Question time ...

"But what are you running from?"

Here's an interview I did for the April issue of The Jester, newsletter of the Cartoonists' Club. Ian Ellery, the editor, puts the same questions to a club member each month, some on cartooning, some not:

How did you first get in to cartooning?
I think I have always been into it. I started submitting gag cartoons and getting them published in 1997, but I've drawn them since I was a kid and often had them in school and college magazines. I won a prize in a drawing competition when I was nine for a cartoon called "Colburn 1999", Colburn being the village in Catterick, North Yorkshire, where I grew up. It was a humorous 1970s-perspective view of the future (now the past) with jet-packs and the like. I still have the book I won, but sadly I don't have the drawing itself. (Wistful sigh at lost youth ...)

What was your first commission?
When I was a local-paper reporter I used to draw the occasional cartoon for the paper (for no extra money, of course!) and that led to the local NHS Trust commissioning me to draw a picture of a hospital ward with lots of typical hazards around the place -- i.e. used syringes, tangled electrical cables etc -- for use in nurse training. I got £50 for it, which seemed pretty good to a part-time cartoonist in the mid 1990s.
Later when I got a website I stuck it on there and labelled it "healthcare cartoon". In 2004 somebody Googled that term and I ended up with a regular well-paying gig for a healthcare business magazine that I still have seven years later. So that first commission worked out pretty well.

What's the stupidest question/request you have ever been asked?
Someone did actually ask me if I "also write the funny bit that goes underneath the cartoon". I'd heard of people asking this kind of question but thought there might be some exaggeration. But no, those were his exact words and I was stunned into silence for a couple of seconds while I took it in.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Ah, that old chestnut. Reading the paper, watching the telly, staring out of the window, eavesdropping and mentally noting things people say, watching out for trends, observing the stupid things people do. That kind of stuff.
Did you ever go to college or university?
I went to Sunderland Poly and graduated from "the University of Sunderland". Good timing. I did "Communication Studies", one of those courses where the tabloids complained about "taxpayers money spent on kids studying Coronation Street" etc. It was all true. And James Bond films. I had a great three years. I certainly paid the tax back when I had a well-paid job though (journalism, silly, not cartooning!)

What is the most rewarding job you ever did?
Grateful though I am for commissioned work, for me no cartoonist-for-hire job is as rewarding as selling my own gags. Frustrating though it can be, with all the inevitable rejection, when you hit the mark and come up with a great gag, and it sells to a top magazine, there's nothing more rewarding. And sometimes it's just as rewarding when it sells to a small magazine, if it was a gag that you really liked and it has been snubbed by all the biggies. Truman Capote said "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour". I have that pinned to my notice board. I'm pretentious like that.

Do you work with pen and ink or are you purely digital?
I find Photoshop great for roughing out cartoons as you can move characters around, make them smaller and larger etc without constantly redrawing. But I like the line I get with my brush pen so I print out these roughs and draw them on paper with the aid of a lightbox. Then it's back to the computer as they get scanned and colour added in Photoshop when required. It's a topsy-turvy way of doing things but works for me.

What is your favourite movie?
I like films I can watch again and again because they are so original and have so many quirky, memorable bits ... stuff like Withnail and I, An American Werewolf in London, Gregory's Girl, Reservoir Dogs, you get the idea. I'm also a bit of a Star Wars nut, but strictly original trilogy only, please.
What book are you reading at the moment?
"A Little History of the World" by E.H. Gombrich. Just finished it, in fact. It was originally written for kids, in Germany in the 1930s, but it's a great read for adults too -- particularly those like me who could have paid more attention to history at school and have quite a few gaps. It takes in the entire span of world history from the Ancient Egyptians up until the 1930s in just a few hundred pages. Recommended for your revision, readers!

What are you working on at the moment?
Is this my chance to mention that I've got a book of cartoons out? OK I'm not actually working on it now but I'm working on selling it, that's the hard part. Other than that, I've got a cartoon to do for a monthly legal magazine and one of my weekly local paper cartoons. Plus there are always gags to be drawn up and sent out on spec. Keep on keeping on, and all that.

Click here to buy Royston's cartoon book