Merry Christmas ...
... and a Happy New Year to you all.
The above cartoon is in the new issue of Prospect, in a prime spot on page three. Which is nice.
Cartoons by Royston
Christmas cartoon: With apologies due
When an cartoonist copies the artwork of another artist, as part of the joke or to make a point, it's customary to provide a credit saying "After ..." or "With apologies to ...". When I sent this cartoon to a local paper here in Kent, where I have a regular slot, I forgot to put that on the cartoon.
So I've rectified that here and send double apologies to Mr Briggs! Hope he doesn't sue ... especially as we recently bought a DVD featuring both The Snowman and Father Christmas, and it's on heavy rotation in our house thanks to my kids.
I must admit though, every time I watch it and that live-action intro from David Bowie comes on, with the Thin White Duke wearing his best Christmas pullover, I do wonder WHAT were they thinking?
For any international readers who don't know what I'm talking about, The Snowman animated short is a Christmas TV institution here in the UK. You can find it on YouTube. There is a version with a more subtle opening, featuring Raymond Briggs himself I believe, but it's also worth checking out the Bowie one for a laugh.
Cartoons by Royston
Cartoonists' party time
It's that time of year when even cartoonists emerge from their hovels to attend Christmas parties. And so it was that last week I went along to a party thrown by Reader's Digest (cartoon from the Christmas issue, above) at the restaurant at the top of the Harvey Nichols store in Knightsbridge, London.
Much champagne was quaffed and canapes nibbled, while chatting to other cartoonists, illustrators, writers and Digest staff. There was the usual complaining about the cartooning business, as is traditional, and marvelling at some of the bizarre canapes. One of them looked like tomato soup in a small, thin glass and turned out to be, er, tomato soup in a small, thin glass – a kind of Harvey Nichols version of Cup-a-Soup.
Here's me, on the right, with cartoonists Ger Whyman, aka "Ger", left, and Ian Baker, aka "Ian Baker". Ger's not really cross, I think he's pulling a comedy face. Thanks to Clive Goddard for the pic. Afterwards several of us retired to a charming, tiny pub nearby for a fine pint of ale. A good start to the festive season and particularly welcome as most of us have been drawing flippin' Christmas cartoons since August.
Cartoons by Royston
Private Eye cartoon: Facebook schmacebook
This cartoon is in the current Private Eye. Like many magazines they carry a lot of cartoons that are sceptical about new technology. But despite the view taken in this cartoon, I'm no luddite. I do have both a Facebook and MySpace profile ... it's just that often I'm not sure why. I signed up for Facebook because I was invited to, now I keep getting endless emails saying someone wants to discuss favourite movies with me, or has thrown a virtual custard pie at me. I ignore these to such an extent that someone sent me an email saying "You have been invited to join The Group For People Who Join Facebook Then Don't Do Anything". Naturally, I did nothing.
Bonfire Night cartoon
From one of the local papers here in Kent. Hope you had a good one last night, if you took part. For any international readers who don't know what this is all about, it's a traditional thing ... families together, a bite to eat, a few fireworks, burning the effigy of a Catholic conspirator, that kind of thing ...
Reader's Digest cartoon: Funny bunnies
Here's a gag from the October Reader's Digest. I don't do that many cute animal cartoons, but they're usually popular so I suppose I should. Captionless gags are often popular too, I think because the reader sometimes has to work a bit harder to get the joke, so when they do it's rewarding. I personally find them more difficult to come up with though.
A cartoon batch one year on ...
While having a clearout of files on my computer, I found this collage from a year ago this week. The Wisenheimer, an American cartoonists' internet forum that I take part in has an occasional thread called "What's on your drawing board?" where people show their latest work. I had just put together a batch of cartoons to be sent out on-spec to magazines. So, as I didn't want to reveal the actual jokes, I just used excerpts from each cartoon. Some people put up low-res unreadable scans.
The thing that's of interest one year one, which illustrates the insanity of the gag-cartoon market, is that only one of these has so far sold! (Left hand column, one down, it was in Prospect magazine.) This, I should point out, is perfectly normal for freelance gag cartoonists! If you sell upwards of two or three out of ten that's a great result.
But all hope is not lost for the others. Some will be looked at, rejigged or reworded and sent out again. Others will go into semi-retirement as stock cartoons. Many find a home this way, though usually in not such high-profile places. For example, a gag I did about utility companies providing multiple services (it's funnier than it sounds, honest) was rejected by all the mags but has sold several times to, er, utility companies. So we keep churning them out ...
Cartoonists meet the public: Big Draw 2007
A marquee was set aside specifically for cartooning. There were workshops on strips, caricatures etc. with cartoonists on hand to offer tips, advice and encouragement to those taking part.
Here's me doing a spot of “reverse caricaturing” (Thanks to John Stilgoe for the pic.) This is where people put their faces through a board, like the ones you see at the seaside, except it’s blank and the participants say what kind of body they’d like. Very popular with the kids: lots of fairies, pirates, princesses, animals and a couple of Bart Simpsons. I probably had to draw a few too many girls as butterflies than was strictly necessary. All good fun though. The whole event reminded you of how much people love cartoons – grown-ups as well as kids. I hope there were some art editors from magazines and newspapers taking note!
Like last year, there was a Battle of the Cartoonists, where four teams competed to produce a banner on the theme of “High Life, Low Life”. Again there were teams from Private Eye, The Guardian and The Independent, plus this year there was a team from the new Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation. The banners were put to the public vote, with those clever clogs from The Guardian, led by Steve Bell, winning again. There's more on the Battle at the PCO Blog
There are Big Draw events throughout the UK right now. See their website for details.
Caricaturist mystery: Who's Ronson?
I certainly wish I could draw hands as elegantly as that. Obviously it's not me, as this is from the 1930s! There is some similiarity in the signatures, but I think it looks more like "Ronson", with an elaborate "s", or it could be "Royson".
Google searches have failed to turn up any info on this artist, so if anyone knows anything about "Ronson" or "Royson", please let me know and I'll pass it on.
A cartoonist friend of mine mentioned in a recent letter to The Jester, the CCGB newsletter, that that there was once an agency that asked cartoonists to supply cartoons depicting smokers as happy folk enjoying a harmless pleasure. These were known as "Smokey Jokies" and the agency would place them in magazines and papers throughout Europe. This product placement system was funded by cigarette companies and would earn the cartoonist a bonus. This couldn't happen now, one would hope, and even if it still went on I'm pretty sure that this cartoon wouldn't be accepted!
Cartoon book: Laughing All Over the World
I have several cartoons in a new kids' joke and cartoon book which is out this month and is sold in aid of the Kings World Trust for Children. The Trust was founded in 1993 to provide a caring home, an education and skills training for orphan and homeless children in developing countries. Its work is focused in India, which has the largest percentage of orphan and homeless children in the world.
Children, celebrities, comedians and cartoonists from the UK and overseas have contributed rib-ticklers, one-liners, anecdotes and cartoons to the book. Most of my cartoons are animal gags. Here's one of them:
See more on this book at laughingallovertheworld.com
Cartoons: You love them!
There's no doubt that there are significantly fewer markets for on-spec gag cartoons these days, hence we all have to branch out into other areas. But it's good to see Reader's Digest keeping the faith.
On top of the usual selection of gags there's an extra section in this issue, which includes a couple of mine (above). The contents page reads: Cartoon Bonus: You love them. Here's more. Music to the ears of any cartoonist, so amen to that!
Comics Britannia, part 3
THE final part of BBC Four's Comics Britannia covered the period from the late 1970s when comics grew up. OK, maybe "grew up" is not the right phrase – especially as the programme opened with a look at Viz comic. Perhaps, "annoyed the grown-ups" is more appropriate, as this was when comics started to become grittier and more realistic, a world away from the Beano and the Dandy.
The documentary rightly asserted that although, on the face of it, Viz was just a downmarket rag packed with toilet humour and some creative swearing (Johnny Fartpants was looked at in some depth) its cultural significance cannot be underestimated. Comedian Frank Skinner argued that it was the first time that a type of humour experienced everyday in the schoolyard and in the pub broke into the mainstream.
This was made possible because Viz sprang not from the mainstream media but from the underground fanzine culture that sprang out of punk, and not from London but Newcastle. It was an authentic voice. Comedian Stewart Lee and others were called upon to read some of the Top Tips from the comic, laughter was mandatory. And with its non-PC characters such as Sid the Sexist and Millie Tant, Viz did not toe the line of the new politically correct comedy establishment. As Skinner commented, Viz "has a beautiful freedom about it".
Deftly pulling together some seemingly very different threads the programme moved on to Action comic which was around in the same late 70s period. The IPC comic was a very different animal to Viz, being a "serious" comic aimed at boys, but it was breaking similar taboos. It featured antiheroes rather than square-jawed heroes, and some quite violent storylines. Strips such as Look Out For Lefty, which covered football hooliganism and was a kind of dark twin to Roy of the Rovers, provoked the fury of the tabloid press. Action was withdrawn by IPC and later closed down.
Pat Mills, the man behind Action and a key figure in British comics, pointed out that it was effectively relaunched under the cloak of science-fiction, as 2000AD. They found they could get away with violent and challenging stories that reflected contemporary Britain ... if they were not set in contemporary Britain. Spanish artist Carlos Esquerra (who must have been a bit miffed to be given subtitles even though he was speaking English!) was on hand to draw Judge Dredd and talk about how his experience of growing up under Franco informed his depiction of the fascistic lawman.
From 2000AD we moved on to the career of one of its writers, and one of the most significant players in comics: Alan Moore. It's always a joy to see Moore on the telly, especially so soon after he popped up in Jonathan Ross's BBC Four documentary about reclusive Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. We looked at Moore's V for Vendetta, created with David Lloyd, the story of Britain under a fascist dictatorship and inspired by the dark days of early 80s Thatcherism. We learned that it was very deliberately aimed at adults, with Moore and Lloyd eschewing Biff! Bang! Pow! sound effects and thought bubbles, and introducing a depth never before seen in comics.
The "British invasion", which saw UK comics writers and artists headhunted by the Americans, came next. This led to the classic Watchmen, created by Moore and Dave Gibbons, which imagined what superheroes would be like in the real world (the answer: fascist nutcases). Moore's reading of the Rorschach character was a joy, even if you had never imagined the creepy vigilante with a Northampton burr.
The final part of Comics Britannia was a good overview of comics' latter history, though there were some omissions. Where, for example, was Moore and Eddie Campbell's epic From Hell? But sometimes it's good to be left wanting more, or indeed wanting Moore. Someone should give that man his own chatshow.
Link: Comics Britannia
Prospect magazine cartoon: The cautious approach
Here's a cartoon from the new issue of Prospect. I am one for leaving the radio and a light on when leaving the house. People laugh, but then I have been burgled twice, though admittedly both times were when I lived in a rough area of Sunderland as a student and they were within six months of each other! Still, can't be too careful. Top tip: leave BBC Radio Four on, it sounds like people talking ...
Cartoonist grovels: Sory for teh typos
To make amends, here's a link to the PCO's main website. Not a Tetrapak in sight. They have some fine cartoons on the site as you can see below ...
Comics Britannia, part 2
THERE was a very different cast of characters for the second part of the Comics Britannia documentary, and not just on the page. Gone were the quiet, eccentric types such as Aardman's Nick Park and poet Michael Rosen, who reminisced about The Beano and The Dandy last week, and in came journalist Max Hastings and comedian Frank Skinner to talk about real boys' stuff ... war and football!
Just like in the comics the girls in the audience were given something to keep them quiet too, so cartoonist Posy Simmonds and writer Stella Duffy were there to talk about the stories of ballet, boys and boarding school. A Mel Gibson was on hand to talk about the days of inky fingers – she's a "comics historian", apparently.
Again Comics Britannia took a no-nonsense, chronological approach to telling its story. It picked the launch of the Eagle in 1950 as a starting point. I was amazed to learn that Dan Dare – Pilot of the future, started out, like the Eagle's creator Marcus Morris, as a man of the cloth. Not surprising really, as the comic was launched as a wholesome alternative to the imported American horror comics, such as Tales From the Crypt, that had been busy warping young minds at the time.
The programme was packed with such nuggets of trivia. Who knew that Jacqueline "Tracy Beaker" Wilson was once a DC Thomson employee and that her name inspired a new comic/magazine aimed at girls? Jackie, of course. Or that a young Gerald Scarfe won a drawing competition in the Eagle, with David Hockney as runner-up?
In fact, much of the documentary was a revelation to me because I spent my childhood immersed in humour comics, mainly The Beano, and didn't bother much with sport and war comics. I was amazed to find that pop fops Spandau Ballet once played for Roy of the Rovers – though this explained the signing of Shakin' Stevens in the Viz football spoof Billy the Fish (no doubt more on that in the final part of Comics Britannia next week).
Likewise, I wasn't too familiar with war characters such as Captain Hurricane. He was described here memorably by Frank Skinner as "a sort of muscular Duke of Edinburgh figure ... a racist term for every occasion". It was interesting to hear that Charley's War, a later war strip which dropped the gung-ho approach (no more "Eat lead, Fritz!" caricatures) and attempted to cover the horror and futility of conflict, had been influenced by the real emotions found in the stories of girls' struggles featured in Bunty and Tammy.
Another enjoyable and shamelessly nostalgic romp through the comics, then, but with a hint of sadness. We're told that 10 million comics a week were sold in 1973, but it's made very clear: those days have gone.
Link: Comics Britannia
Using cartoons: Excelente gag por el genial Royston Robertson
Now I've no idea who this guy is, or why he's used one of my cartoons to illustrate his blog entry. But he's given me a credit and a link to my website, which helps Google rankings of course, so I'll turn a blind eye. Plus, according to the Altavista Babelfish translator, "el genial" translates as "the brilliant one". Flattery will get you everywhere.
But I would say to anyone thinking of lifting cartoons from this blog, or my website, please ask. If it's for any kind of for-profit site, there will of course be a charge. But if it's for a blog, like this one, I may just ask for a credit and a link to my website. Gracias y adiós.
VARIOUS bigwigs at the Beeb have suggested recently that BBCs Three and Four could be axed, in a cost-cutting move. The former is fine by me – there's only so many times you can watch Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps repeats – but on the evidence of Comics Britannia, we should get the placards out and start a "Save BBC Four" campaign right now.
The documentary was nothing groundbreaking, it was a straightforward, chronological, talking-heads history of British humour comics, but it was informative and intelligent and mercifully free of the kind of dumbed-down script and constant re-capping that afflict so many contemporary documentaries (see BBC Two's British Film Forever series).
The first of a three-parter (the others are on boys and girls comics, and the grittier work that emerged in the 1970s and led to the graphic novel boom) it was a chronological potted history from the birth of The Dandy in 1937 to the present day. It began with a serious misstep that some commentators have already noted, the claim that "speech balloons were a key innovation" of The Dandy – in fact they'd been around for hundreds of years – but it soon redeemed itself as it took us on a nostalgic journey through the story of DC Thomson's iconic Beano and later IPC rivals such as Whizzer and Chips.
Issues that arise out of a study of comics, such as the early racism, their role in brightening up a grim postwar Britain, and the debate over whether comics are "bad" for you, were discussed intelligently by the likes of Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, poet Michael Rosen, Aardman animator Nick Park and a whole roster of cartoonists and writers from the glory days of comics.
What was particularly satisfying, from this cartoonist's point of view, was that the documentary, narrated by comedian Armando Iannucci, stated that its mission was to uncover the artists behind the strip and give them due recognition. And it did just that. It was a joy to hear the names of Dudley Watkins, David Law and Ken Reid mentioned on TV and particularly great to see the genius that is Leo "Bash Street Kids" Baxendale being interviewed. It was also great to see artwork presented in all its glory, so close you could see the pencil marks.
I'm looking forward very much to parts two and three, as well as to the other shows in BBC Four's comics season (see link below for details). In the meantime, I've got placards to write.
Link: Comics Britannia
I recently sold the original of this early cartoon of mine which was published in Punch in 1998. If I was to compile a top ten of my most popular cartoons, based on comments I've received about them over the years, this one would certainly be in there. I still think Intense Patio would be a good band name.
Selling original artwork is always satisfying because it's nice to know that someone liked a cartoon enough to consider putting it on their wall, or giving it as a gift. Plus it reminds me that all those drawings taking up space on my shelves are potentially worth something! So it's important for cartoonists to hang on to their originals.
I'm told that people who buy originals like to see all the smudges, Tipp-ex, pencil marks, creases in the paper etc. I'm relying on that fact! If you're interested in buying original artwork, email me for prices: roystonrobertson at gmail dot com ... excuse the written out address but I'm trying to prevent any more penis enlargement emails.
Reader's Digest cartoon: The family way
I find my best cartoons are the ones inspired by real-life events. I recently met a married couple who had a young child plus a boy and a girl who were from each of their previous marriages. I was finding it hard to remember which kid was the offspring of which parent when it occurred to me ... what if the parents couldn't keep track? Hey, cartoon idea! This gag is in the August issue of Reader's Digest. By the way, no comment is intended on what the media has taken to calling "blended" families. It's just a joke.
Birthday cartoon: The Big Four Oh-No
This is a cartoon I drew for an invitation to a 40th birthday party. It was easy for me to think of an idea for this as I'm reaching that milestone myself in a few months. I like to think I look better than the guy in the cartoon though ...
Private Eye cartoon: Summer at last!
Private Eye magazine took this cartoon some months ago. I assume that the reason it only appeared this week is that it kind of depends on fine weather! It would have looked a bit silly if they had run the cartoon amid all the gags about rain and floods. Obviously I knew it was a non-topical joke when I sent it, therefore it would have a longer shelf-life, but for a while it became kind of anti-topical. Anyway, we've had some fine weather for a short while at least – been out enjoying it myself today – so finally it gets its, er, moment in the sun.
I regularly draw cartoons for the Law Society's Gazette, so I can draw barristers, judges etc with my eyes closed.
Website cartoons: Pop Idol for cartoonists
One of my cartoons is on there, in the "Surprise Me!" category, and I was a bit taken aback to see that the gags are rated by the public. It's like a cartoon version of Pop Idol or The X-Factor! Still, four out of five ain't too shabby (click image to enlarge) ...
Farewell to the father of the Grim Reaper cartoon
The Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman passed away this week. He's recognised as a genius of cinema but I thought we should also recognise him as the father of that staple of cartoonists: the Grim Reaper gag.
Yes, I know he didn't invent the image of the Grim Reaper, it's been around for centuries, but by showing Ol' Hoodie playing chess in The Seventh Seal, above, he put him in the mundane world of us mortals. And countless cartoonists picked up this idea and ran with it. Well, that's my theory, and I like it.
I've done plenty of Grim Reaper cartoons myself. Here are two, from The Oldie and The Spectator respectively. The original of the latter sold to a newspaper obituaries editor who collects Grim Reaper cartoons.
Prospect magazine music cartoon is silenced
This HMV dog cartoon is in the new issue of Prospect magazine, accompanying the lead feature by Robert Sandall on the rise and fall of the record industry. (It's fascinating reading for anyone interested in music. Read it here.)
The fact that it does accompany the feature is just luck though, really. I sent the cartoon in as part of my usual batch, with no idea they were planning such a piece. The cartoon had already been declined by a few magazines. Originally it looked like this.
It stems from my annoyance at the fact that we're all supposed to jump unquestioningly on to the latest technological bandwagon. And anyone who chooses to use older technology is treated with contempt. Yes, that's right ... I'm the dog on the left. I'm no Luddite though. I did have an iPod but it packed up. My record player, on the other hand, has been going strong for 15 years. I listened to a 7-inch single of Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner on it the other day. Very loud. Wow, it sounded good. All MP3s in the immediate vicinity were quaking in their tinny boots.
Anyway, Prospect asked to run it without the caption. I wasn't too sure at first but once I'd closed the dogs mouth and made our elegant chum on the left a tad more contented looking, I felt the meaning was still clear. It's more an illustration than a cartoon really, there's no belly laugh there, but that's effectively how they used it anyway.
Homer Simpson: King of the hill
I think, generally speaking, you have to do quite a lot to upset pagans. But the people behind the Simpsons movie seem to have managed it with this. I suppose that as far as concerns about the Americanisation of British culture goes, this just about takes the doughnut, sorry, donut. Still, apparently it's drawn with paint that doesn't harm the environment and will wash off with the next significant rainfall. So, judging by the summer we're having I'll give it five minutes.
Spectator magazine cartoon: All change
When this cartoon was first sent out the caption was "Bloody Health and Safety". The cartoon was rejected and when I sent it out again I thought that maybe it didn't need the swearing, even though it's not exactly offensive, so I changed it to "Curse those Health and Safety guys". The cartoon is in The Spectator this week, and clearly the cartoon editor did think it needed swearing as he changed "curse" to "damn"! Of course, I don't mind if such changes are made (the cartoon editor also changed "and" to an ampersand and added an exclamation mark) as long as the meaning of the joke isn't changed.
Some years ago though, a magazine did make a change that I felt was not needed. It was a cartoon with a leopard on a psychiatrist's couch. The psychiatrist was saying, "You have got to want to change." When it appeared in the magazine it had been changed to: "You have got to want to change your spots." I felt that this was really spelling the joke out, and denying the reader that "penny drops" moment. A couple of years later a re-drawn version of the cartoon appeared in the Metro, the now-defunct listings mag that came with the Saturday Times, with the caption in its intended form.
Cycling cartoon: Les Anglais adore Le Tour
Smoking cartoon: Last gasp
I draw cartoons regularly for several business and trade magazines. And I find that the often dry, serious subject matter usually lends itself quite well to cartoons. Whereas if someone asks you to come up with a cartoon for a story that is already funny or bizarre in some way, that's a far greater challenge.
By the way, I know there's only three legs on that chair. There were four, but it looked cluttered and distracting so I took the fourth one out! The perspective is out of whack too. But it matters not a jot, because it's a cartoon. That's the beauty of the artform. If anyone questions it you say, "Tut, That's my style..."
Stock cartoons: Using the backlog
Over the past few weeks this has happened a couple of times with the cartoons I draw for a local newspaper group. The subjects were rotten weather (a perennial British favourite) and CCTV security cameras. The cartoons were re-drawn to fit the newspapers, but it was nice that the hard work, ie. coming up with the idea, was already done.
Reader's Digest cartoon: The long journey
Sometimes the journey from sketchbook to publication can take quite a while. I first drew this as a rough (below) in July of last year. It stayed in my sketchbook for a while as I wasn't sure about it – probably because the iPod had "iBusk" on it, and musical notes were coming out of it.
Eventually, I went back to it, and once I dumped that unnecessary stuff I could see it was a better gag. It was drawn up mid-September. But even then, for reasons that now completely escape me, I didn't think it was really a Reader's Digest gag, so it was sent to several other magazines first. Add to that the fact that the Digest works a few months in advance and turned out to be a bit of a trip for the poor young thing!
Star Wars cartoons: May the gags be with you
It was in Private Eye in 2005 when the film came out. Cheekily, I drew it before I saw the film! This next one was one of my first published cartoons, it appeared in Maxim ten years ago.
And this is probably my favourite of my Star Wars cartoons. It was sold to The Publican magazine.
Then there's this one, the only topical one of the lot. This was in Private Eye in 1999 and was about the Millennium Bug, and the fact that we were apparently ill-prepared for the inevitable disaster. Oddly, that now seems like a science-fiction story far more dated than Star Wars.
Shrewsbury Cartoon Festival: Shady character
One of the pics features yours truly, on the left, and Matt Buck.
I'm wearing sunglasses because the sun is behind me and that is one big old blank white board. It was giving off quite a glare. It's not some misguided attempt to look cool. That would certainly be offset by the paunch and the dodgy haircut. (Don't worry, I'm OK with my appearance, this is not going to be one of those Lily Allen-style angst blogs!)
I've written on this blog earlier about my board cartoon and the festival exhibition.
There's also a short video on the festival here.