Cartooning and custard (it’s the future…)

The gift the just keeps, er, taking...

Idling through the ‘Review’ section of Saturday’s Guardian (The) newspaper at approx. 02:45am on Tuesday morning (having abandoned efforts to coax the appropriate cerebral region into reminding my body that, regardless of the thunderous snores reverberating from every wall in the bedroom, it should be asleep) I happened upon a call for submissions to ‘The Young Cartoonists of the Year Award’, advertised by The British Cartoonists’ Association. I’m not certain whether it was the rather endearing lonely-hearts-esque opener (“The British Cartoonists’ Association is seeking – THE YOUNG CARTOONISTS OF THE YEAR…”), the arrestingly salubrious register of cartoonist adjudicators – including, inter alia, Banx (Financial Times), Steve Bell (The Guardian), Matt (The Daily Telegraph), and Nick Newman (Private Eye) – or, and more probably, the baffling arabesques my sleep-deprived mind was executing at that logic-deserted hour, but by morning (proper) I had resolved to fashion an illustration both satirical and (possibly) moderately political for entry. All before Friday. (The actual deadline, in order to reassure any other contenders mildly perturbed by the revelation of this premature submission date, is Monday 15 Nov – I just happen to be off frolicking in the North again this weekend and, thus, couldn’t risk entrusting it to the vagaries of the postal service any later than, well, today as it happens.)

It came as something of a surprise, however, to discover that the engineering of a successful (i.e. funny, astute, acerbic [depending on subject matter and target audience – I’m no snob, but am guessing, possibly rather presumptuously, that Private Eye‘s target demographic may differ somewhat radically from that of, say, The Dandy], visually stimulating, a little bit clever…) cartoon is a spectacularly tricky enterprise. Having frittered away several fruitless hours of, admittedly, pretty unfocused doodling, during which it became abundantly clear that utterly brilliant, searing satire wouldn’t just unfurl itself laconically from the end of my pencil (and, presumably – being a curiously sentient and articulate drawing – then demand to be rushed to the nearest newspaper editorial department for instant publication), I reluctantly stabbed the ‘mute’ key to silence ‘Woman’s Hour’ (yes – I’m already too far gone for help) and, for the first time, really looked at some of the examples of excellent cartooning I had managed to excavate from my towering stack of newspapers. It was only when I began to analyse what made these cartoons humorous, and often affecting, and began to pick my inept and stumbling way back through (what I imagine to have been) the thought processes that precipitated such works – succinct, yet brimming with comment and suggestion – that my perception gradually broadened to ‘see’ the full, coruscating vista of elements by which they were each informed. There is a certain genius, I think, to condensing diverse – but equally pertinent to the times – observations in a manner that is, simultaneously, seamless and incongruous. Perhaps it is the startling juxtaposition of observations that induces hilarity? A splicing of disparate subjects to create something that comments more accurately and profoundly on each as an ‘alloy’ than either could do in isolation? What I did learn, though, was that attempting to rationalise the wit of, e.g. Matt, into its constituent parts in order to reconstruct similar components into a comparably brilliant cartoon, is that…it doesn’t work like that. Far too reductive a system, and you end up with something excruciatingly contrived – and, well, not very funny. In short, it seems the mind(set?) of the cartoonist is a highly intelligent, devastatingly funny but ultimately inscrutable thing, and to begin to think like a cartoonist is a challenge I have come to equate with thinking like a cryptic-crossword-setter. I may, of course, be incredibly stupid, and have blissfully coasted along in ignorance of the extremity of this affliction for an embarrassingly long time, but I am inclined to think of the key to solving cryptic crosswords as being rooted in some initiation rite – accessibility (or, indeed, eligibility) to which I have yet to discover – and that all non-initiates remain forever outside in the icy wastes, desperately clawing at the windows of the cryptic-crossword-enabled’s club house. So to speak.

My eventual effort (pictured above, and the result of a ready-to-serve-custard-fuelled morning’s sketching – my needs are simple, but ever-so-slightly peculiar of late [no – I’m not pregnant…]) falls far short of the intimidating level of technical accomplishment, penetrating social observation and blisteringly keen wit I was going for, but if you’re interested in last year’s winners (and, indeed, runners-up) of the Award – many of whom have achieved all of these objectives and are considerably ‘junior’ in years – most of them are still on display at (you need to click on the ‘Awards’ tab at the top of the page). The Cartoon Museum, located at 35 Little Russell Street, is also well worth moseying along to if you have a little time to squander and are in the vicinity of The British Museum (£5.50 for adults, £4 concessions, £3 students [with valid ID] – but closed on Mondays, just so you know…).

*As a fleeting, but nevertheless relevant, aside, I was rather disappointed by the Award’s archaic submissions procedure, which requires – essentially – the gifting of original artwork to the Association: only original, freehand drawn artwork is accepted (none of this new-fangled, digital, email-transmitted nonsense!), and cannot, they regret, be returned. I had reconciled myself to this stipulation (it having been really quite unusual for me to provide original artwork in recent months, with the exception of privately commissioned pieces) and, accordingly, scanned the finished article at double resolution (i.e. 600 dpi, as opposed to the more usual, print- and computer-memory-friendly 300 dpi) so that I would have a printable, enlarge-able copy saved in the event that I wished to reproduce it. Alas, one of those momentary-but-terrible lapses in concentration pounced while I was preparing a low resolution version of the image to upload to this post, and I inadvertently saved the feeble 72 dpi version as my only copy of the cartoon. Ah well, I shall just have to create an infinitely superior successor to compensate for its pathetic loss…*

The winners are to be announced at the 16th Cartoon Art Trust Awards at The Mall Galleries on Thursday 2 December but, in the mystifyingly unlikely event that I do not triumph over the thronging (youthful) cartooning talent, that is also the date of the SCBWI Christmas Social – at which I am quite prepared to commiserate with myself, cradled in the comforting embrace of mild inebriation.

Until sometime next week then, when I am returned from the frozen, gale-beaten wastes of Glasgow, I wish you a very fine Friday, and a most wonderful weekend (authentic November weather notwithstanding)!

AP x


About illustratedbyamanda

Illustrator and time-fritterer extraordinaire
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