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James Leavey's Corner
Quick On The Draw

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Quick on the draw


by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland


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James Leavey

I’ve always hated museums. They’ve been my recurring nightmare, placeswhere I trailed my young children round a series of dull rooms peering intoshowcases stuffed full of boring debris while my legs ached and my brainsuffered from cultural overload. A resolute Philistine, I grew adept atgetting in quick and getting out even faster.

So why, I asked Paul Gravett, administrator of the Cartoon Art Trust,bluntly, why the hell would anyone want to visit a cartoon museum"

“Some come to study, others to admire the quality of the artwork,” he said.“But the best way is to look and laugh.

“British cartoonists and illustrators have always been among the best in theworld. We present material seriously but not solemnly, in a way that we hopestimulates visitors to take a closer look.”

I have to admit that after thirty minutes of admiring the deadly expertiseof Judge Dredd in a recent exhibition at the Trust’s museum in Holborn, Irealized I was enjoying something in a place that is normally the bane of mylife. And, not for the first time, I appreciated the art that has been undermy nose in newspapers and magazines for years.

Cartoon art covers everything from sophisticated caricature (ThomasRowlandson, Ralph Steadman and Gerald Scarfe, at their sharpest) tochildren’s comics (Film Fun, Lion, Beano, Bunty, School Friend, Eagle, etc)to animation (the Simpsons, South Park, Wallace and Gromit, The Flintstones,Captain Pugwash, Rupert, and Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, to name but afew).

Paul Sassiennie lives in north London with his wife, three children and over35,000 comics, the latter one of the finest collections in Europe.

“The use of pictures to tell a story stretches back to the dawn of man,” hesaid. “Palaeolithic art, dating back to the most recent ice age, has beendiscovered at more than a hundred sites in Western Europe.

“The space agency, NASA, used drawings on a deep space exploration vehicleto show homo sapiens and our position in the universe, for the benefit ofany extraterrestrials who see the craft.”

Back on terra firm in London, what are the chances of new cartoonists makinga living today"

“With the shortage of newsprint there is not a good opportunity at themoment for young people getting their cartoons published,” said FrankDickens, whose strip cartoon, Bristow, as been published for over 40 years,around the world. “The nationals are buying syndicated stuff from Americabecause it’s cheap. Of course the big money in cartooning comes fromsyndication, having a regular feature, but this is a hard thing to get now,especially for a beginner. It’s still possible, if you come out with ablinder.

“When I was at the Bologna book fair talking to an American cartoonist, hesaid a lot of them are going in for writing, these days. When you say a lotof indians came over the hill it’s easier to write it in a sentence, ratherthan draw it.”

So what does it take to become a successful cartoonist" “Driving hunger,”said Dickens, whose creations also include Albert Herbert Hawkins, thenaughtiest boy in the world. “To be a good newspaper cartoonist you’ve gotto mirror the times.”

Just supposing your work gets syndicated, how do you keep on churning out anewspaper strip, week after week" “There’s something funny in everything,”said Dickens, “if you think about it long enough.”

Such as the so-called argument for passive smoking…

And when your work is really good, it may get an exhibition of its own.Perhaps in a Cartoon Art Trust project.

Indeed, more and more of CAT’s counterparts are opening all over the world –as showcases dedicated to what the French call the Ninth Art of cartoons andcomic strips (the Seventh being cinema, and the Eighth, television). Some ofus would argue there is also a Tenth Art – of anti-smoking propaganda, whichcan be amazingly creative.

As for the world’s cartoon showcases, some are privately owned, others arebacked by the State. And all of them are collections of what most adults –in Britain, anyway – believe to be disposable kids’ stuff.

Emerson said that cartoons gave “the truest history of our times”. Longneglected as source material they are now highly valued for their unique wayof bringing the post alive. If you don’t believe me, take another look at aselection of Giles cartoons from the 1950s and the 1960s, or the work ofGilray.

Even British art critics – a pompous supercilious bunch, most of them, atleast when it comes to taking cartoons seriously as an art form – arereluctantly coming to recognize the influence and importance of the humblecartoon. Sir Ernst Gombrich was one of the first to acknowledge itssignificance. And when some comics fetch more than £60,000, even hard-nosedauctioneers sit up and take notice.

“There are cartoon museums in France, Belgium, America, Canada, Sweden,Switzerland, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Japan,” said Gravette.

“Its the Cartoon Art Trust’s job to preserve the best examples of Britishcartoon art. This includes all the merchandise and paraphernalia, such asHeath Robinson’s crazy contraptions – and toilet paper, Giles’s workingstudio, Hoffnung’s musical instruments, Spitting Image puppets, DesperateDan’s cow pie, Roy of the Rover’s football and even Larry’s autobiography onCD-ROM.”

Maybe I should donate my collection of ashtrays featuring cartoons by my oldfriend, Larry, who is one of the finest British cartoonists alive. It seemsmuseums can be fun, after all.

Some of the world’s comic museums:

National Museum of Cartoon Art, London, England www.cartooncentre.com

Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature at the University of Kent,England www.library.kent.ac.uk

Centre National de la Bande Dessinnee et de l’Image, Angouleme, France

Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinnee, BrUssels, Belgium

Words and Pictures Museum of Fine Sequential Art, Northampton,Massachusetts, USA

The Wilhelm-Busch Museum – Deutsches Museum fur Karikatur und kritischeGrafik, Hannover, Germany

Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco, USA

National Gallery of Cartoon and Caricature, Washington DC, USA

International Museum of Cartoon Art, Boca Raton, Florida, USA

Sammlung Karikaturen and Cartoons, Basel, Switzerland

Seriemuseet, near Malmo, Sweden.
 

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