Illustration

Interlude: Cartoonist’s Obssessions… with Simon Meyrick-Jones (and Steve Way)

From Varoom!, Spring 2014

I don’t know if the cartoonist’s love of certain situations could be called obsessive, but the countless numbers of jokes that have essentially the same drawing points in that direction. Pirates, desert islands, office desks and men hanging from chains in prison cells have been staples of cartooning since the Punch of the turn of the century or the New Yorker of the 20s. Those situations lend themselves to endlessly updated punchlines, but maybe there’s also a desire to do the perfect Pirate joke. Or, at least, this year’s perfect Pirate joke, probably involving Twitter or Miley Cyrus. Simon Meyrick-Jones, along with collaborator (or should that be co-conspirator?) Steve Way took the slightly less well-worn subject of Witchfinding out of the 17th Century and into the 21st. Their obsessive take on an obsessed character led to them creating an entire book. I asked Simon to illuminate the journey:

! Cover

Materials: My everyday cartooning is done with a Pentel Stylo, which allows a left-handed person to utilise the variations in line that an ordinary pen gives to right-handed people. For the Witchfinder I used a variety of Rotring Art Pens and some children’s Back to School fountain pens from Tesco on cheap cartridge paper, in order to get a rough scratchy look.

Research: For years I’ve torn out and kept any images of 17th-century woodcuts. They just make me smile.

Process: I was collaborating with Steve Way on this. We’d decided on chapter headings and then both came up with ideas for each one which I’d then draw up in a woodcut style. I like collaborating with people; I think the results are usually funnier. Think of the endless jokes in the Airplane films, written by a team of writers, compared to the painfully thin Austin Powers films, written by just one person.

Resistances: The main problem was trying to explain to people what we were doing. Only a few people understood that Witchfinding was just the hook on which we were hanging explorations of sexism, bigotry, hypocrisy and religious myopia. The other problem was trying not to draw too quickly. Although it was really only a rough, it was important to keep the slow, stiff quality of the original woodcuts. Whereas in modern cartooning a certain looseness is what we’re looking for.

Insights: I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but after a while it dawned on me that 17-century woodcuts were the precursors of today’s cartoons; simply drawn figures with speech balloons and created for the mass market. They weren’t Fine Art, they were Graphic Art. Took me almost thirty years to realise that…

Distractions: Considering that it was really just a rough, it took ages to do, so after enough time, the alcoholic glow of our village pub proved too seductive. Though I’m not unhappy with that as I think that it’s important to spend time in the outside world not just inside one’s own thoughts. It’s the outside world that provides the ideas.

Numbers: I seem to know a disturbingly large amount of people who have the number 13 tattooed on them…

Obsession: Yes, it did become obsessive. Steve and I thought we’d get away with a few sample pages and a synopsis. Due to the incomprehension with which we met, we started to do a couple of pages for each chapter – and since that didn’t seem to help, we ended up doing the whole damned thing and having it made into a little book just to show people exactly what we meant, unfortunately with no success; though I was, and still am, convinced that it was a worthwhile and funny idea.

Chapter1-4Chapter1-5Chapter1-6Chapter1-9

Standard
Illustration

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.

WEBSITE  http://www.johncuneo.com

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.

WEBSITE  http://www.stevewaycartoons.com

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.

RESEARCH   None.

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 http://www.varoomlab.com.

WEBSITE  http://www.tomgauld.com

Q&As by John O’Reilly

Standard