Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dining with the Dinosaurs - the Cartoonist's Dinner

Last week I had dinner with some dinosaurs. Or, as they are more commonly known, cartoonists. The occasion was the semi-annual dinner of the BCA, that is to say the British Cartoonists Association (confusing, they also call themselves the PCO, or Pro Cartoonists Association). Anyway, open up a British newspaper (remember them?), turn to the nearest cartoon and, chances are, the cartoonist will be a member of the BCA. Or the PCO. Or both.

This was my first dinner; I only joined the club a few weeks ago, after I sent them a polite email saying, in effect, "Why aren't I a member?" "Join us!" they emailed back by return of cybermail. I was thrilled - at last a chance to meet the cartoonists whose work I have been admiring from a distance for decades, artists like Steve Bell and Posy Simmonds (both in The Guardian) whose work inspired me to start cartooning in the first place.

Monday's venue was a crumbling old wood panelled club in the  square mile of the City of London, that is to say the ancient part of the city that is full of bankers, Edwardian pubs, wiggly streets, skyscrapers and bits of Roman ruins. The old, historic bit.

The invitation said I could bring a guest. So I did - I brought my father, a pro cartoonist if ever there was one. I thought Dad would enjoy the evening but what I did not fully anticipate was how much they would enjoy meeting him. "The Richard Williams?" said club Chairman Martin Rowson (also of The Guardian), as he sprinted over to pump Dad's hand.

Pro cartoonists make it all seem easy. "I don't know how you do it", I said to Mac of The Daily Mail, rather breathlessly. "A daily cartoon? I could never do one every single day". "It's easy", he said, with the practiced ease of one who has been asked this question a couple of times before, "you just sit down and sketch up several ideas, ink up the best one, and go home!"

The next day, seriously over-excited, I was teaching an animation class and I asked the students "Who is your favourite newspaper cartoonist?". No answer - silence. "Well, what newspaper do you guys read?". More silence. "Who reads a newspaper?". No-one. "Newspapers? What are they?".  Then it struck me - at the dinner, I had been - at 45 years old - one of the youngest people in the room. For the new generation of artists, cartoons means YouTube, iPad apps, the web, graphic novels - not that old stuff in the newspapers.

Personally, I'll be sad when the newspapers go. Here in Britain we're doing our best to drive them out of business, passing legislation to regulate the press even as it staggers under the weight of financial losses and declining circulation.

So here's to the dinosaurs; may they (we) not go extinct quite yet.



  1. Brilliant! I think you're right about where the social media generation are posting their work. This is my favourite comic blog - - last year he was offered a book deal from it, goes to show the power of the internet!

    (...the expression "wiggly streets" made me laugh)

  2. It's really sad to come to that realization isn't it?