Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cartooning in the 21st Century at Forbidden Planet

I had to condense my thoughts on the Cartoon Art Trust Awards a couple of posts down, but I've widened the debate on the Forbidden Planet blog, and thanks to Joe's editing it kind of makes more sense. I try hard not to let the things veer off into a tangential rant, but it sometimes happens. Not this time, I think, I'm fairly focused on this one because it also relates not just to something I am interested in, but directly to my future.

In the next post on the FPI blog, which is sort of part 2 of the current one, I attempt to offer up some suggestions about new possibilities for cartoonists in the coming, difficult, years.

Let me just remind you not to email me about this, that goes double for you Reston.

Again with the emails! Look, it should be clear to you, without having to resort to close-reading of the text, or to look for unwitting testimony, or to read too closely between the lines, that I am criticising the Awards ceremony, because it has a narrow definition of what a cartoonist is.

A more inclusive cartoon awards ceremony that recognises excellence in web cartooning (maybe Darryl Cunningham whose comic pages on the FPI blog number around 60), in comic book work (Jamie McKelvie, for instance, for Suburban Glamour or Phonogram - who, incidentally, despite a large body of work, would fit the existing "young cartoonist under 30 category"), in syndicated comic strip work (Keiran Meehan for getting his comic strip Pros & Cons syndicated by King Features), in international excellence (perhaps Tom Gauld for his work in numerous collections and in the Harvard Business Review and the New Yorker and the gigantic Kramer's Ergot 7), in graphic novel writing and drawing (Bryan Talbot for Alice in Sunderland), would surely have been appropriate now, more than ever, than simply having a teeny pocket cartoon in a British newspaper.

All these people are cartoonists, and brilliant cartoonists at that. The narrow definition of cartoonists promoted by this award ceremony, looks like a jaded and old fashioned idea that has had its time. What we have then, if we accept the challenge, is an opportunity for the Cartoon Art Trust to broaden its horizons and to embrace a wider range of categories and of cartoonists that will be more representative of cartooning in the 21st century - and at the same time will bring mainstream, web, and indy cartooning together. That, I have to tell you, would be an awards ceremony worth attending (although that voting panel would have to go and be replaced by the cartooning community at large). And I am surprised that the Bloghorn crowd are so against that idea.

The grim truth is that in what seems like no time at all to me, the 2,000 monthly cartooning opportunities that once existed every month when I was a beginning cartoonist have reduced to around 200, and that has been during a period of economic upswing. We are now in recession and heading for a depression. How many of these traditional cartooning markets will survive? I don't know, but there are cartoonists out there who are already making use of non-traditional markets, and creating excellent work, and there is a disconnect between them, and awards like this, which suggests to me that these cartooning awards lack vision.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the heads up to the FP blog, but I’ve nothing to add regarding the CAT awards themselves. You seemed to be making a different point about the caricature award in your original post. Hopefully giving them to relative newcomers, as well as Ken Pyne for example (2005, I think) is a sign of a broader outlook beyond what could be perceived as regular faces.

Did you know anyone can nominate who they think should win? You might like to bring people to their attention. The Young Cartoonist award is judged from submitted entries, so you might like to encourage anyone you think relevant to enter it next year.

All the best,


Rod McKie said...

Hey Jonathan,

it's all the same point, it's just that I made it differently.

As a cartoonist, and one who practises capturing likenesses (not very well) I know very well that caricaturing is a skill.

As a gag cartoonist I sometimes feel life just isn't funny enough for more gag cartoons, and only the editorial cartoonists, or political cartoonists like Nick Newman, should be using the space.

But, if I make those points when I'm trying to convince everyone that British cartooning needs to become more inclusive to survive, and that the narrow focus by the London-based cartoonists on their own little universe is going to see that universe collapse, I won't make my point.

If the Cartoon Arts Trust awards, in the form they are in, is all we are ever going to have in the UK, then obviously one has to be thankful for small mercies, on the other hand, why not try to increase their scope?

My example of Kieran Meehan for comic strip artist is not because I think he is a better cartoonist than Charles (Peattie), in fact I personally prefer Peattie's drawings. But it's an example that I think is valid. Kieran Meehan has achieved, by getting his strip syndicated by Kings Features, where it has survived a name change, something that many British cartoonists over the decades have dreamed of doing. For that reason alone I think he deserves respect. I could just as easily have suggested the Rogers for Andy Capp, which continues to attract new fans in the US.

I'd even put forward Roger Kettle for a lifetime achievement award for his writing on Beau Peep, Andy Capp and A Man called Horace, but these awards are, as far as I can make out, avoiding the slightest reference to modern culture.

I could be wrong, of course. It has happened.

Darryl Cunningham said...

Thanks so much for the mention.

I have to admit that I barely give the market any thought at all. I make no money out of cartooning. I just go with the ideas, with the vague hope that eventually, I'll have such a large body of good work that it'll attract interest, and I'll be taken more seriously by publishers.

Rod McKie said...

I think that is a valuable tradition that you see more of in the US than you do here Darryl. If you look at the sort of cartoonists who just got their work out there, often at a financial loss to themselves, Harvey Pekar, Charles and Robert Crumb, Chester Brown, Adrian Tomine, it reads today like a who's who of the mainstream elite, today.

I think Tom Gauld has followed a similar path and his work is now in the New Yorker, the Harvard Business Review, both great-paying markets, and the best anthologies.

For me, it's an absolute joy that just getting your head down and being true to your vision can be rewarding finacially as well - in the long run.

I know, from the many sites I read every day, that your work is being enjoyed widely by the fans and the critics.