Cartoonists: in the beginning is The Word

cartoonists,caricaturists,cartoons,words,writing,Simon Ellinas

Illustration for an article: Valentine’s Day originated from the sacrifice of goats and dogs followed by slapping women and crop fields with the bloody dripping hides stripped from the goats.
Hence this cartoon…

Recently I asked my good friend Simon Ellinas, cartoonist and caricaturist extraordinaire, to share what he sees as the relationship between cartoons and words. Here is his very funny yet poignant and fascinating response…

What do words mean to a cartoonist? Well, as stereotypical art students at school were sent to the art room because they were supposedly too thick to pursue
academic studies, the answer might be, not very much.

This is a terribly misleading prejudice. We spent all our time in the art room because we were far too intelligent to become trapped into the bourgeois system of educational conditioning, brainwashing and streaming that our more unfortunate peers subjected themselves to, like a flock of docile sheep.

And now look at them…

Doomed to lives of comfortable retirement on six-figure pensions after careers of mind-numbing drudgery in law, journalism, medicine, business or finance. While we cartoonists were completely free to draw and paint in bedsits unfettered by the complications of mortgages, our less fortunate colleagues had to put up with the extreme discomfort of business class travel and luxury hotels across the globe.

No. Words mean a lot to that ultra-intelligent super-human-being: the cartoonist. I mean, one of them is actually typing these words you are reading now. Either that or I’ve hired a room supplied with a typewriter and installed an infinite number of monkeys. Although I would have been expecting the Complete Works of Shakespeare rather than a few hundred words on this topic.

Every idea formulated in the modern human brain has to originate in words

cartoonists,caricaturists,cartoons,words,writing,Simon Ellinas

Satire: UK Labour Party Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls-Up single-handedly won the next General Election for the Tory Party by announcing his attack on wealthy taxpayers. His plans, in theory, for the next Labour government are to increase the level of top rate tax to 50p in the pound.

So even when  you’re  staring blankly out of the window, the words ‘blank’ and ‘window’ eventually float across the cloudy quagmire of consciousness.

A cartoonist can’t produce a cartoon without having a few words to describe what you’re going to draw. You can’t draw a caricature without thinking “big nose, wide apart eyes, blubbery lips . . .” The words describe the action needed.

Blimey. That was a serious bit. Here’s some more

The history of cartooning is full of the evidence of the importance of words. You can’t look at a Gillray, Cruikshank or Hogarth without being overloaded by the amount of verbiage upon which each image is based. Indeed, the words typically overflow into the cartoons themselves.

The role of the political cartoonist is recognised as being on a par with that of a journalist; and The UK Guardian’s regular Martin Rowson deliberately follows in the Gillray-vian tradition of being a ‘graphic journalist’. (In fact, Rowson, writes as well, and takes verbiage very seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article of his less than about 50,000 words. Well, of course I have. The poor sub-editors have to take a week’s sick leave after editing down one of his offerings.)

Cartoons needs scripts and scripts need words

cartoonists,caricaturists,cartoons,words,writing,Simon Ellinas

Slapstick and Tickle (Short Story): We met at The Accident Prone Society Annual Dinner and Dance. Always a messy affair. I’ve been going for three years now and it always seems to consist of a group of awkward people dancing in their dinner.

Even in image-only classics such as the wonderful Mordillo series, you can see the initial ‘script’ to each idea. Every cartoon is like a mini-movie with a script needed at the outset before the production crew of hands, paper and pens can go into action. And, of course, talking of movies, you only have to read the comic book masterpieces of Tintin, Asterix and others to see how important the word is to the cartoonist.

I sometimes remember my childhood spent lying on the bedroom floor drawing pictures inspired by James Bond films, books I had recently read or songs (all containing words, you see) and then I see myself now, spending my time drawing pictures to written briefs or satirical cartoons based on news items and realize that nothing has changed. I am still drawing things, and in every beginning there is The Word.

Simon Ellinas was born in South London, England, to Greek and Irish parents, and started scribbling with pens and pencils as soon as he was born. He became a full time cartoonist, caricaturist and writer after a few temporary diversions involving failing ‘A’ levels (High School), art school, graphic design and being a magician’s not-so-beautiful assistant. He is now one of the most sought-after “live” caricaturists at events all over Europe; his cartoons and caricatures hang on the walls of many of Europe’s rich and famous. (Although some of those walls are in bathrooms and toilets.) Loves wasting time with friends in Soho, London and has started a networking group – The Harpo Club – to meet this need. Check Simon out here.

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  1. Well, you don’t have to click anything in this case (see trackback below) … but we know what you mean, Simon! Such sophisticated wizardry … I’m impressed, even though I’m a technophobe…


  1. […] MY JOURNALIST/WRITER friend Suzan St Maur very kindly asked me to write an article on the importance of words to cartoonists for her excellent website How To Write Better. Completely chuffed, I submitted the short article complete with cartoons that you can view by clicking the above screenshot. Or simply CLICK THIS. […]