Sunday, September 30, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - The art business

PCO cartoonist Bill Stott writes;

ONE of TV’s most irritating programmes is “Click”. It usually crops up when you expect news and concerns itself with the geekier end of things computerish, or the needs of those whey-faced wannabes who claim not to be able to live without their Blackberrys. More than once in the hearing of your correspondent, Click’s cutting edge presenters have referred to events “way back in the 90s”. I wonder how old are Click’s younger viewers? Seven?

It might have been our patron, Libby Purves, or perhaps Bill Tidy, who suggested that cartoons demand a certain level of knowledge, historical or otherwise, for them to raise a smile.

If you didn’t know about the Titanic, Bill’s famous “No news of the iceberg ?” gag would fall flat. PCO member Mike Williams tells of a young person not understanding a fine joke about Vikings – “I’m a Viking. I’m SUPPOSED to leave rings on the table!” Said young person remarked, “Vikings wore lots of rings, did they?”

Cartoonists aren’t just history buffs. Cartoonists are interested in everything. They have to be. That’s what the job’s about. Everything. Very little is beyond humour’s scope. Maybe that’s why cartoonists come from all sorts of other lives – education, science, banking, road mending, string manufacture – and why many are tolerably able in fields other than drawing folk with big hooters.

So when the freelance cartoonist is commissioned to produce twelve sure-fire gags for a double glazing company – and companies are very keen on “product placement“ – then that freelancer had better be up to speed on all things transparent and still be able to make it funny.

Friday, September 28, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Artist of the month: Pete Dredge

Nottingham‘s finest, Pete Dredge, has been the PCO's Artist of the Month for September 2007. Bloghorn says click D for Dredge

Thursday, September 27, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - The future of print cartoons

Is this really the future of print cartoons?
Bloghorn offers a hat-tip to the Daily Cartoonist for a thoughtful analysis on the business issues around the future of commercial drawing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

PCO's Foghorn - The ProCartoonist's cartoon magazine

Complete in almost every respect, Foghorn, the magazine of professional cartoonists is soon to wing its way to the printers. Mike Williams* provides the cover for this issue.

‘‘Well, that's the last of the Mohicans...there's a little bit of Sioux left if anyone's interested.’’

* Click W for Williams here

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Comics Britannia REVIEWED

PCO member Royston Robertson reviews the third episode of Comics Britannia, broadcast on BBC Four 24th September 2007.

THE final part of BBC Four's Comics Britannia covered the period from the late 1970s when comics grew up. OK, maybe "grew up" is not the right phrase – especially as the programme opened with a look at Viz comic. Perhaps, "annoyed the grown-ups" is more appropriate, as this was when comics started to become grittier and more realistic, a world away from the Beano and the Dandy.

The documentary rightly asserted that although, on the face of it, Viz was just a downmarket rag packed with toilet humour and some creative swearing (Johnny Fartpants was looked at in some depth) its cultural significance cannot be underestimated. Comedian Frank Skinner argued that it was the first time that a type of humour experienced everyday in the schoolyard and in the pub broke into the mainstream.

This was made possible because Viz sprang not from the mainstream media but from the underground fanzine culture that sprang out of punk, and not from London but Newcastle. It was an authentic voice. Comedian Stewart Lee and others were called upon to read some of the Top Tips from the comic, laughter was mandatory. And with its non-PC characters such as Sid the Sexist and Millie Tant, Viz did not toe the line of the new politically correct comedy establishment. As Skinner commented, Viz "has a beautiful freedom about it".

Deftly pulling together some seemingly very different threads the programme moved on to Action comic which was around in the same late 70s period. The IPC comic was a very different animal to Viz, being a "serious" comic aimed at boys, but it was breaking similar taboos. It featured antiheroes rather than square-jawed heroes, and some quite violent storylines. Strips such as Look Out For Lefty, which covered football hooliganism and was a kind of dark twin to Roy of the Rovers, provoked the fury of the tabloid press. Action was withdrawn by IPC and later closed down.

Pat Mills, the man behind Action and a key figure in British comics, pointed out that it was effectively relaunched under the cloak of science-fiction, as 2000AD. They found they could get away with violent and challenging stories that reflected contemporary Britain ... if they were not set in contemporary Britain. Spanish artist Carlos Esquerra (who must have been a bit miffed to be given subtitles even though he was speaking English!) was on hand to draw Judge Dredd and talk about how his experience of growing up under Franco informed his depiction of the fascistic lawman.

From 2000AD we moved on to the career of one of its writers, and one of the most significant players in comics: Alan Moore. It's always a joy to see Moore on the telly, especially so soon after he popped up in Jonathan Ross's BBC Four documentary about reclusive Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. We looked at Moore's V for Vendetta, created with David Lloyd, the story of Britain under a fascist dictatorship and inspired by the dark days of early 80s Thatcherism. We learned that it was very deliberately aimed at adults, with Moore and Lloyd eschewing Biff! Bang! Pow! sound effects and thought bubbles, and introducing a depth never before seen in comics.

From this we moved on to the "British invasion" which saw UK comics writers and artists headhunted by the Americans. This led to the classic Watchmen, created by Moore and Dave Gibbons, which imagined what superheroes would be like in the real world (the answer: fascist nutcases). Moore's reading of the Rorschach character was a joy, even if you had never imagined the creepy vigilante with a Northampton burr.

The final part of Comics Britannia was a good overview of comics' latter history, though there were some omissions. Where, for example, was Moore and Eddie Campbell's epic From Hell? But sometimes it's good to be left wanting more, or indeed wanting Moore. Someone should give that man his own chatshow.

Bloghorn says thanks to the BBC for producing the series and also, to Royston for being the PCO's first reviewer of cartoon culture. Click R for Robertson here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - The Big Draw

The PCO is fielding a team of crack professional cartoonists at this year's Big Draw which takes place in London's Covent Garden over the weekend of October 13th/14th. We will be running workshops over both days and competing in the battle of the cartoonists on Sunday afternoon.There are details here. The picture above shows PCO'ers Tim Harries, Andy Davey and Matt Buck hard at work in last year's event. If you are a PCO member reading this and would like to help during the weekend, please click and contact the committee here. If you aren't a member,just come along and enjoy yourself.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Just draw it

Here is a link to a brilliant little piece of interactivity about a late, great cartoonist, Dave Follows. The content is put together here by PCO'er and web design guru, Ian Ellery. Bloghorn says E for Ellery, thanks Ian...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Just draw it

Cartoonists can spend a lot of time arguing about the merits of how they do what they do. Some artists stick to traditional methods, some experiment and some try not to worry about it too much. In the spirit of the final theme, Bloghorn found this, which is posted above. The skill remains the same, just draw it.

The art in the video is made by a US cartoonist called Meredith Gran, who draws a strip called Octopus Pie.

PCO Procartoonists - Comics Britannia REVIEWED

PCO member Royston Robertson reviews the second episode of Comics Britannia, broadcast on BBC Four 17th September 2007. You can read his first review here

THERE was a very different cast of characters for the second part of the Comics Britannia documentary, and not just on the page. Gone were the quiet, eccentric types such as Aardman's Nick Park and poet Michael Rosen, who reminisced about The Beano and The Dandy last week, and in came journalist Max Hastings and comedian Frank Skinner to talk about real boys' stuff ... war and football!

Just like in the comics the girls in the audience were given something to keep them quiet too, so cartoonist Posy Simmonds and writer Stella Duffy were there to talk about the stories of ballet, boys and boarding school. A Mel Gibson was on hand to talk about the days of inky fingers – she's a "comics historian", apparently.

Again Comics Britannia took a no-nonsense, chronological approach to telling it's story. It picked the launch of the Eagle in 1950 as a starting point. I was amazed to learn that Dan Dare – Pilot of the future, started out, like the Eagle's creator Marcus Morris, as a man of the cloth. Not surprising really, as the comic was launched as a wholesome alternative to the imported American horror comics, such as Tales From the Crypt, that had been busy warping young minds at the time.

The programme was packed with such nuggets of trivia. Who knew that Jacqueline "Tracy Beaker" Wilson was once a DC Thomson employee and that her name inspired a new comic/magazine aimed at girls? Jackie, of course. Or that a young Gerald Scarfe won a drawing competition in the Eagle, with David Hockney as runner-up?

In fact, much of the documentary was a revelation to me because I spent my childhood immersed in humour comics, mainly The Beano, and didn't bother much with sport and war comics. I was amazed to find that pop fops Spandau Ballet once played for Roy of the Rovers – though this explained the signing of Shakin' Stevens in the Viz football spoof Billy the Fish (no doubt more on that in the final part of Comics Britannia next week).

Likewise, I wasn't too familiar with war characters such as Captain Hurricane. He was described here memorably by Frank Skinner as "a sort of muscular Duke of Edinburgh figure ... a racist term for every occasion". It was interesting to hear that Charley's War, a later war strip which dropped the gung-ho approach (no more "Eat lead, Fritz!" caricatures) and attempted to cover the horror and futility of conflict, had been influenced by the real emotions found in the stories of girls' struggles featured in Bunty and Tammy.

Another enjoyable and shamelessly nostalgic romp through the comics, then, but with a hint of sadness. We're told that 10 million comics a week were sold in 1973, but it's made very clear: those days have gone.

Thanks to Royston, who'll be finishing off his stint as the PCOs first reviewer with the concluding episode next week. Bloghorn says, click R for Robertson...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - The Big Draw

The PCO will be fielding a team of cartoonists at this year's Big Draw event on Sunday October 14th.

Part of the annual festival of drawing is being held in London's Covent Garden this year and the PCO team have been invited to participate in the 'Battle of the Cartoonists' where professional artists bid to outdo each others’ creations in an art time-trial. Our competition is going to include cartoonists from The Guardian and Independent newspapers and Private Eye magazine.

The Big Draw is one of the activities of the national Campaign for Drawing.

Here is a picture of last year's event at Somerset House which took place when the PCO was little more than a twinkle in the eye of some cartoonists...

In the run-up to this year's big day, Bloghorn will be posting a few more photographs and we'll obviously, also be reporting on our activities after the event itself.

Bloghorn must thank PCO member Gerard Whyman (Ger) for the photographs of last year's event and recommends clicking a W for Whyman here

PCO Procartoonists - The power of images

A nasty story about the power of drawn imagery. The power to make such things, also brings responsibility in being able to justify what you create. The link, is as reported by the BBC.

UPDATED: 18th September
A response to this story from the USA,
linked here.

And coverage of the aftermath of the event from Sweden

Thursday, September 13, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Artist of the month: Pete Dredge

Pete Dredge is the PCO's Artist of the Month for September. Bloghorn says click D for Dredge for more

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Comics Britannia REVIEWED

PCO member Royston Robertson reviews the first episode of Comics Britannia, broadcast on BBC Four 10th September 2007.

VARIOUS bigwigs at the Beeb have suggested recently that BBCs Three and Four could be axed, in a cost-cutting move. The former is fine by me – there's only so many times you can watch Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps repeats – but on the evidence of Comics Britannia, we should get the placards out and start a "Save BBC Four" campaign right now.

The documentary was nothing groundbreaking, it was a straightforward, chronological, talking-heads history of British humour comics, but it was informative and intelligent and mercifully free of the kind of dumbed-down script and constant re-capping that afflict so many contemporary documentaries (see BBC Two's British Film Forever series).

The first of a three-parter (the others are on boys and girls comics, and the grittier work that emerged in the 1970s and led to the graphic novel boom) it was a chronological potted history from the birth of The Dandy in 1937 to the present day. It began with a serious misstep that some commentators have already noted, the claim that "speech balloons were a key innovation" of The Dandy – in fact they'd been around for hundreds of years – but it soon redeemed itself as it took us on a nostalgic journey through the story of DC Thomson's iconic Beano and later IPC rivals such as Whizzer and Chips.

Issues that arise out of a study of comics, such as the early racism, their role in brightening up a grim postwar Britain, and the debate over whether comics are "bad" for you, were discussed intelligently by the likes of Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, poet Michael Rosen, Aardman animator Nick Park and a whole roster of cartoonists and writers from the glory days of comics.

What was particularly satisfying, from this cartoonist's point of view, was that the documentary, narrated by comedian Armando Iannucci, stated that its mission was to uncover the artists behind the strip and give them due recognition. And it did just that. It was a joy to hear the names of Dudley Watkins, David Law and Ken Reid mentioned on TV and particularly great to see the genius that is Leo "Bash Street Kids" Baxendale being interviewed. It was also great to see artwork presented in all its glory, so close you could see the pencil marks.

I'm looking forward very much to parts two and three, as well as to the other shows in BBC Four's comics season (see link below for details). In the meantime, I've got placards to write.

Here's a link to the Beeb's comics Britannia site and thanks for the review Royston. Bloghorn says check out R for Robertson here

Sunday, September 9, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - A history of comics art

Bloghorn would like to offer sincere respects to the BBC for making a whole series of TV programmes about the history of graphic novels - or comics, as we used to know them. Read about episode one here, and set your televisual recording devices for the times listed here

(Above image, courtesy of the BBC)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Artist of the month: Pete Dredge

Pete sold his first cartoon to Punch in 1976 and has been going strong ever since. He has been a regular contributor of gag cartoons and cartoon strips to Private Eye for many years - as well as working for many other publications and businesses.

In between all the work, Pete also managed to set up and run a highly successful cartoon festival in his hometown of Nottingham. Sadly, this eventually became a victim of its own success and got too big for Pete and his volunteer team to maintain without the help a funded, full or part-time, organiser. At this point, the Arts Council failed its audition for the role of hero.

There's an interview with the enterprising Mr Dredge, courtesy of BBC Nottingham, here.

Bloghorn says click D for Dredge

Monday, September 3, 2007

PCO Procartoonists - Art or wot?

PCO Chairman Andy Davey writes in response to this;

Ah, yes...defining art. This is a treacherous hole down which many a smart commentator has fallen. Any definition is fairly redundant under scrutiny but, personally, I’m with the very wonderful Scott McCloud who has written extensively on the “theory” of cartoon art (although he describes them as, “comics”).

McCloud defines pure art as “any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts; survival and reproduction”. The muse is not important – high art has been hijacked variously to depict both the sacred and the profane. The compulsion to make stuff for its own sake and the joy of it is the defining criterion.

This allows you to walk rather smugly around the hole, although the hole is a pretty huge, all-encompassing one. It then simply reduces to a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative one; i.e. how much “art” does this work or activity or performance contain?

Of course, we cartoonists – like all “artists” - fail, by varying degrees, to meet the demanding criterion mentioned above, but it doesn’t mean that the whole genre should be filed under “not art”. Elements of the cartoonist’s art exist to varying levels across the spectrum of drawing and painting, from “Sun Fun” through Gerald Scarfe and probably even to Picasso or Magritte’s work. There are as many vacuous paintings as there are meaning-laden, thought-provoking cartoons.

Unfortunately, the real world is a bit different. Art is what the art establishment – people like Brian Sewell – says it is. As McCloud argues, the “comics” format (and by extension, cartoons) would be seen as art if you made it physical form (put it in a gilt frame), context (put it in a gallery in a glass case) or authorship (anything by Warhol or Hirst is art...isn’t it?). But the critical view is that it isn’t art. And that’s that.

I guess, as Bill says here, we shoot ourselves in the foot because we try to be funny. It’s probably a bit wider than that; not all cartoons are funny – some make painfully serious points with the point of a stiletto. The foot-shooting is as old as the format itself due to occasional association with non-serious content and sensationalism (saucy postcards, horror-comics and childrens’comic books).

Cartoon art is the mongrel born of a bit of guilt-laden inter-species rumpy-pumpy between pictures and words. Rejected by both parents, it’s had to make its own way in the treacherous worlds of art and commerce. With such a poor upbringing, it’s no surprise it lacks self-confidence. Poor genes, no schooling...there was no other logical outcome. It is compelled to start shouting and making a nuisance of itself down at Job Centre Plus.

So, I agree with you, Bill. Mr Sewell is wrong to dismiss a whole art form. His only legitimate function is to tell us what he likes and what he doesn’t.

The Bloghorn says, for Scott McCloud and his excellent, learned writing on where-do-cartoons-come-from, go here

PCO Procartoonists - Foghorn

It's only a month to the new issue of the Professional Cartoonists cartoon magazine.