'There's a responsibility for cartoonists to offend'

On a purely technical basis, there’s a superficial similarity between myself (4, 5, 6) and Peter Schrank (1, 2, 3), particularly if we draw in black and white, because we both tend to use an airbrush to get that tone effect, but in terms of how we draw and what we draw, we’re very different .

Peter goes for wordless cartoons a lot of the time, and tries to sum up the story in an image, whereas I go more for a ‘gag”, but I’d say I’m also more savage, more uncompromising. Peter once described my style as unflinchingly cruel, which I thought in retrospect was quite a badge of honour, in fact.

Tim’s work is a bit different. He does the pocket cartoon most days, so it has to be an immediate good hit. He’s effortlessly funny and his loose and bold drawing style suits it and communicates the idea quickly (7, 8, 9). There’s a looseness that makes it look like he’s done it in a few seconds, which is actually very hard to do.

The New Yorker cartoon of Michelle and Barack Obama, which caused a lot of controversy a few weeks ago, I think was rather a weak cartoon, unfortunately. There could have been something really good about how ridiculously Obama has been smeared, but it simply brought these things together and illustrated them – it didn’t really make a comment of its own. The readers were supposed to make assumptions about it in terms of the context of the magazine in which it appeared.

There’s a responsibility for cartoonists to offend people. You’ve got to, otherwise you’re saying something so anodyne that it’s not worth saying.

I think there are still plenty of people pushing the boundaries and willing to offend, certainly in this country. But there is a tendency in the UK for people to think they have the right not to be offended. There seems to be a deliberate confusion between rights and freedom of speech, so the right to a certain belief also entails the right to not be offended because of your beliefs. But if anyone holds two contradictory opinions, they are going to clash.

Human rights legislation is being used, but it actually has the opposite effect in censuring freedom of speech, which is a little bit worrying.

I recently got an email from the French cartoonist, Plantu [Jean Plantureax – cartoonist for Le Monde] about what I thought was quite a mild cartoon, but he said there’s no way he could get away with it in France. There’s nothing politically that I couldn’t say in The Independent, and there’s no attempt to make me follow the paper’s line. Though sometimes I am asked to tone things down a bit, for the sake of taste and decency, and the readers.

Little Willy – 5 October 1999

This is based on an old Donald McGill seaside postcard. The gag is a big, fat man who can’t find his son: ‘Has anyone seen my Willy?’

It just seemed like a great gag for Thatcher, as everyone thought she had a ‘willy’anyway, and then when William Hague came along, it worked perfectly. I think it was the first time Thatcher had been back at a Tory conference and so she turned up at Blackpool speaking at a fringe meeting in favour of Pinochet –

I drew her with Pinochet’s hat on – and she just seemed to be getting madder and madder and totally overshadowed Hague.

McGill’s postcard captures that kind of traditional, bawdy English ‘Carry On’kind of risqué humour. It’s quite a British sense of humour and I quite liked being able to carry that on as a part of the cartoon.

Sarkozy – 15 January 2007

Sarkozy had been Chirac’s little protégé, but having got into the cabinet he completely turned and started plotting against him from within. Sarkozy had just got the nomination to replace Chirac and I imagined this sort of prosodic kind of alien bursting out of Chirac’s chest.

It taps into everyone’s thoughts of Sarkozy – before his makeover of course – as being extremely repellent; a right-wing, hard-line aggressive character. I thought of Chirac as the unwilling host to this unpleasant creature. It was so visceral, with blood everywhere – drawing that sort of thing gives you a bit of a shiver and a thrill at the same time.

Dodo – 10 December 1996

It was a time when the Tories were just hanging on and everyone knew they were going to lose the next election.

John Major was warning the Eurosceptics that if they didn’t stop banging on about Europe they’d lose.

It just seemed doubly ironic, because they were going to lose the election anyway, and most of the Eurosceptics wanted to lose to get rid of him in favour of a more Eurosceptic leader.

So it was just this utterly pointless threat, and I imagined him as the last surviving dodo, putting a gun to his own head. The interesting thing is that Gordon Brown is in a similar situation now, and you see history repeating itself.

The exhibition An Independent Line runs until 18 October 2008 at the Political Cartoon Gallery in London. An accompanying book, priced £19.99, is available from the gallery, 020 7580 1114. www.politicalcartoon.co.uk

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