From political satire to the Beano, here’s my run-down of the top ten geniuses ever to have doodled on their school desk...
Coming up with a list of the ten “greatest” cartoonists is harder than trying to think up funny ideas with a hangover while being interrupted by idiots at the door wanting to talk about loft insulation (“I work in a converted loft and you just got me down two flights of stairs to tell you this fact.”)
Where would you start? How can you compare political cartoonists with comic artists? Magazine gagsmiths with the masters of underground “comix”? When pushed on this subject, I find I prefer to list those who influenced me to pick up a pencil and to keep on drawing. So here they are, presented chronologically in the order that I encountered them, rather than as a top ten, because, as we know from reality TV, it’s all about “my journey” these days.
I’m breaking my own rules already by listing a comic rather than a person. But the fact is, reading comics as a kid in the 1970s you never knew who the artists were, as the work was unsigned. But copying characters in The Beano – and other comics when I had enough pocket money – was what got me, and probably thousands of other cartoonists, started.
I now know that by reading the “Bash Street Kids” and “Dennis the Menace” in the 1970s I would have been looking at the work of David Sutherland, who is still at it today. But I also sought out older comics featuring the creators of those strips, the hugely influential Leo Baxendale and David Law.
Living in the North East in the 1980s, there was probably no single greater influence in terms of making you realise that the language and tools of kids’ comics can be applied to material that is far, far ruder. With hilarious consequences, eh kids? Fat Slags eh? Arf!
This US cartoonist made me realise that single-panel gag cartoons could be as funny as comic strips. His clever, deadpan humour was a huge influence. He only drew “The Far Side” for 15 years, but in the process he reinvented the gag cartoon for many people.
Discovering the US underground comix scene was a revelation. I first encountered it via Gilbert Shelton’s “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers”, but Crumb is the Guv’nor. Since the 1960s, he has been mercilessly satirising the way we live our lives with his inky, cross-hatched works of art. A true genius.
Probably the most significant British political cartoonist of our times, his “If …” strip was certainly an influence when I was a student, drawing strips for the college magazine. A former kids’ comics artist himself, you can clearly see influences of both Baxendale and Crumb in Bell’s work.
OK, so he doesn’t actually draw “The Simpsons“, but he originated the idea, and any cartoonist knows that good ideas are just as important as ability to draw. And that was quite an idea. Plus, his long-running strip “Life in Hell” was brilliant.
The “Calvin and Hobbes” creator is just an astonishing draftsman. Like Larson, he wasn’t at it that long – incredibly, the strip ran for just ten years – but, boy, did he make an impact.
I could throw in a lot of names when it comes to contemporary US cartoonists who create graphic novels – Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware et al – but I particularly love the beautiful and melancholy work of Seth, aka Gregory Gallant.
OK, now we’re onto the people I have to actually compete with, those that submit to magazines such as Private Eye and The Spectator. This can be difficult when they are of the calibre of Ed McLachlan. His cartoons are always huge and detailed and something to behold. They’re often squeezed into tiny spaces for the magazines, so seek out his books and original artwork.
Another contemporary magazine cartoonist. Hugely prolific, you will have seen his work everywhere. I just love his confident line and the utter silliness of so many of his jokes.
So there you have it, it’s an eclectic list with lots of glaring omissions, no doubt. No, there are no women there, cartooning is, I’m afraid, overwhelming dominated by men and I wanted to present a true list of those that have been influences and avoid tokenism. If anyone wants to argue with me about these choices, I’ll be in the loft.
Royston Robertson is a freelance cartoonist published in Private Eye, Reader’s Digest, The Spectator and elsewhere.
Visit his website: www.roystoncartoons.com