On cartooning

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[Ori­gi­nally published, Sep­tem­ber, 2007]

Decem­ber, 2007 marks the 10-year anni­ver­sary of my “car­toons drawn on the back of busi­ness cards” for­mat. Here’s some ran­dom notes on the sub­ject, in no par­ti­cu­lar order:

1. I came up with the for­mat in early Decem­ber, 1997 in Chi­cago. I moved to New York about a week and a half later. But the for­mat didn’t really gel till I got to the East Coast, a cou­ple of months later.

2. At last count I had done over 5,000 of them. That was over two years ago.

3. I never really expe­rien­ced the “One Big Moment”, the Tip­ping Point etc. The sch­tick just built up slowly, day by day.

4. When peo­ple ask me what I do, I never say, “I’m a car­too­nist”. But the other day a friend of mine made a com­pe­lling case for me to start doing so. Not sure what to think yet…

5. I never expec­ted the car­toons to get successful.

6. The way most car­too­nists make a living utterly horri­fies me.

7. Cons­tantly set­ting new goals, artis­tic or other­wise, is har­der than it looks.

8. Not caring what other peo­ple think is har­der than it looks. Espe­cially AFTER you get successful.

9. As I get older the temp­ta­tion to “tone it down” grows stron­ger every day. I’m glad I still can resist it, most of the time.

10. My favo­rite car­too­nist for the last while has been David Shri­gley, long since before he was hired by Hallam Foe to ani­mate the title sequence. I first met him in Glas­gow in the early 1990s. He’s a really lovely guy in person.

11. Musi­cians have always ins­pi­red me far more than other car­too­nists, with perhaps the excep­tion of Char­les Schultz, Saul Stein­berg, Ralph Stead­man, Ronald Searle and Edward Gorey.

12. Ins­tead of carr­ying a port­fo­lio around, I just keep a cou­ple of hun­dred ima­ges on my iPod. Seems to work well enough. Luc­kily my for­mat is well sui­ted to the device.

13. Everything I own would easily fit in the back of a small pic­kup truck. I’ve never been into pos­ses­sions. The same was true for my late pater­nal grand­father, pro­bably the most reso­nant influence in my life.

14. I find it very libe­ra­ting to have a for­mat that allows you to store a few years worth of work in a sin­gle shoebox.

15. If you offe­red me $10,000 for this car­toon, I’d pro­bably turn you down.

16. One of the smar­test moves I ever made was to figure out that making money indi­rectly off the car­toons was far easier than trying to make the money directly. If I could teach gaping­void rea­ders just one thing, that would be it.

17. I can’t ima­gine how I would have made the car­toons suc­cess­ful without the inter­net. I just can’t ima­gine a likely alter­na­tive scenario.

18. There are tons of car­too­nists who write and/or draw bet­ter than me. If my work has one thing going for it, it’s the quite uni­que and uncon­ven­tio­nal life that I’ve always see­med to lead.

19. I’ve never envied peo­ple with “nor­mal” lives. Nor have I ever envied the peo­ple without them.

20. My work gene­rally isn’t for sale. You have to ask me to give you a dra­wing. And I have to be in the right mood at the time.

21. I have found the stan­dard “strug­gling artist” myths and ste­reoty­pes mostly full of crap. Power­ful mag­nets for Bullshit­ters, to say the least.

22. I don’t envy, admire or like pretty much 90% of the artists I meet. That’s not me just being old and jaded, that was just as true when I was a teenager.

23. I want to draw car­toons that rip the face off the rea­der. But in a good way.

24. I have no artis­tic ambi­tion outside the car­toons. No desire to write a novel or anything like that.

25. I would never recom­mend to a young per­son to pur­sue a career in fine art. Even if she had a talent that was off the scale, I would be slightly hesitant.

26. The most impor­tant word in car­too­ning is “con­ti­nuity”. Dra­wing a good car­toon isn’t dif­fi­cult. Doing it repea­tedly, day-in, day-out is far, far harder.

27. Car­too­nists who don’t like to think much about the actual busi­ness they’re in, who are fond of saying, “I just want to draw” deserve everything they get.

28. Drugs and alcohol are lousy subs­ti­tu­tes for inspiration.

29. The older I get, the more soli­tude the work seems to require.

30. The lon­ger it takes you to become suc­cess­ful, the har­der it will be for some­body else to take it away from you.

31. I inc­rea­singly find that, as I get older, the only sub­jects worth wri­ting about are Love, Loss, Reli­gion and Ambition.

32. Ten years ago, when my current car­toon for­mat was “new”, there was a cer­tain magic to it that now I SIMPLY CAN’T RECAPTURE. It took me many years to just let it go.

33. The for­mat works for me because it for­ces me to keep things simple.

34. If the early days, most of my dra­wing was done sit­ting at a bar. Nowa­days most of the work is done sit­ting at the kitchen table. They both have their pros and cons.

35. There’s something about being a cele­brity, even a micro-celebrity that poi­sons the soul.

36. I can totally see why so many artists even­tually become rec­lu­ses, living in the boo­nies. I find myself inc­rea­singly hea­ding in that direc­tion, and I doubt I’ll lift a fin­ger to stop it.

37. In the early days of the car­toons I was living in Manhat­tan. It would really tic­kle me when peo­ple would desc­ribe my car­toons as “SO NEW YORK”. Though now a wee voice tells me that if I still lived there, I’d pro­bably be dead by now. I think a lot of ex-New Yor­kers feel that.

38. One of the great things about the for­mat is, hey, they’re just dood­les on the back of busi­ness cards. It doesn’t mat­ter if they’re good or not.

39. If you told me ten years ago that I would still be using this for­mat pretty much exc­lu­si­vely in 2007, I don’t think I would’ve belie­ved you.

40. I have never really given any serious thought to chan­ging my for­mat in all these ten years. Some­ti­mes I find that odd.

41. Art is simply using the tools at hand to ask the ques­tion, “What is pos­si­ble?” Pain­ting, music, lite­ra­ture, it doesn’t mat­ter what media one uses. What mat­ters is the question.

42. No artist wants their best work behind them. But that day always comes.

43. I was for­tu­nate. Somehow I mana­ged to get the B-Plan baked into the A-Plan. And vice versa.

44. The good news is, my dra­wings will pro­bably be worth a lot of money one day. The other good news is, I pro­bably won’t be alive to see it.

45. I feel extraor­di­na­rily for­tu­nate and grateful.

[Rela­ted Link: “How To Be Crea­tive”. 10,000 words from 2004 etc.]