FLIP's own Alex Williams has reached a milestone. His comic strip Queen's Counsel started its run in The Times of London twenty years ago today. After much arm-twisting, the other half of FLIP consented to an interview on the subject.
FLIP: You have been doing Queen's Counsel for 20 years. Does this milestone make you feel old? Proud? Tired?
Alex: All of the above. But, mainly, astonished. Whenever I open the paper I can't quite believe the cartoon strip is still there. I don’t even have a contract with the newspaper – but it’s been my longest job ever, by far. So, better add gratitude to that list.
FLIP: Has the strip changed much over the years?
Alex: In the beginning the jokes were all drawn from my personal experience as a junior barrister. I’d come back from court after some humiliating cock-up and think “there’s a joke in there” (mostly at my expense).
But I left the Bar in 1996 - so that spring dried up long ago. Luckily my wife works for a big law firm in London so nowadays she writes at least half my jokes. Or, as she would put it, she writes the funny ones.
FLIP: How have you managed to keep this going while also pursuing a career in animation?
Alex: Perseverance, doggedness and habit. But it’s amazing how many animators also do strip cartoons. In some ways it is more fun than working on a film because you get to control the material, so the work is a good or as bad as you make it. If you write a bad joke – there is no-one to blame but yourself.
FLIP: Has it become more difficult to connect with the barrister world the longer you've been away?
Alex: Yes. And this is the biggest challenge – keeping the cartoons up to date and relevant. But the strip needs to reach a broad audience as well; it can’t just be for lawyers. All sorts of people read The Times. So it’s a bit of a balancing act. Whenever I read a magazine or listen to the news – It’s always at the back of my mind. I have a pencil and paper by my bed for my brilliant 4am ideas (most of which suck in the morning).
|The first cartoon - October 3, 1993|
Alex: The most fabulous, up-to-date, comprehensive, best-of-the-best, omnibus edition of Queen’s Counsel. It is the definitive collection, to be treasured, laminated and handed down to your great-grandchildren.
FLIP: Is there a goal or final destination for the strip in your mind? Do you know what the final strip will be?
Alex: I want to be still writing jokes when I'm 90. But it’s a toss-up as to who will die first – me or the newspaper industry. Print circulation has been declining for years and I don’t envy the editors who have to struggle to make people pay for content when so much is available online for free.
When The Times went behind a paywall people were outraged – why should they have to pay when it had previously been free? Well, why indeed? Personally I think everything should be free, especially whatever it is that the people who don’t want to pay for online content do for a living.
FLIP: Has there ever been interest in a Queen's Counsel TV series, be it animated or live action?
Alex: Luckily the Film and TV rights are still available. I see Tom Cruise playing the lead. I will insist however on a stretch limo and my own trailer with personal masseuse.
FLIP: Do you think The Queen reads your strip?
Alex: I am certain that The Queen reads The Times - or more likely she has someone to read it to her. My guess is she probably does not linger long over the law pages, sadly. But when I am next asked for tea I shall be sure to ask her. Though, obviously, I will not be able to tell you what she says.
FLIP: Has your notoriety as a comic strip artist made for any interesting (or awkward) encounters?
Alex: There is a cartoon strip about bankers in The Daily Telegraph called “Alex”, by Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor, which is very popular - especially among the finance crowd. So I regularly get asked “Oh, so you do the cartoon strip Alex in the Daily Telegraph do you?”. Er, no. Alex is just my name. Not the name of my strip. Please make a note of this.
Alex: Fireworks, a 21-gun salute and a military parade down the Mall. Plus my own TV show. And, of course, a book launch (paid for by me). There will be free drinks! You’re on the guest list, Steve.
(Editor's note: You can read about the birth of Queen's Counsel here, and buy Alex's latest book at www.amazon.co.uk here....)