Cartooning in the media

This is a version of a cartoon I had published a few years back. I use it by way of illustration, though really it has nothing to do with the following article which is considerably less cynical. It is a short piece I wrote for the PCO blog about media coverage of cartooning

There’s no doubt that cartoons are enjoying an unusually high profile in the British media at the moment.

We’ve seen acres of coverage for the launch of new kids’ comic The DFC, the 70th anniversary of The Beano and Phill Jupitus’s comic strip programme on Radio Four. There has even been a graphic novel serialised in The Times.

So, are cartoonists happy about this? Not a bit of it.

I agree with Neil Dishington, who wrote on the PCO blog yesterday, that the Phill Jupitus thing was nothing special, but is that because we’re cartoonists and therefore he’s preaching to the converted? I think it’s likely that many listeners would have found Jupitus’s sincere enthusiasm about comic strips quite infectious.

Isn’t it a good thing that shows like these exist? Is it not the case that the only thing worse than the media talking about cartoons is the media not talking about cartoons?

But they misrepresent cartooning, some cartoonists cry, it’s obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about. Well, maybe. I’m sure I heard James Naughtie talking about "animators" at The Beano on the Today show on Monday, but is there a single profession that doesn’t think it is often misrepresented by the media? I know journalists who think the media misrepresents them.

Another common complaint is that any media obsession with cartoons is just a passing fad. Again, that may be true, perhaps they’re using cartoons to cheer us up amid all the credit crunch stuff, but then that is the role of most cartoons. And let’s not forget that the media treats many subjects in a faddish way before moving on to the next thing.

And as for the grumbling over celebs such as Jupitus drawing cartoons, cartooning has always been something where everyone wants to have a go. That's because it's fun. We often encourage that attitude, at events such as The Big Draw and the Shrewsbury Cartoon Festival.

All you can do is keep on doing good cartoon work and hope that those who commission cartoons for publication will realise that it is best to go to a professional.

Royston's portfolio website


Celebrity cartoonists: What a bunch of quitters!

The comedian Phill Jupitus has produced a couple of comic strips to promote the radio programme Comic Love, in which he talks about his love of comics and newspaper strips. One can be seen in the July 19 edition of Radio Times and the other (excerpt above) here: Seeing the world in four panels.

Jupitus is one of many celebrities who, in their younger days, dabbled with careers in cartooning before going on to make their name in a different way. Usually a more profitable one.

Three years ago I wrote an article for The Jester, newsletter of the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain, which was a round-up of these erstwhile cartoonists. It is reprinted here.

MEL CALMAN called his autobiography What Else Do You Do?, after the question that is so often put to cartoonists. In fact, there appear to be many cartoonists who not only did something else, but found that that occupation eventually made their name, to the point where the career in cartooning became a largely forgotten footnote.

I started thinking about this when I heard after the death of the comedian Bob Monkhouse that he had once been a cartoonist. A little light research on the internet turned up the fact that he worked for D.C. Thomson, but other than this I know very little and I’d be grateful if anyone could shed any light on the matter.**

At about the same time, I read an article about the novelist John Updike and how he had been obsessed with cartoons as a child. He regularly badgered his cartoonist heroes for original artwork for free (how we know that feeling). Updike also tried his hand at being a cartoonist before coming to his senses and deciding that writing was the better path to take. It was certainly the more lucrative.

Another writer who has dabbled with cartooning is Will Self. Some of his work can be seen in a compilation of his newspaper and magazine articles called Junk Mail. The drawing is crude but some of the gags are pretty good. A friend of mine used to work as a sub-editor at an architecture magazine called Building Design where Self once wrote a column and regularly submitted a cartoon along with it. My pal took a rather dim view of Will Self the artist because he never rubbed out his pencil lines and the lowly, overworked subs had to do it.

BBC 6Music presenter Marc Riley, formerly “Lard” of Mark and Lard fame on Radio One, and an ex-bass player with The Fall, is an ex-cartoonist whose drawing was somewhat on the crude side. Readers may remember his Harry the Head from Oink! Comic. He also appeared in photo strips in Oink! He was the guy with the big nose.

Former 6Music breakfast show presenter Phill Jupitus, the comedian and Never Mind the Buzzcocks team captain, also dabbled as a cartoonist apparently, though again I was unable to unearth any details about his early work (seems you can’t find everything on the internet) so it would be great if anyone could fill in the, er, sketchy details.

Another former cartoonist is broadcaster Andrew Collins, also an ex-New Musical Express journalist, EastEnders scriptwriter, Radio Times film writer and general overachiever. He chronicled his love of cartoons and half-hearted attempts to make a living drawing owls and wizards for puzzle magazines in Where Did it All Go Right and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, his bestselling memoirs of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.

Talking of the NME, anyone who used to read the music paper in the early 1990s may remember a cartoon drawn in the style of Gillray called Dr Crawshaft’s World of Pop. But did you know that it was drawn by Arthur Mathews who went on to co-script the sitcom Father Ted? Of course comedy writing and cartooning often go hand in hand. I know that some Cartoonists’ Club members have scripted stuff for radio and TV.

So I suppose there’s hope for us all if we get disillusioned with the world of cartooning. If you know any other examples of famous former cartoonists, let me know.

Right, time to get back to the drawing board/typewriter/record decks …

Comic Love is on BBC Radio Four at 10.30am on Saturday 19 July.

Here is a cartoon by Bob Monkhouse of cartoonist Noel Ford, along with a photo of Bob working on that very drawing. Noel, who once worked with Bob at the BBC, says he really did look that weird in the 1970s! Thanks for sharing, Noel.

Royston: Non-celebrity cartoonist!


Dalek cartoon: The director's cut

This cartoon is in the current edition of Private Eye. The Dalek cartoon was popular a few years back, notably during the lengthy period that Doctor Who was off air. Here I've combined it with a current popular obsession among cartoonists: outdoor smokers.

Private Eye added a sign reading "Stage Door" on the left hand side of the cartoon. I had considered putting in a sign saying "BBC" when I submitted the gag, but I thought it might be over-egging the joke. I don't think a sign is needed really.

Apart from anything else, I thought that rather than actors smoking inside the Daleks, maybe this takes place in the Doctor Who universe – the Whoniverse, if you will – and these are Daleks taking a break from conquering the human race. Well, whatever the interpretation, it's smoking Daleks, what more do you want?

It's not the first time I've had a Doctor Who gag in Private Eye. Here's one from 2005, just before the series was relaunched.

In actual fact, having been a big Doctor Who fan as a child, I was really looking forward to the new series, but sometimes you have to play Devil's Advocate as a cartoonist. There had been an excessive amount of hype surrounding the series (that seems to have been maintained!) and the media kept falling back on the old "get ready to hide behind the sofa" cliche, hence this cartoon.

Royston's portfolio: Star Wars cartoons also available ...


News media cartoon: More relevant than ever

Here's another cartoon from the archives. A ten-year-old gag from Private Eye (26 June, 1998) that is probably more relevant now than ever. TV news was just getting going on dumbing down back then.

This is another pre-Google Image Search cartoon. I drew Sooty from memory and knew at the time that he didn't look quite right. When the cartoon appeared in print I saw what was wrong ... his ears were white! So when I put together my first portfolio website, a year later, I put up a version with black ears.

The cartoon made a reappearance in the Private Eye annual of 1998 (with white ears). It was also one of the first cartoons where I sold the original. A friend snapped it up for a sum that was cheap even for 1998 (hope you realise you got a bargain, Simon!)

Royston's portfolio website

One from the archives: My oldest drawing

For this journey into the past we're going back a l-o-n-g way, to the oldest drawing of mine that I still own. It was drawn when I was ten years old.

Clearly it was kept (by my mum) as it's an "award-winning" cartoon: Third Prize in the Schools Painting Competition run by the Catterick and District Caged Bird Society. Oh, yes. Here's the proof:

It was not intended as a cartoon as such, but I think the drawing betrays a cartoonist's sensibility ...

Yes, that's right, I drew a dodo for the Caged Bird Society! I remember being slightly obsessed with the extinct bird as a kid. Not sure why. I love the fact that the certificate just says "His painting of a bird". It's not even a painting as it's drawn with coloured pencils. I also like the fact that the dodo looks pretty evil.

I did draw cartoons before this. I made my own comic when I was about eight or nine called "Ka-Pow!" I used to draw it with carbon paper underneath and an extra sheet of paper so I'd have a copy for my friend Richard. I've no idea what happened to the comics, so my strips "Gomez the Gorilla" and "Toot and Carmen" are sadly not available to be shown here.

That's probably a good thing, on reflection.

Some more up-to-date cartoons by Royston