When Should You Make Political Cartoons? – A Ramble

2016 Artwork When Should You Make Political Cartoons

I know that I talked about cartoons and satire in yesterday’s article, but I had a rather interesting experience a few months ago that I thought I’d revisit briefly because of what it might explain about political cartoons. Or, more accurately, when you should make them.

Although I hardly ever make political cartoons, I suddenly found myself making one earlier this year. I didn’t plan to make a political cartoon that day, but I did.

It was prompted by reading a few news articles earlier this year about the (then) Culture Secretary’s planned changes to the BBC Charter (like this one and this one ). As soon as I realised the full horror of what these proposed changes meant, I suddenly felt compelled to respond with a cynical political cartoon.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Editorial Cartoon - Our 'Culture' Secretary!" By C. A. Brown [1st May 2016]

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Our ‘Culture’ Secretary!” By C. A. Brown [1st May 2016]

The interesting thing was that I didn’t really set out to make a political cartoon, it just kind of happened. Amidst the emotions that these articles had provoked, a fully-formed idea popped into my mind and, within a couple of hours, I’d made a cynical political cartoon. To say that making this cartoon was a cathartic experience would be an understatement.

This, I think, is when political cartoons are at their absolute best. When you feel like you absolutely have to make a political cartoon, then it’s probably going to come straight from the heart and it’s probably going to have real meaning behind it (or at least it’ll feel like it does).

If making a politcal cartoon genuinely feels, even for a moment, like it’s a way to fight back against some event or possibility that you feel powerless about, then it’s worth making. As paradoxical as it might sound, political cartoons that come from a feeling of powerlessness are often the most powerful types of political cartoons.

If you have an attitude of being reluctant to make political art, then – as counter-intuitive as it might sound– it usually means that you’ll only produce political cartoons when it really matters to you. In other words, you’ll be intensely focused on trying to find a way to get your opinions across as powerfully and effectively as possible, because anything less just wouldn’t be right.

This is when the very best political cartoons are made. In situations where the idea of not making a political cartoon is more strange/frightening/unusual etc.. than actually making a political cartoon is.

There have been a couple of times where I’ve tried to make more “light-hearted” political cartoons, because I thought that they’d be funny or topical. But, because they don’t really have the same level of passion or emotion behind them as my more “angry” political cartoons, the quality is significantly lower as a result. Like with this mediocre cartoon I made about a silly publicity stunt by the Labour party before the 2015 UK general election:

"Ed's New Tablet" By C. A. Brown [4th May 2015]

“Ed’s New Tablet” By C. A. Brown [4th May 2015]

So, ironically, you can sometimes produce better political cartoons by not making them regularly. Unless, of course, you plan on becoming a professional political cartoonist (in which case, practice, practice and practice some more).

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Sorry for the ridiculously short article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

The Joy Of… Old Newspaper Cartoons

2016 Artwork The Joy Of Old Cartoons

A couple of days before I wrote this article, I was looking through some old books of “Giles” cartoons from the 1960s and 70s (which also contained earlier cartoons from the 1950s too). This was an absolutely fascinating experience and it kind of made me think about the whole subject of old newspaper cartoons.

If you’ve never heard of “Giles” before, he was a famous newspaper cartoonist in 1940s-90s Britain (here’s a hilarious old 1940s British PathΓ© newsreel of him at work).

Although few of his cartoons were published in newspapers during my lifetime (although, when looking online, I managed to find the cartoon that was published on my original birthday), there are countless collections of his cartoons out there. Along with cartoonists like Low, he’s probably one of this country’s more famous 20th century editorial cartoonists.

The interesting thing about “Giles” cartoons is that they show a world that is both familiar and totally alien to me. They have a brilliantly cynical sense of humour and there’s a lot of stuff in there that seems very apt and instantly recognisable, but they’re set in a slightly different and older version of this country.

They’re set during the many strikes of the 1970s, they’re set in the world of the “Carry On” films, they’re set during the postwar austerity of the 1950s, they’re set during the swinging sixties, they have a simultaneously deferential and rebellious attitude towards authority etc… Although these “Giles” cartoons often focus on mundane everyday life, they almost always included topical issues from the time that they were published.

In other words, these “silly” and “disposable” daily newspaper cartoons showed me more about mid-late 20th century history than a lot of actual history articles and history books probably would.

Why? Because they show a stylised (and mildly exaggerated) version of what everyday life was like back then. They show what kinds of issues were in the news back then. They show public attitudes back then. In addition to all of this, all of this historical information is filtered through the mind of just one cartoonist – which adds to the sense of historical immersion.

You get to see the past through the imagination of just one person who was alive then, with all of their opinions and strange and amusing quirks (eg: for some reason, Giles seemed to have an absolute hatred of pipe smoke. As soon as someone in his cartoons actually lights a pipe, it often belches out vast conspicuous plumes of ink-black smoke that blot out large parts of the cartoon).

This reminded me a lot of another fascinating book (which I actually own two copies of, for some bizarre reason) called “The Cartoon Century” (Ed. Timothy S. Benson). This is a book that collects British editorial cartoons from every year of the 20th century and it is absolutely fascinating. Although this book explains the historical context of a lot of the cartoons, it’s fascinating to see the popular humour of decades past.

Likewise, another newspaper cartoon series that is absolutely fascinating from a historical perspective are Peattie & Taylor’s “Alex” cartoons. Although this is still a current cartoon series, it’s been going for quite a while and I’ve got a few old second-hand books of these cartoons from the 1980s and 90s (as well as some from the ’00s).

These are timelessly-hilarious cartoons about the life of an unscrupulous businessman called Alex and, yet, you can see the gradual passage of history in these comics. Over time, the characters get slightly older. Over time, the background details change slightly. The topics of conversation change, the jokes change etc…

Of course, this might just be a British thing or possibly a European thing. The few classic American newspaper cartoons that I’ve seen seem to be frozen in an almost timeless state. For example, in Jim Davis’ “Garfield” cartoons, everything seems to take place in some bizarrely frozen version of 1970s/80s suburbia. Likewise, in Scott Adams’ “Dilbert” cartoons I’ve seen, they also often seem to take place very slightly outside the space-time continuum (with the possible exception of changing computer designs in the background).

Still, as historical documents go, old newspaper cartoons are – by far – one of the most fascinating types.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Making Political/ Editorial Cartoons

2014 Artwork Cowardly replacement for the political cartoon I'd originally made for this page

It’s a bit of a cliche by now, but although I try to keep my political opinions out of this blog as much as possible I still find that, every once in a while, I’ll end up drawing an “editorial cartoon“. Like this one:

"Britain, THIS Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" By C. A. Brown

“Britain, THIS Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” By C. A. Brown

Most of the time, I set myself a rule that I’m only allowed to make political cartoons about censorship, since this is an issue that affects all creative people – regardless of their political views.

But I have to admit that I’ve certainly been tempted to make political cartoons about a whole range of more controversial subjects. Still, given my strong and varying opinons about most political topics, I’m too terrified of causing an internet controversy to actually produce any of these cartoons.

In fact, I sketched out a brilliant idea for a political cartoon in June after reading some arguments in the comments below a political opinion article about football (of all things) on The Guardian’s website and finding that I disagreed with both the article itself and the criticisms of it in the comments – mainly because I’m not a football fan and don’t really care about the sport at all, regardless of whether the players are male or female.

I thought about turning this initial sketch into a fully-fledged political cartoon with the reasoning that, since it satirised both sides of the argument equally, then there wouldn’t be any controversy. But then I realised that it’d actually cause twice as much controversy- so it remained nothing more than a sketch. Which I won’t publish here.

So, yes, I try to avoid politics on the internet out of sheer cowardice more than anything else. But I’m still fascinated by political cartoons, both as a reader and as an artist.

Whist it can be relaxing to let your emotions, thoughts and feelings out by writing poetry, there’s just something a lot more… well… cathartic and dramatic about turning them into comics and cartoons instead.

It might be that comics have a much more “countercultural” history than poetry does but, whenever I make a political cartoon, I actually genuinely feel like I’ve made a small difference in the world. Ok, I probably haven’t, but at least it feels like I have. Not only that, I also like to think that – in some small way- I’m part of a grand tradition of political cartoonists (after all, I come from the country that invented editorial cartoons).

As for how to make political cartoons, well that’s fairly easy. The first thing to do is, as I mentioned in yesterday’s article about comic composition, to read a lot of these cartoons in order to get a general sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Not only that, it’s also very useful (if not essential) to take the time to develop your own art style too because this will really help your cartoons to be instantly recognisable and stand out from the crowd.

As for the quality of your art, it doesn’t matter as much as some people would like you to think. The most important thing in a political cartoon is that the meaning of the cartoon comes across to the reader quickly and easily.

Some political cartoonists produce elaborate works of art (eg: Martin Rowson’s cartoons in “The Guardian”) and some produce badly-drawn cartoons (like the editorial cartoons in the Daily ******* which make me think “I can do better than that!” every time I have the misfortune of seeing one of them).

So, remember, the message is more important than the quality of the art. You don’t have to be an accomplished artist to produce editorial cartoons – although it probably helps.

The other thing to remember about political cartoons is that they should primarily be a way for you to express your own personal views about things, albeit in a way that other people can understand quickly.

I mean, from every Youtube video I’ve watched about political cartoons, the most important thing seems to be to remember that it’s ok to be liberal about some issues and conservative about others and vice versa (unless you’re lucky enough to work for a newspaper).

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Sorry that this article was so basic and opinionated, but I hope it was interesting πŸ™‚