The beauty of submitting cartoons to Private Eye is that you never know when in your day that message box will flash up in the corner of the screen and time will stop. I believe for a moment that my heart actually stops beating. I can taste the contents of my stomach. My eyes go bleary. I hear the sound of angels. If I have the strength, I might even move the mouse over to Thunderbird and open the email.
Then reality zips forwards like it does in those dumb American films to highlight important plot points. And the main plot point for me is always the same:
The Ed says: Sorry not to use. Thanks for sending.
Well, I say it’s always the same but I’m pretty sure it only used to read ‘Sorry not to use’ and that was it. It was the email equivalent of commando training manuals teaching the would-be assassin where to push the stiletto in order to sever the brain stem. Over the time (years) I’ve been submitting work to The Eye, the reply has got a little longer, though the message is always depressingly familiar. I don’t know why the reply has changed but part of me wonders if there’s some deeper hidden meaning. Does the reply get longer the more you submit work? Perhaps there will come a time when the reply will read:
Hi there. Strobes here. Just had a chat with Ian and he loved your cartoons but I’m afraid we’ve got all we need this month. However, don’t let this get you down. We really appreciate how much effort you’ve put into your cartoons and we’re sure that there will come a day when we can use them. So, for now, chin up and keep on smiling. Your friend, Strobes.
Of course, it will never happen. That’s how I’d reply to somebody I’m letting down. The Eye know how to keep it bland. They’ll have so many submissions that it’s in their interests to discourage people from sending more cartoons. And it definitely works. At these moments, there is a large part of me that wants to give up. Then I’m reminded that I’m still learning the craft and I’m almost attempting the impossible. I don’t know how many cartoons I draw a month but I only send a fraction to Private Eye. Even if there are other outlets for cartoons (though, in reality, very few still remain), it is Private Eye that I hold highest.
In fact, I probably hold it higher than The New Yorker, often seen as the ‘holy grail’ for cartoonists. The Eye was home to Willie Rushton, whose work I have hanging over my desk along with an autograph I managed to find on eBay. It was also home to Scarfe and, for a period, Steadman. Bill Stott has been published there and it is still home to other great cartoonists who used to get published in Punch such as Michael Heath and Robert Thompson. Not that I remember, Punch. I’m too young, but my ‘Best of Punch Cartoons’ proves that there was once a halcyon age of cartooning. Then there is the work of Modern Toss who well, frankly, I don’t really understand (I get the jokes, I just don’t like the jokes and hate the drawing), but I guess even this proves that the Eye remains a broad church for cartoonists, even if there isn’t room for me.
In a day or so, I guess I’ll be back, packing an email with three of four cartoons and for a brief period of time, I’ll delude myself into thinking… Well, thinking that it will be this time. This time...