Thursday, 24 October 2013

Fresh Eyes

Well, it’s been a long week of my sitting beside the phone. It never rang. Well, not in a meaningful ‘Hey! You won our competition’ kind of way. Not that I expected to win but I would have liked to have at least placed. ‘Liked’, by the way, is a classic example of understatement. I’d have given an oozing body part to win that competition. However, it’s gone and I move on but immediately find myself at an impasse...

I’ve drawn cartoons all month and I’ve now cartooned myself to a standstill. I have a small pile of gag cartoons sitting on my desk and I can’t look at them and judge their individual merits. I know back when I drew them that they each made me laugh but the laughs have all now gone. Yet I need to reduce this pile of cartoons down to a manageable few which I can submit to a new competition.

I’ve got ten cartoons which I particularly like, though in my mind I’ve managed to narrow them down to about five. The problem I have is reducing them further. As I’ve established in the past, what I find funny isn’t what 99% of people find funny and what 99% of people find funny generally leaves me cold.

I think the complete silence of my phone these last few days proves that it’s probably foolish of me to send work away without having another set of interested eyes look over them. Yet finding interested eyes is next to impossible and asking uninterested eyes is always fraught with problems.

There’s a strange phenomenon that I’ve noticed many times when you ask people to judge your work. I might have mentioned this before but, in case I haven’t, this is what I’ve spotted.

Normally, people approach work as a finished product. You see a painting and you couch your response in terms such as ‘I like that’ or ‘isn’t that ugly’. With cartoons the responses can be more varied. You laugh heartily, smile coolly, or scratch your head. Sometimes you cry out ‘what is this crap?’ and sometimes you fold down the page to show somebody because you’ll think they’ll also enjoy the laugh. It’s the same when reading a novel. ‘I really loved that’ or ‘it was rubbish’ tend to be the two extremes.

However, when a book or cartoon hasn’t been published and it’s handed to you by its author or illustrator, its ink still wet beneath your thumb, the responses become very different. They’re usually along the lines of:

‘You should have made it a hippotimous...’

‘Why don’t you turn Lady Smith into a Nigerian bareknuckle fighter?’

'I’d have set this in Greenland and made them all gnome lords…’

‘It would have been a funnier cartoon if it wasn’t about nurses but about traffic cops, that the patient wasn’t a jockey but a Ford Transit, and the punchline somehow involved South Wales...’

In other words, when you give people work that isn’t in a sense ‘finished’, they think that you want them to rewrite it for you, strip it down and explain how they would have done it differently. Hand a cartoon to a non-cartoonist and they start giving you advice about how to write a punchline. Hand a novel to a non-writer and they’ll suddenly start giving you lessons on narrative structure. It always happens and it's horrible being on the other side of it.

So, I sit here looking at my cartoons and not knowing what to do. Hand them to friends and family whose response will be so critical that I’ll want to abandon cartooning completely or just send them off with barely a notion of if they’re funny or not…

Tonight I’ll sleep on it and tomorrow morning perhaps try to induce amnesia with a large mallet so I’ll be able to look at my cartoons with fresh albeit slightly out of focus eyes…

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