Getting a permanent cartoon spot in a magazine in a genre which is your also your hobby is a dream come true. That happened to me back in 2002 when I sent a letter to the editor of Brass Band World Magazine with a cartoon to spice it up.
He published the letter with the cartoon, rang me and offered me the cartoonist spot in the magazine. To say I was astonished and elated was an understatement. Particularly as I had been playing in brass bands for over thirty years and cartooning all my life. It was the perfect combination.
It is a sheer joy to get paid for drawing cartoons on a subject that I absolutely love. But it has been trying at times over the last nineteen years. For the first sixteen years, my brief was to illustrate a humorous article written by another contributor. Very often I wouldn’t get the article till the last minute with a really tight deadline, which was stressful.
An opportunity to take full control of the article artwork
Four years ago, the person writing the article left the magazine, and I was asked to fill in temporarily. I have been ‘temporarily’ writing and illustrating the cartoon ever since and it suits me down to the ground. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write well enough to sustain a permanent position. After a couple of months, without many adverse comments from the editor, my writing confidence soared. Now I am quite happy in my own scribing skin.
Let the terror begin – How I approach each article!
A blank sheet of paper has the same thrill and terror for both writing and cartooning. I still get imposter syndrome to this day. I often have an attack of the screaming ab-jabs, convinced I won’t be able to finish the next month’s article. It goes like this…
I scour my thoughts for a topic I haven’t covered before, then mind map all the possible aspects. I pondor then dismiss them all and do it again (and sometimes again…and again). This is the terror ride before I actually start working. Eventually I focus on a subject and take a deep breath. Then I tell myself not to be so bloody ridiculous and get on with it!
The article I write is supposed to be humorous. I don’t worry too much about the fun part until I have the basic structure in place. The other parameter is the 700 word count. This is more or less set in stone so that the article and cartoon fit the page.
Developing the structure
The structure is very important as I have to cover the article to a satisfying conclusion. I often start with a question such as ‘Why do brass players need to practise?’. Or ‘Which of the following weird character traits does your conductor have?’. Or ‘Is the player in the seat next to you an idiot?’. Then I dive in and develop the subject making it as entertaining as possible without going in too deep. Basically slapping words and paragraphs in place till I reach the magic 700 words.
Example article snippets
The aim of every article called ‘And another thing…’ is to put a smile on the readers’ face. I usually sum up with a sort of moral to the story. Once the first draft is done, I pull it apart and add the mirth.
Here’s a draft and finished example of a section I did for a Christmas edition of the article a couple of years ago. It describes what it is like in a brass band playing carols outside in the good old British winter weather!
…It’s absolutely freezing and raining and the hurricane force gale turns your carol book inside out. The local Santa clutches his hat and beard as the Mayor drones on before switching on the Christmas lights. After blowing through every carol in the book and packing up, the pub is full. The band can’t get through the door to warm up and partake in a cheery festive drink…
As you can see it’s a bit flat at this stage
…It’s absolutely freezing and raining so hard it makes your head bleed. The hurricane force gale turns your carol book inside out, fluttering in the wind like a claret bat. The local Santa’s beard is twelve feet away from his chin on a length of straining knicker elastic. No-one hears the excruciating speech by the local Mayor in the maelstrom. But know it’s finished when the Christmas lights flicker into life accompanied by ‘Ooooh’s’ and ‘Aaaah’s’ . Two hours of frostbite, twelve Rudolf’s, twenty silent nights, several little donkeys et al. and it’s off to the pub to defrost. But alas, there is no room at the inn. The general public has filled it to the rafters. Meanwhile you and your not so merry thirsty banding mates pack the stands away…
It’s just a few tweaks here and there to bring a dull article to life, make it flow and hopefully raise a smile.
Cartoon inspiration from the article
With the article done, I sit back and look at each scene for cartoon ideas. The cartoon has to be related to the article and I usually get a spark of inspiration when reading back. Once the idea has formed, I rough out the idea, do a first pencil draft and then ink in.
I don’t spend a lot of time at this stage as I use one of Quentin Blake’s techniques of placing the first rough ink drawing on a light-box. Then refinine by inking in a copy on a fresh sheet of paper over the top of the original. It works for me! (follow this link to see Quentin Blakes mnethod here…)
Once the black and white cartoon is done, I scan straight into Photoshop at 300dpi, colour in and then send to the editor when complete. It is the most satisfying thing ever to see both my written article and the cartoon in full glossy print. And as a bonus I get paid for doing it.
Here are a few examples of the cartoons I have done for ‘And Another Thing…’ in Brass Band World Magazine:
The article was about how cold it can get for 4th section bands who have to play early in the morning
The following cartoon concerned adjudicators at brass band competitions. They are often said to be deaf…usually by those band members who didn’t get into the prizes!!!
This cartoon shows band members being beamed in to rehearsal, ‘Star Trek’ fashion. I was discussing what the future held for brass bands in this edition of ‘And Another Thing’.
Twenty year milestone
The most difficult part of maintaining this long standing article and cartoon, is the initial spark of an idea. Mind mapping has been crucial to get my creative brain kick started. It has always worked and hopefully always will. 2022 is a milestone with Brass band World Magazine. I reach 20 years in a productive, creative and happy relationship for over two decades.
Every month I have the same approach and never lose sight that way back in 2002 I was given a golden opportunity. I always strive to give the readers, and editor of the magazine my very best. If you do that you won’t go far wrong.