Richard Deverell started drawing cartoon illustrations of his school friends. Following the example of cartoonists he admired, he made careful observation of faces and hairstyles as well as general demeanour. He soon realised the closer he could draw the likeness, and then introduce some gentle exaggeration of a notable feature, the funnier the resulting cartoon illustration turned out. Cartoons of popular singers and musicians followed as they usually provided colourful, over–the-top personalities. Again, and especially in this business, the hair was always an identifying feature for cartoonists to exploit.
Cartoon artists working in print media with particular regard to politics are a breed apart. They really are the cruellest cartoonists of all! There is a long line of political cartoonists and satirists who prick the pomposity and expose the hypocrisy of the ruling classes in every age and all corners of the world. As a freelance illustrator working as a regular contributor to The Economist, Richard ventured into the field of political cartoonist for a magazine cover and found the job to be both demanding and exhilarating. This involved creating a cartoon illustration depicting political leaders and villains from around the world, within a time sequence and stretching back decades. Cartoonists of note in this genre are Britain's Gerald Scarfe and of course Pat Oliphant of the USA.
The editorial cartoonist draws a graphic illustration in order to create a statement within a newspaper or magazine article, which distils the essence of the article into one cartoon illustration. Or it can be a stand-alone illustration which needs no editorial comment.
Surely one of the greatest of all newspaper cartoonists was Giles of the British newspaper, the Daily Express. His drawings regularly commented on the issues of the day. Most of his cartoons are black and white line drawings making strong use of large solid black areas to great effect. Giles cleverly incorporated a hilarious family into many of his cartoons. Today they would be labelled a 'dysfunctional family'. Granma had a particularly wicked streak. Regular readers would become familiar with the family cartoon characters, each with their own idiosyncratic personalities, from the ancient reptilian Granma through to the world-weary parents, and the mischievous children – teens down to toddlers and a tiny baby. These were all drawn quite simply but with great skill capturing every emotion so clearly with so few lines.
The composition of each of Giles's cartoon drawings was mini-masterpieces! This is what made them so powerful. One of his favourite devices was to use extreme, deep perspective with a low horizon line. This gave the illustrations great depth, drawing the viewer into the scene. Careful scrutiny would often reveal hilarious incidental activities surrounding the main protagonists.
Creating cartoon illustration for newsprint had its own limiting parameters. Because of the poor quality of newsprint paper cartoonists couldn't afford to produce fine line artwork with subtle watercolour washes – the lines would just break up! So strong black, heavy line work was the order of the day. This imposition worked to the advantage of the illustrator. The drawing had to be strong, bold and well defined, these are the disciplines needed for successful graphic cartoon illustration.
William Heath Robinson
During World War 2, the cartoonist had his part to play in uplifting the spirits of people in Britain. Some very powerful cartoon illustrations were created which directly hit the hearts of the reader – again everything was in strong black and white. Here the weapon of humour was also employed, making the enemy look ridiculous is a good way to disarm him in our minds.
The unique talents of William Heath Robinson were also enlisted into this service. His gentle mocking of the enemy turned them into bumbling, ineffectual dimwits, rather than a threatening force to be reckoned with. Once again it was the well-defined, strong black line art that served Heath Robinson so well. One of his great talents was his ability to draw an outrageous invention or piece of rickety machinery in such a convincing way that you could almost believe it would work! "Heath Robinson" has even entered the English language to describe a device that is excessively ingenious but impracticable.
Heath Robinson, in company with Vincent Van Gogh was fascinated and influenced by Japanese art in which for centuries the flowing black line has reigned supreme. It is the distillation of what we see in the world around us into a purity of line that surely is the ultimate aim of the cartoonist.