I want to take a break from writing my autobiography to talk about why I am a cartoonist and what it takes for a person to be a cartoonist. I am sure there are many people who consider cartooning as a career and wonder if it is possible to survive and thrive in such a job. Of course the main requisite is a sense of humour. But that comes in many forms. One editor I worked for at the Sun, a man called David Yelland, was convinced that I had no sense of humour. I would produce rough sketches of about six or seven ideas for him to consider and he would say to me, “Have you got anything funny?”. I would pretend to misunderstand his terrible insult that struck at my very soul, and say to him, “Well, tell me what sort of subject you would like me to choose for a cartoon?” He would come back with, “No, no, it’s not the subjects that are wrong, it’s the fact that they are not funny.” Yes, (in my head) I know you’re trying to destroy me, you filthy piece of shit. But I would think of the mortgage and actually say, “OK, David, I’ll send you some more ideas.”
The point of this anecdote is that Yelland thought he had a sense of humour, but from my viewpoint he was humourless. It’s all a matter of how you look at life. He thought he was right, and I thought I was. So am I the right person to tell a prospective cartoonist about what kind of humour to have? We are all different in our outlooks on life and what we do and don’t find funny. I have been lucky in my career that most of the editors I have worked for understood my humour and allowed me to carry on working.
We have all come across people in social situations who manage to entertain others with jokes and witty remarks. The ones who remember jokes and can tell them well, are much admired and, if you are like me and cannot remember jokes, you are put at a disadvantage. You have to find another way to earn respect. I was fortunate in that I could actually draw a face and make it look like who it was supposed to be. This ability to caricature combined with a rather childish sense of humour has helped me and my bank account for many years.
I think that another requisite for this job is a healthy disrespect for those who wield power and authority. I don’t mean to say that I am the sort who is rude to policemen. I am talking about those that we tend to put on pedestals, like kings, queens and presidents as well as sports and film stars. Some people are overawed by proximity to such special human beings. Only recently a person with whom I am acquainted posted on Facebook how privileged he felt that, through his job, he had, in the company of his boss, visited the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, no less than 3 times, “Not many people can say that.” he crowed. Wow, the highlight of this person’s life is to be near the President. Oh, come on, get over yourself!
I am not a republican but the royal family, to me, are just people. Very fortunate people, but just that. I don’t see myself as somewhere in a pecking order with royals at the top, and tramps at the bottom. There have been times when I have met people who, when told that I am a cartoonist, ask, “Are you famous?” This puts me in a dilemma. I reject the idea of fame, it embarrasses me. I don’t want anyone to put me on a pedestal. As far as I am concerned I enjoy drawing cartoons and I am lucky enough that I have been given jobs on newspapers and magazines with an actual pay-check to feed and house my family. I could say, yes I am famous because I actually have spent most of my working life drawing cartoons that make a comment on current affairs. There are only a handful of such cartoonists in Britain, and occasionally we are interviewed on TV and radio to discuss our work or world events. Some cartoonists, like Martin Rowson, are more keen than others to be high profile and are therefore more often seen on TV. If people are interested in cartoons then they will know my name and be aware of my output, just as those who are interested in jazz will know the most ‘famous’ jazz musicians. By the way, if you want to know how I answer that question, it depends on who’s asking. If they seem like the sort who are impressed by fame then I say “No.”