Monday, May 12, 2008

Practise my boy, practise.

I came across (now then Misses) a cutting of an old fart-cartoon I did for a rude magazine decades ago. On the reverse of the cutting was a cartoon by Peter Dredge. I'm trying to find the thing again, I put it down somewhere and its gone, but as I was telling Peter, his cartoon looks great and mine looks really bad. When I find the thing I'll scan both sides in.

I know we all cringe when we see our old work but seriously Peter has no need to because his really looks good. I put his cartoon looking better than mine down to the fact that he had more cartoons published than I did. Plus, if memory serves, he was also doing a daily editorial gig for his local paper - something that just wasn't possible in Scotland.

Anyway, I've mentioned before how those markets that were once around, the skin mags and regionals that bought cartoons, allowed us to grow as cartoonists, and how these days with the paucity of markets, the new breed of cartoonists just doesn't have the same creative outlets and opportunities. Fortunately they do have the web, and whilst some misguided amateurs will punt their unchanging poor quality work on the www, others, with real talent, will use the medium of the web to blossom and grow.

What I thought I'd do with this post is to create a sort of chronology of my cartooning development, such as it is, to see if I actually did get better at cartooning, and not just slicker at knocking the things out.

This is a popular Punch cartoon of mine from 1983. I have a copy of the original, but the real one was snapped up. What strikes me is that I can see such a heavy Noel Ford and Ken Mahood influence that I'm surprised they didn't beat the crap out of me. I'm also struck by the change in Nick Newman's work, his Private Eye cartoons are much more polished - I don't want to say they look slicker these days, but they do. On the other hand it looks like he did what I did back in the day, and that is is rushed through the inking stage so it all looked off-the-cuff'. I'm also struck by how unchanged Frank Cotham's style is. If you pick up a New Yorker today his cartoons still look exactly like that, and even his signature is unchanged - unlike mine and Newman's. It must be comforting to be that settled.

Here's a look at the copy. It's identical because I drew this cartoon 18,745 times. The evening before it was posted (in 1983 I sent in originals) I indicated the wash using green watercolour by mistake - it was late and I was tired and I was coming down with Chickenpox. The final 3 attempts at drawing it saw me give up the pencil and the ruler and just draw; which is why there isn't a ruled line there. I used the Osmiroid Artists pen, which was okay, but nibs were hard to come by. In fact, every time the nib went belly up I needed a new pen - and they were pricey.

These are an interesting find. My agent, at the time, sent me these copies of around 40 different cartoons all about 4"x 5" that he mailed out to publications in an ordinary letter-sized envelope. Apparently my best markets were Greece and Turkey, I think. I've put these 4 together, but I can see from looking at them that the one in the top left corner was a much later drawing than the other three. It's also a new punchline on a gag I sold to The Daily Star back in the early 1980s. The others are what I'd consider bog-standard single column cartoons for the daily press. But back then I thought they were pretty great I bet.

This was also from around that same period. I was self-syndicating a daily graphic panel about TV shows that I called On The Box. It was a hard slog selling cartoons to Scottish papers, and it was quite a result to even place it in one. I even negotiated my payments. I was very young, so I may have been pushy. Makes me laugh thinking about it. The cartoon, I don't find so funny. It was forced humour that related to TV shows that went out on the day the cartoon appeared. This one was about a TV show called something like Babble. Willie Rushton, a well-know cartoonist and one of the founders of Private Eye, and a notorious mumbler, and babbler was in it.

This is more like it. This is the experimentation I was speaking off, plus I got paid lots 'cause it was a full page. The punchline is 'The Honourable Bunty Featherington-Smythe's bottom'. It's a P.G. Wodehouse-type tribute. A mooning Drones Club member, if you will. It was drawn on a special marker pad and mainly coloured using Panatone pens (I was high as a kite with fumes by the time I'd finished). Of course it looks like a mess to me now. It is way too dark , I should have used a muted palette and watercolours but we live and learn; and that's really the point of it all, isn't it?

Ah, ha. This will come as a shock to people who only know the new toned-down Alistair Stein the journalist. This was in Alistair's magazine What's On Scotland. Back then he swanned around the New Town in a black Astrakhan-collared coat wearing a large black fedora, and a black eye-patch and swinging a black walking cane. He cut an impressive figure. Whenever we were talking payment he would sit me down at his 25-foot dining table, flick up the eye patch and talk figures. He was a very shrewd operator and once tried to pay me in paper, magazine off-cuts, reasoning I could draw on the reverse side, but he was a very nice guy.

The 'great British comic' mentioned in the blog below. This is the character Skid Kidd I drew for the Buster comic. The 'Vektar' job was an advert masquerading as a comic. Real subliminal advertising dressed up as a competition. I wasn't too pleased about getting this 'special script' and I was quite vocal about that, but money talked. Not to me, it talked to IPC. I heard that Satchi and Satchi were behind the campaign so someone got well paid. The 'great British comic', eh?

I think the robot sequence here, part of a three or four page adventure, was one of the last ones I wrote. I was already down to one page, which wasn't cost effective for me, and being forced to do the usual IPC format (what Tom Paterson calls the 'Here's a bob, get yourself a slap-up feast' stories). I worked with a writer for a short time but by then the comic depressed me more than anything. I ended up hating it. The only pages I ever really liked were pages one and two, which I drew using a uniform nib in the 'line-clear' style. I would have drwn the entire thing that way, but for editorial interference.

As far as learning things went, I learned a lot about what I didn't want to do while I worked on this. I also learned that some people in the comics business hate cartoonists, comics and their readers. So I wasn't surprised when the business went tits-up.

I've jumped ahead here. I could have filled the gap with cartoons but I took about 10 years off from cartooning full-time to go into academia. I also wanted to study writing and to read some books. However, my son was going to Switzerland for several months (he claims he stayed in the Swiss ghetto) and needed some pocket money, so I took on some cartooning work again and before I knew it I was sending the darned things off again.

The reason I've chosen this cartoon is because it represented my new found comfort with the computer. This is from the penultimate issue of Punch in 2002, and it is a combination of drawing and digital artwork, and it was the first time I had done that without using the old fashioned paste-up method.

This is, I think, another clear development. I had begun working with a new pen, the Faber Castell-Pitt brush pen, and I because I coloured the drawings on the computer I wanted to work quickly, so I tightened my drawings up in order to colour more easily using the fill tool rather than layers. The drawings, including this one for Prospect Magazine, look much bolder and tighter.

The same can probably be said for this cartoon from the Harvard Business Review in 2004. Although this wasn't the first cartoon I sold in the US, it was the first to appear in such a high-paying and prestigious publication.

Two years on and I can see some real changes in this Harvard Business Review cartoon from 2006. For one thing the signature is printed, it's more primitive looking. The drawing too is slightly different. It is still tighter than that first Punch cartoon up top, but looser than the drawing of 2004. Of course part of the reason for the look of the thing is the space that HBR gives its cartoonists in which to spread their wings. That matters so much.

I'm ending here, with this cartoon from last year because you know from the posts below about my books and cards, just what I've been up to lately. This Prospect cartoon is tiny, but the original was fun to do. I painted this homage to Magritte and then scanned it into the computer. I still enjoyed working in both mediums.

So what have we learned? Well, and this is especially true of people like me who have no formal art training, practise makes perfect, or at least it helps make you feel happier about what you produce. If the publications are not around today, and I know they aren't, practise on the web, and not just by posting some newspaper-style comic strip, actually try some adventurous stuff. And since the publishers aren't there to publish your work, publish your own. Make mini-comics and self publish with firms like Lulu. And get your mini-comics seen, several publishers look for new talent among the mini-comics producers, they don't look for it in the funny pages, or for that matter in magazines. So you will actually be ahead of the game.

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