Saturday, 23 April 2011

That Big Fat Gypsy Royal Wedding

Some two years ago or so, I was told by somebody close to an editor at a national newspaper that there’s no way that Photoshopped satire was ever going to succeed. At that time, I was producing one or two 'cartoons' a day. Occasionally a picture would get picked up by the newspapers and my blog would earn a mention. But as far as producing work for newspapers: they weren't interested. Editors, I was told, were very twitchy about the copyright issues of Photoshopped work. Like most people working in digital satire, I had to 'borrow' my source images from elsewhere. Working for nothing and producing no income from your work means that it’s impossible to pay photo agencies upwards of £50 a picture, which you then pull apart and combine with other pictures, also priced upwards of £50. It was a depressing thing to hear after two years working on ‘The Spine’ but I knew other Photoshop satirists were discovering the same thing.

Realising I needed to do something different, I quit the blog and went off to write a couple of books. Yet at the same time, I was also being enlightened by reading Nige’s blog. It was Nige who introduced me to the work of B. Kliban. I’d always been a huge fan of cartoons but I'd never studied them with any seriousness. It was through Nige that I started to form an attachment to the holy trinity of Ronald Searle, Ralph Steadman, and Gerald Scarfe. American illustrators interested me less, though I would eventually be drawn to the work of American counter-culture cartoonists, notably Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez and Drew Friedman, as well as modern satirists like Steve Brodner, Pat Oliphant, and Tim Kreider. Yet discovering Kliban was an utter revelation. His cartoons filled an empty space in my brain. The first time I saw one of his gags, the click was almost audible. I realised that I wanted to try real cartooning myself, that the execution mattered less than the joke, and that I should try to draw the kinds of cartoon that amuse me.

I began posting the results on my private blog. At the beginning, they were very basic line drawings created in Adobe Illustrator. I couldn't draw but that wasn't the point. I just wanted to create cartoons that made me laugh.

[singlepic id=87 w=400 h=450 float=center]

[singlepic id=85 w=400 h=450 float=center]

[singlepic id=84 w=400 h=450 float=center]

[singlepic id=86 w=400 h=450 float=center]

I created hundreds of cartoons over a year or so until a couple of real artists who read the blog persuaded me to start using ink.

Ink! It was a horrendous feeling at first. I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no CTRL+Z to allow me to go back and fix my (many) mistakes. I also wasn't set up for using pen and ink. It was a matter of simple things like arranging a place to draw, buying a lamp, a drawing board (and eventually a chair and drawing table). It was finding the right instruments, struggling to understand how dip pens work, and to find which pens suited me. Then I had to find the right paper. I began drawing at A3 scale but discovered it was far too big for the one or two cartoons I was trying to produce every day. Then there was the physical side of sitting over a desk, living with my fingers almost perpetually covered in ink... But I was cartooning on a daily basis and I was enjoying publishing the results on my private blog.

Yet daily satirical cartoons have a short shelf-life and I realised that I might as well do something with them. I’m working on other things which keep me busy and it sometimes makes it a struggle to update here every day. Some weeks, like this last week, I'm not in an ideal mood to cartoon. Yet for all its sins, badly-drawn figures (sometimes, to my chagrin, commented upon, sometimes not), jokes which only I find amusing, and the horrorshow of the statistics, this blog has been something I’ve enjoyed.

Yet the world’s hard brutal irony has a way of creeping up on a guy.

I link to Gerald Scarfe’s website because he still has the devil’s flair. His strokes are wild, loose, yet absolutely precise. I buy his books. I search out his work in the newspapers. I check his online shop. I try to figure out his techniques and yet get nowhere when I study his crosshatching.

Today I noticed that there’s a new book listed there… It’s called ‘The Big Fat Gypsy Royal Wedding’ and it’s written by Scarfe’s two sons, Alex and Rory. It’s a clever idea, looks a funny book, and I'd encourage you to go out and buy it (though only after I've begged you to buy the book listed top right of this blog). But what frustrates me, leaves me standing against the wall banging my head against the plasterwork until my brains leak into the cavity beyond, isn’t the fact that it’s is a royal wedding satire when I couldn’t get a publisher to look at the book I’d written eight months ago…

It’s the simple fact that it’s not a book of cartoons. There’s not a single bit of splattered ink in sight.

What frustrates me, makes me gasp with sheer irony of it all is the one simple fact: the whole bloody thing is Photoshopped.


  1. I feel your frustrations - not for myself, but for my wife as well as you.

    Chin up 'ol fella, and maybe do a photoshopped book or two...