days only one tabloid, The Sun, publishes gag cartoons, and Private Eye, The Oldie and The Specatotor are like an old-boys club whose cartoon content would surely come under scrutiny for its nepotistic links by Private Eye, if it wasn't part of that group. The Weekly News pays very, very, weakly, so much so that to sell to that Thomson-owned rag is almost an admission of defeat and they invariably attract only the cartoons that have been refused by every other publication on a cartoonist's list of targets. The new boy, Prospect, bravely tries to fly the flag on behalf of freelance cartoonists everywhere, it simply doesn't pay well enough for the 'New Yorker style gags' it wants (an increased payment of about 700% is needed).

Single panel cartoons by many of Private Eye's piss-poor cartoonists appear in publications like The Telegraph and The Times and The Independent, one presumes because they think, wrongly as it happens, that these cartoonists are the best around (or because maybe the hirers and firers partake of the odd Eye-Lunch), for whatever reason, we are left with newspapers that run graphic panels that are sort of faux-editorial cartoons that are neither funny nor clever, and have probably aided the demise of the craft of cartooning in the UK.

As you all know, comic strips have never been a big deal in the UK, and our home-grown strips are really very amateurish, none more so than the appalling comic strip in The Independent that is drawn by the Editor's wife (wives, friends, Prep-school chums, TV producers, et al, have all done quite well over the years, from some publications, as a result of their cartooning sideline) or The Guardian's Claire in the Community, a comic strip that is now performed on radio - where one at least doesn't have to look at the artless drawings.

I don't know about you, but I have even noticed a reduction in the number of cartoons published by some of my favoured publications. One of the high-paying publications published only 3 cartoons in a recent issue, and there is an equally small amount in this month's issue of another, usual, gag cartoon championing publication. Adding this possible decline to the shrinking space afforded to comic strips in the home of that art, the US, and the rapid loss of Editorial cartoonists in that country, I think the demise of the 3 or 4 panel daily strip cannot be too far away, and that shortly, comic strips will follow gag cartoons into history.

This has been the fag-end of a golden age for cartoonists that started one hundred years ago, and has been a steady down-hill decline, by degree, since the 1980s. Those days were reasonably good even in Britain, where those with talent have often been overshadowed by those with contacts - but that is the same here in any field, and has always been the case.

I look forward to the Manga revolution, and the rise of the graphic novel because having a trust-fund and being able to afford the time to write (it has always been the chosen profession of the well-to-do), or simply having been to Oxbridge or East Anglia will not enable those people to produce this new, popular, literature. This one, I'm afraid, involves a modicum of real talent. The Jaspers and Tristans cannot draw, and no amount of circle-jerk reviews by their old class-mates who have become critics will make their graphic-less attempts popular.

Vive La Revolution.

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