Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Sex scenes and strips


And speaking of Chris Riddell, I spoke to him yesterday. He and Paul Stewart had been up in the Lakes at the same time we were, but there was no phone in the cottage and no mobile coverage. I actually received a text from Chris as I was half way up Dove Crag. We must have walked into a tiny sliver of reception and out again. It was Chris's first time in the Lakes and it sounds like he had an energetic introduction thanks to Paul who is a keen walker.

We talked about what we were up to. Chris was in the middle of writing a sex scene. At least, I hope that was what he said. I haven't had much to do with sex scenes. My books have not strayed into that area at all.

Yet.

Thank goodness.

I should perhaps have finished off talking about strips by saying how linked my strips have been to Chris Riddell. As I said last time, Bestiary was done in partnership with Chris, at a time when Chris did the political cartoon on the Independent on Sunday. When Chris left to go to The Observer I was to take over as political cartoonist at The Independent on Sunday.

However Chris persuaded me to move to The Observer with him. I was to do a portrait each week for their profile page and I came up with another strip called Babel. Babel was inspired by the wonderful Feiffer strips that used to grace The Observer.

I met the then editor of The Observer, the charmless Andrew Jaspan, who tapped a David Hughes drawing with his biro, and said, 'This is the kind of thing I don't want to see in my paper.' David Hughes was about the only decent thing in the magazine at that point (and they could actually do with something of that quality now). I should have seen it as a sign.

Things didn't work out. Having said that he hated the standard big head on a little body caricatures you always get in newspapers, Jaspan now decided that was just what he wanted. I was dropped from the profile pages and the only satisfaction is that I outlived him at the paper. The strip too was eventually dropped by the then editor Will Hutton not long after he took over as editor.

I was working at The Economist all through this period (along with Chris and Dave Simonds) and it was an ex-Economist journo - Andrew Marr - who called me in to work at The Independent (where Chris had also done the Monday political cartoon). Andrew was now editor of the paper. So I left The Economist and moved to The Independent.

I had worked for The Independent for years as an illustrator, but Andrew wanted me to do more. He had the idea that as well as doing comment page illustrations I should also do illustrations to news items when he felt it was right. These often appeared on the front page.

These (full colour) drawings were done at such speed (an hour was not unusual) that it was often a struggle to make sure they were merely competent. There wasn't a lot of time to do anything particularly creative. Though I was grateful for the opportunity to have such incredible exposure, and I never lost my affection for Andrew, I began to feel as though I was being given the chance to play in front of thousands, but they weren't really my tunes and I'd had no time to rehearse.

I wanted to do the political cartoon spot, and Andrew gave me my chance. I took my inspiration from American cartoonists more than British ones (or at least living ones). I get very tired of the seaside postcard nonsense of British Political cartoons. But I think I'm in a minority.

The strip I did for the Indie was a daily strip was called 7.30 for 8.00 and was a perpetual dinner party. It was a good idea, I think, and one I may return to. As with everything I did for the Indie it was done far too quickly and without enough planning. It took a little while to find a stable form and by that time it was dropped. Andrew had been dispensed with and I knew I would follow. I wasn't actually fired, but things had run their course. They made it easy for me to go. My very short career as a political cartoonist had come to an end.

Andrew moved on to a very successful career in television. Chris is still political cartoonist on The Observer (several editors later). Dave Simonds is still at The Economist and also does the political cartoon on the New Statesman. I have no idea what Andrew Jaspan is doing.

I had a baby son and I was happy to put the stress of doing a daily cartoon behind me. Well - 'happy' is probably not the right word. It did hurt. I had worked as an illustrator in newspapers for twenty years - for the pre-Murdoch Times when it was still in Grays Inn Road, for The Independent when it was in City Road, for The Telegraph when it was still in its Deco building in Fleet Street, The Guardian, the F T. I had been lucky enough to work with some great old school art directors - David Case at the F T, David Driver at the Times, Michael McGuinness at The Independent and Graeme Murdoch at The Telegraph. Newspapers had paid my rent for many years. But it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. It gave me a break and I could stand back for the first time in ages and see what I wanted to do.

And it turned out that what I wanted to do most of all was write.

Chris Riddell popped up again in my strip-writing career, though. He had been brought into the New Statesman and had been asked to help get some decent cartoons into the paper. He asked me if I wanted to do a strip, and hey presto, Payne's Grey was born.

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