Seven: The Nicest, Smartest Man — Nick Dewar

If you want to be an illustrator, I can’t think of a better piece of writing to read than this:

I don’t really know how to write about Nick. Nick was great. As a craftsman, as a thinker, as a person to work with. Hugh and I had breakfast with him and his lovely wife, Sri, once, in a Salt Beef bar in Canary Wharf, where we talked of Cheese (“We brought back about 17 pounds of cheese. The sniffer dogs at LAX were very intrigued”), Bob Dylan, Fife and California. When he got home to New York state he sent me 3 CDs of the strangest music I’ve ever heard, lost gems from the past, patiently collected over the years, all themed—songs about Travel, songs about Space and the last, and finest—the appositely named Awful. When he won the Gold Award in the AOI Annual for a piece he’d done for us on Identity Theft, the AOI asked for a biography and picture. Nick: “I have fedexed three photos over to you. In the interests of appearances, you may want to stress how important it is to get the photo back because it is the only remaining photo of me as a child after the terrible ancestral fire where everything was destroyed. All the best, nick”

This is what Nick posted.

And this is how it looked in the Annual.

It’s truly sad he’s not here.


Six: A tribute to Esquire Magazine in general and Arnold Roth in particular

From a short talk, given at Making Magazines, St Brides, summer 2012

“I’m wearing the preppiest clothes I could find in my wardrobe, to sort of get in the mood… I’m guessing Simon didn’t do the same with Twen…*

My fascination with American culture began in the sixties and seventies and was driven by music and film, but in the eighties it was driven by magazines: magazine writing, magazine design, magazine photography and magazine illustration. And the magazine I loved above all others was Esquire. I was aware of it because I’d arrived at Radio Times, hired by David Driver, in the period following Robert Priest and Derek Ungless, who had gone to Canada to do Weekend magazine, a newspaper supplement.

At RT, with David, they had pushed the technology of the day to do infographics with Nigel Holmes and Peter Brookes, hired the best photographers working, and continued the magazines’ amazing history of illustration, mixing the old stable, such as Robin Jacques, with the raw talent then emerging in London, like Sue Coe and Robert Mason.

In the early seventies Esquire’s covers were still strong and clean, but inside it was like an academic journal… the occasional great spread didn’t disguise the fact that every feature was laid out in exactly the same template, and by the late seventies the magazine had lost its way. It was a pale shadow of the great George Lois eras. It changed owners, had gone fortnightly and the once-great covers were replaced by a mish-mash of styles and imagery.

Our eyes looked West to see what they were up to over there. Roger Black: “Remember that in the seventies few newspapers and many magazines still did not have art directors. I would say that (in the eighties) Walter Barnard shaped Time as much as the Editor. The same with Robert Priest at Esquire.” New York at that time also boasted Mary Shananhan at GQ, and Derek Ungless at Rolling Stone.

Eighties Esquire was confident: it had such a sure sense of its history and its place in American Letters. It celebrated its heritage, and wasn’t scared it would feel old-fashioned as a result. It never lost Esky, the embodiment of Esquire man, at this point drawn by Arnold Roth. As John Updike wrote, “All cartoonists are geniuses, but Arnold Roth is especially so.” The logo was sensitively adapted and modernised. It still had an amazing stable of writers and it developed a sense of the big story—every so often it would do a huge overarching theme issue, running to hundreds of pages. It had attitude and a really strong editorial voice, that particularly American mix of high seriousness and quirky playfulness. Only the New Yorker seemed comparable in its ability to embody the past whilst not compromising the present.

The key design element was layering. Priest and April Silver, who worked with him (and succeeded him) pushed more and more information and structure onto each page. None of the editorial designer’s toolbox was left unused. I loved the way that Esquire used Century Oldstyle and Franklin Gothic. In every weight, in every style. There are amazing levels of information and organization in each spread. As Fred Woodward said: “In the early 80s, Robert Priest’s work for Esquire, around ’81, ’82 was very influential. It owed a certain debt to Rolling Stone but took it somewhere else. The magazine published very personal photography and illustration, a lot of it from Europe, that was unusual and ended up being influential.”

About five years ago I noticed that my colleague at American Reader’s Digest, Hannu Laakso, seemed to be making it his mission to track down and use what may be politely referred to as “veteran” illustrators. He’d commissioned Ronald Searle a few times, and had started using the great Ed Sorel on a regular basis. I called him and asked him if he was going to use Arnold Roth—if indeed Arnold Roth was still working. “Yes. Of course,” he said in a tone that made me  feel I’d asked a stupid question. So I called Arnold. Nearly 80, with a treasurable phone and email manner, he said he’d get to my job as soon as he’d done Fortune’s End Of Year Cover. “I’ve just gotta go and draw bankers jumping offa tall buildings.” He said this with undisguised glee.

I got my Arnold Roth. Even better was the letter accompanying it.”

*If you know anything about Twen, you’ll realise this would have involved Simon Esterson standing naked.


Five: Gary Baseman

In the eighties I was asked to design the poster for the London to Brighton Bike Ride.

Gary’s first rough, faxed over

I had recently seen and loved Gary Baseman’s work and thought he’d be fantastic for this, just great energy and fabulous characters…

The clients, however, felt differently, and the poster never went beyond this rough stage.

Read a fascinating interview with the rather frighteningly talented Mr B here:

Gary’s second, brilliant rough (complete with my Liquid Paper masking Gary’s hand-drawn lettering)


Card from Gary announcing exhibition. Cool.

Interlude: UNSEEN

From Varoom, February 2012

What other profession has within its job description such a huge element of rejection? Even actors, famous in the rejection stakes, don’t have to actually write the plays they audition to perform in. Most people go to work to do a job. But what if the job is literally defined by what is in your own head? Illustrators are generally commissioned—they may produce pieces on spec, or personal work as a shopfront, but it’s a whole different ball game for the cartoonist. They must ‘churn’ ideas, work them up and send them out to a world where they will be placed in piles, summarily judged, occasionally accepted, mostly rejected and returned to sender.

So do some of the best jokes get away? Here’s one of my favourite cartoons from the last year, by Will Dawbarn, a fresh and talented cartoonist. He can really draw, and is funny. The second should be a given with a cartoonist, the first isn’t. If you’re funny and can’t draw, you’re a cartoonist. If you can draw but you’re not funny, you’re not.

It was taken from a batch sent in over a year ago but never run. Why? Because editors have the final say, and because a sense of humour is a hard thing to predict or pin down. I bought this before our current editor was here (she wouldn’t have picked it), it’s black and white (all our single gag cartoons run in colour and colouring this would only detract from its precise beauty) and, necessarily, it needs to run quite large for the quality of the drawing to work (we’re really pushed for space!).

Three strikes.


Most cartoonists I know have a day job. There’s just no way (especially since Punch hit the buffers) that most working cartoonists can make a living by drawing alone. Will is an exception. He draws a couple of great strips in The Dandy, and contributes regularly to Private Eye amongst others.

Q&A with Will

BRIEF  There’s no brief, just the knowledge that a handful of magazines publish humourous cartoons sent in by freelancers. They can be on any subject, and can be drawn in any style. Mostly you get them sent back, with rejection slips of varying degrees of politeness. It’s an oversupplied marketplace.

IDEA  Death is a much loved figure of cartoonists. I’ve used him on many previous occasions—he’s often good for a laugh. The idea occurred to me when I was looking at a Tree of Life poster on my child’s wall.

MATERIALS  Brush and Indian Ink on A3 paper.

RESEARCH  Visually, all I needed was the poster. I drastically simplified it in the process. I must have been listening to or reading something about the mass extinction we’re currently presiding over, but with this type of work the ‘research’ is a retrospective tag. That hour you spent looking at the paper whilst snoozing in front of the fire might later turn out to have been a vital research period.

PROCESS  Sometimes a drawing might take a good few goes to get right, even a very simple one. With this image, it all worked out first time, despite its relative complexity. I normally use the computer to add a little shade, but this was a rare cartoon that didn’t need anything adding or tweaking on the computer.

RESISTANCES  When I first had the idea, I thought yeah, but hang on, I’m not drawing a complete Tree of Life. All very well for a definite commission you know you’re being paid for, but way too big a job for the speculative magazine cartoon market! Sometimes I do put in a lot of work on the drawing of these things, but it’s always a gamble because most cartoons drawn for this market will, inevitably, be rejected. The answer is probably to submit roughs instead of finishes, but I’m not sure how that would go down with some editors.

INSIGHT  I had the idea of using a brush (my usual drawing implement is a dip pen) to do a simple representation of each species, and realised it could actually be done quite quickly. I skipped the pencilling stage and just drew with the brush. Ultimately, I’d like to do every cartoon this way, so it has the spontaneity of the first line.

DISTRACTIONS The thing about this type of cartooning is that distractions are all grist to the ideas mill. Bring ’em on!

NUMBERS  I started counting the number of species I drew in this cartoon several times to answer this question, but each time I quickly got lost because they’re not organised in rows or columns. Sorry.

Q&A by John O’Reilly


Four: The Process of Cartoons

From Varoom, Autumn 2011

I’m not an expert, but I’ve been a lover of cartoons for years; Ray Lowry’s matchless work for the NME, Gahan Wilson and Charles Addams’ worlds of strangeness in the New Yorker, deranged Honeysetts in Private Eye, the art in Roland Topor’s fluid line. Casting an eye around I found the modern cartoon where you’d expect (the cover of the New Yorker) and where you wouldn’t (the V&A). I found them in a friend’s sketchbook and in the national press. As I looked around at the cartoons that I liked most at the moment I was struck by the fact that, whatever else, cartoons are still, even in the digital age, all about the drawing. All about the scratch of the pen, the feel of the line, the sketch in service of the words, or the sketching making words superfluous…

John Cuneo, Illustrator, New Yorker Cover, June 27 2011

So, Drum Roll! Top Of The Heap! The New Yorker cover! Is this the Holy Grail job? Maybe not any more – maybe it isn’t seen as cutting edge enough (also it’s blurrily on the border of art versus illustration) but… it is the most visible cartoon job in the world. and I like a drawer with a worldview, and John Cuneo has one, like all of the greats.

John Cuneo Q&A:

BRIEF  I will occasionally send Francoise Mouly, NY’s art director, rough sketches for potential cover ideas, the vast majority of which are summarily dismissed.

MATERIALS  Ink and watercolor on paper.

RESEARCH  I combed through a couple of dog magazines for breeds that might lend themselves to a bit of anthropomorphising, and worked backwards, to the dog owners, from there. Also found a little downtown (NY) street reference.

PROCESS  Was asked to work up a colour comp first, and then a final. And then another version, one with more of a “summer” wardrobe and feel to it. Each effort getting progressively tighter of course, and incrementally less funny.

DISTRACTIONS  After the art gets accepted and publication is pending, one selfishly hopes for an uneventful news week—so that a cover-worthy current event doesn’t rear up and usurp your little dog gag.

NUMBERS  5. The number of Irish Water Spaniel owners who sent me pictures of their pets.


Steve Way, Cartoonist & Cartoon Editor, Personal Notebooks

You might call Steve Way’s visual journal The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Cartoonist. Follow our hero, Steve, as he maps out his daily rounds – of cartooning/ living/organising builders/cooking food/attending glittering fashion shows – and commutes between London and Moscow in an attempt to spend time with his partner Fiona, Art Director of Vogue Russia. In the tradition of Art Spiegelman, an everyday relationship is explored in extraordinary detail and Steve gets to use up Moscow’s supply of Indian ink.

Steve Way Q&A:

BRIEF  Self-imposed, but girlfriend said it first – “You are a lot funnier in real life than you are in your cartoons”. Also real life is a lot more interesting, with her working in Moscow, than another UK joke about the recession. The fact that the gag is drawn on a heavy Stalinesque table in an ex-Soviet 1958 apartment (on my visits) is the wry bit. The diary structure, sticking to what happened on that day only, hopefully keeps the whiny graphic novel tone at bay.

MATERIALS   Dip pens bleed too much, pencil’s too faint and doesn’t look permanent, so initially black felt tips (Edding 55, Mitsubishi Uniballs, anything 0.5.) However, the line was a bit continuous and not good at showing the foul winter Moscow throws at you. So now it’s fine black biros you can hatch with, that give a slightly broken line when you draw fast, plus clog romantically when they are about to run out. It looks like ‘real’ drawing.

RESEARCH  Remembering. Busy days are the worst – cue hunting for scraps of paper I’ve written one- word tags of the day’s events on. All drawings are from memory, the exception being the covers of books/mags read. I try to get the type sort-of-right by having them in front of me.

PROCESS  Always behind, so there are bursts of catch up, often 3-week clumps. It takes about 3/4 hour per page. There are no roughs, I just start. Some days I draw badly and improve, others the reverse. In fact a really good passage of drawing slows you down, as the page opposite has to have the same care. My spelling is always a random process. The record for pages in a day is 15. A scary amount of drawing.

DISTRACTIONS  Very occasionally people commission me when I’m so in the mood to do the diary, tut. It is its own distraction, you can’t even draw or catch up when travelling, particularly on planes. People get interested in it and want to talk, or in the recent case of Callum (aged 4) want you to “do sharks.”

NUMBERS   One page, One day, one A5 Paperchase—pink, so I can find it—diary. Ruled lines on each cream page, all ignored. Sadly a lot less British Midland air miles to Moscow than you’d think, so still not able to draw the First Class lounge. You can’t cheat.


Tom Gauld, Illustrator/Cartoonist/Artist/Merchandiser/PR/Author

The modern world of the image demands that he straddles all of these nomenclatures. His recent Guardian cartoons are also, I would suggest, poetry.

Tom Gauld Q&A:

BRIEF  Every week I make a cartoon for the letters page of the Saturday Guardian Review. The image has to relate to one of the letters on the page, but I try and make something which works without reading the letter. This week The Guardian sent me a letter about a book reviewed the previous week. Two phrases interested me: “awash with spies immediately before the Norfolk Zeppelin raid of January 1915” and “nocturnal goings on in the saltmarshes around Hunstanton.”

MATERIALS   Uniball pen and correction fluid on paper, then Photoshop.


PROCESS   I begin all my projects doodling in my sketchbook. These are the doodles for Nocturnal Goings On In The Saltmarshes (Mr Victorian Novel was for the following week’s cartoon). Once I have an idea, I will draw a pencil-version, which I scan into Photoshop and fiddle with. When I’m happy, I print it out and make the final ink drawing by tracing on a lightbox. This gets scanned back in, tidied up and coloured. I’m very lucky that Roger Browning, the art director on this, trusts me enough that I don’t have to do a rough. I just make a cartoon and they print it, which I find very liberating. Though they did once ask me remove the word “Wanker”.

DISTRACTIONS  Turnaround is quite tight: I get the letter on Tuesday afternoon and hand in the final art on Wednesday morning, so I’m quite focused.

NUMBERS  This was my 254th weekly cartoon for The Guardian Review. To see the completed Nocturnals cartoon go to


Q&As by John O’Reilly


Three: Geof Kern

Two meetings
Meeting One: I met America’s leading rock n roll memorabilia dealer, Jeff Gold, at a hotel on Jermyn Street in 2009, with a copy of a book autographed by Big Bill Broonzy. I was clearing out my dad’s stuff and I knew Jeff was coming to London on a buying expedition. I was looking at his website and noticed that he had art directed Days Of Open Hand by Suzanne Vega. I’m pretty sure that this was one of Geof’s pieces that I’d seen that inspired me to ask him to do the covers for a Mozart partwork that I had been hired to design for the Sunday Times Magazine. Jeff was charming, confirmed that he had indeed art directed Geof, had even won won a Grammy for it, and bought the Broonzy book for exactly the amount I needed to buy a Theramin.

I’d first seen Geof’s work on the covers of Beach Culture and, I think, Wet, out of Los Angeles, a time when really interesting magazine were emerging from of the surfing scene in California. These were among the first magazines designed by the always-interesting David Carson.

I tracked down Geof’s phone number in Dallas, Texas—don’t remember how—and hired him transatlantically (not so easy in those days of fax machines and unreliable airmail). To convince Michael Rand I roughed out a cover (quite badly) using bits and pieces from all over the place, some from Geof’s work itself. Thrillingly, Geof agreed to do the job (I’m pretty sure that I never sent him my rough, though) and here’s some of the correspondence and notes.

The interesting thing looking back is that each fax has a slightly desperate note of “I’ll be at Frozen Tundra 739 456 from 2 until 4” pace the Tony Roberts character in Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam. How simple it seems now…

“This fax is for:  M A R T I N C O L Y E R
from Geof Kern, Dallas


Well I am writing to you on Tuesday afternoon and I guess
it is now Wednesday morning as you read this (ever get tired
of this kind of fascination?)

I hope you like these ideas because it took me until the last
minute to work on them, and because of that, we are starting
the production now.

Assuming then, that their basic content is acceptable, I have
a few more questions:

On the illustration for music are there specific operas or
other works you would like me to write on the “name wheel?”

Same question for any specific works written in the illustration
for “Festival.”

And on the illustration for “The Man,” do I have to necessarily
depict Salzburg — or is Vienna OK?

Under the current conditions and the nature of these ideas, I
feel it would be best if I did this series in black and white.

Please call if you have a chance today


Of course, black and white covers were not what anyone was expecting, but Geof had started. I had no issue—always loved a cool monochrome—but having seen the stupid rough everyone senior to me expected it would cleave to that template. Michael even said he preferred the rough. No! Lesson learned—never show anyone a comp that boxes you into a corner. I hit upon the idea of selling it as a sophisticated duotone, and dug out some printer specs for green, purple and blue duotones. I was helped in forcing it through by our approaching print deadlines, and in the end everyone was pretty happy with the whole thing. I really enjoyed my short time at The Sunday Times Magazine—such a lot of talented people there. Hannah Charlton was the Editor on this part work.

Meeting Two: At the British Society of Magazine Editors Awards recently I ran into Tony Chambers, a designer I’d always admired, who was at the Sunday Times Magazine in the late 80s at the time I was doing some projects for them. Out of the blue, Tony started talking about the Mozart partwork, saying “I loved those Geof Kern covers. I kept those!” I professed disbelief. Tony insisted. We went for a drink with the lovely Wallpaper* crew. Tony reiterated that he had the copies, and that they were displayed at home on a bookshelf. I ordered a White Russian (a mistake, which everyone unaccountably compounded by saying That’s a good idea! It wasn’t) whilst still expressing doubts that Tony a) had them, and b) knew where to find them.

Hungover, the next morning this arrived in my inbox:

“I didn’t lie.
First picture is exactly as found this morning. Second is styled up – showing all four covers. I have three copies of each! They look even better than I remembered. Good back page too.”

Epigones—with Tony Chambers of Wallpaper*

Geof is amazing: his work continued to get weirder and even more wonderful. More at his website:


Two: Elwood H. Smith

Often commissioning is about waiting around long enough to use people whose work you love. And, in this case, subverting a job you’ve been given, with a much better end result. At Blueprint I wanted to review a book telling the story of George Herriman’s astonishing cartoon strip, Krazy Kat. Having bored myself rigid trying to sum up what was great about the adventures of Krazy, Ignatz, Kolin and Officer Pupp (!), I was struck by a thought: the best person to review this book would be a cartoonist who had been influenced by Herriman. So I called up the legendary Elwood H. Smith, whose great drawings were gracing the pages of Time and Fortune and asked him to write it. He, quite reasonably, said: Why would I write it? I’ll draw it, and he did, beautifully. As he says, “You are Crazy if you don’t immediately buy this book, and Krazy if you do!”

Elwood’s still out there, doing great work. Visit him at

Coming Soon (if I can find the damned magazine!): Matt Groening, Life In Hell and Fedex vs The Lure Of Surfing on Venice Beach.

And working with Geof Kern, Dallas’s answer to Dali.


One: Mats Gustafson

Reminded – by a photo of Mats Gustafson’s studio on Steven Bonner’s blog – of the time we commissioned Mats, I searched through an old suitcase and pulled out the job. The reason I remember it so vividly was for Mats presentation of his finished piece. We had recently redesigned the Observer Magazine (John Tennant was the Art Director and Shem Law and I were his deputies. The team also included Marcel Ashby and Jim Brewster). We had used a lovely Mats’ drawing in one of our dummy feature spreads to show the editor the kind of work that we were looking to commission (I can’t remember which editor—we had four in two years if I remember rightly, and redesigned the magazine three times in that period…). Dig the pasted-down dummy copy, cow-gummed onto a printed card grid. Nice run round!

So a few months later, when Gore Vidal would not be photographed, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to use Mats. As he was passing through from Sweden to New York he said he would deliver the artwork to our offices. So one day Mats turns up and proceeds to lay about fifty illustrations on our floor, explaining that he works by getting to know his subject’s face by painting quickly, over and over again, until he feels he’s getting closer to capturing something about them that seems vital and dynamic.

I quickly took a Polaroid of the studio before we started sifting through with Mats to fine down the choice. The finished spread is here. Note that between commissioning Mats and printing the illustration another redesign (not as good) had happened.

I wish I had managed to work with Mats again—his work is still as beautiful and mercurial as ever. See it at