PCO – wordy, fabulous and boderline irrelevant…

I’ve just revisited PCO to see how things are progressing, and there’s certainly positive movement! Strangely you might say for a site promoting visual communication, the most intersting thing on the page is the very non-visual ‘blog’ written by the talented and very funny Andy Davey.

Most blogs have got a reply section and such. Amusingly this one hasn’t. It’s Andy Davey discussing with himself the big issues facing cartoonists, and it’s brilliantly appropriate. Cynical, frustrated, spiteful with just about a hint of hope that mercifully stops the struggling freelancer from either topping himself or in more dramatic fashion seeking regular employment. MORE MORE I hear myself yowl excitedly. Don’t bother with comments! It’d be like putting room for replies under a cartoon.
Plain rude.

Now the rest of the place need to follow suit. Make it a decadent, funny, ranting, beautiful hub of creative, cynical observation for goodness sake!
Yes portfolios are great. Member’s forum also. Even advice as to how and when to commission a cartoon is I’m sure helpful.

However, the stated aim of the organisation is the following:

British cartoon art has a great, ignoble history and currently boasts a huge pool of talent. It deserves a higher media presence than it currently enjoys. Our aim is to make sure it gets it.

We want to promote cartoon art domestically and internationally by encouraging high standards of artwork and service, looking after the interests of cartoonists and promoting their work in all kinds of media.

It’s such a great idea, but in saying that cartoon art deserve a higher media presence, people need to know why – aside from the fact that there are a few handfulls of talented people who need the work. Andy has touched upon it in his blogging already. The mediums where cartoons used to be published has changed. As has the way people look for and use cartoons. Cartoonists have to change too, and aside from Andy’s entertaining observations, there is so far little sign of this from PCO.

Being aware of your market is one thing. Being confident in what you do is equally important.
Like Andy says:

So, time to grow some serious art-house egos, develop some social maladjustments (aside from the usual cartoonists’ infelicities like an unhealthy love of jazz or sweaters) and proudly call ourselves artistes, I reckon.

Well, absolutely!
Confidence in your abilities and trade surely must be a good thing
(It might be helpful to keep the worst of the Art-House-Ego latent for a few years. The social maladjustments are undoubtedly there already if you’re making your living from drawing… ).
And that’s just the start of it.
With confidence comes a belief that the work is worth something.
And to put it crudely – rudely even – if you can’t sell your work, you either change your work to fit the market or change your target-market!
…or win obscene sums of money and buy a market.

Yes there are a lot of arguments for an organisation like the PCO to promote cartooning per se.
Yes. Fabulous. Great.
But it’s not doing the cartooinists any favours by implying that it’s everyone else’s fault that work is scarce!
It is no-one’s God-given right to make their living out of drawing!
Just like we can’t all be doctors, cabbies or premiership fullbacks.
That’s a cruel reality that make me sound distinctively Tory.
It’s got a little bit to do with how good you are, a hell of a lot to do with luck, and mostly to do with purposeful hard work and market awareness.

The problem the organisation faces is that promoting ‘cartooning’ is a bit like promoting ‘writing’.
“You should use more words in your magazine…”
“Why?”
“Because words can be funny.”
“Really?”
“Yes.”

At the end of the day, any day, it comes down to the individual cartoonist coming up with something that a client wants. Writers coincidentally, are facing similar problems. Journalists are being laid off left, right and centre. Budding authors are not getting published because publishers prefer to spend all their money on ghost-written celebrity autobiographies. It’s not right, but it’s the reality.

Yes, we should all gather in pubs, as we do, and bemoan the state of things. I’m sure the PCO membes’ forum can serve a useful purpose there too. It’s what we do. It’s what members of all professions do – and have done for hundreds of years. Particularly creative ones.
However, what strikes me again and again, whenever cartoonists gather to lament the changing times over pints of real ale, is not the dire state of our profession, but the amount of new ideas that come to light. New concepts. New ideas for cartoons. Strips. Comics. New ways of working. Possible new outlets.

Surely, as self-confessed creatives, we should be better placed than most to adjust our work to fit the changing nature of our publishers, shouldn’t we!?

PCO is a good idea. But if it’s to succeed it must become an arena for the diverse and changing nature of cartooning – the cutting edge of the profession as well as the established stuff. Or else it risks becoming yet another cartoonists’ dinner club – with an online shop window to cartooning of yesteryear.

Cue ferocious debate!

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5 Responses to “PCO – wordy, fabulous and boderline irrelevant…”

  1. matt Says:

    > Confidence in your abilities and trade surely must be a good thing

    Quoting selectively from your excellent article, this is exactly what the PCO stands for.

    You make some good points about the need for the organisation to be outward-looking and bold in the way it talks about the professional cartoonists art and what we can all do.

    > It’s got a little bit to do with how good you are, a hell of a lot to do with luck, and mostly to do with purposeful hard work and market awareness

    The fact that the PCO has emerged (relatively quickly for a volunteer organisation) in the last year is a testament to the fact that the membership are well aware of the need for change in a changing workplace.

    >But it’s not doing the cartoonists any favours by implying that it’s everyone else’s fault that work is scarce!

    I hope we had avoided that heffalump trap, but if we have fallen into it, we’d all appreciate any thoughts you have on where this is, in the PCO site as it stands at the moment.

  2. poldraw Says:

    Good to hear from you Matt.
    I’m glad you find my comments constructive.

    The point about being bold, proactive and outward looking is very important, becuase without that the fact that PCO has emerged so quickly might just as well be seen as a testament to the fact that its membership are getting desperate. No gibe intended.
    I personally don’t think this is the case, but the way the organisation and the presentation of it is structured, will determine how it’s percieved.

    Take a concrete example. There’s a nicely structured and friendly guide to What a cartoon is, When you use it, Where you see it and How to commission. However aside from the portfolios this is the main part of the website!
    There is a place for all of this, absolutely, but under “Where do you see cartoons?” it says that “the short answer is everywhere”. Then it goes on to list everything that concievably be included in ‘everywhere’. It needs to be cut drastically to fit neatly under one menu!

    The cartoon field is so broad that it’s impossible to appeal to everyone from parish newsletters to international magazines. This is where the organisation has a problem, and where it really needs to do some serious thinking of what it wants to convey.

    This is the potential heffalump trap, I’m afraid. The ‘guide to what, where, when and how’ seemingly puts the benchmarks so low, that it works against the cartoonists by making them sound desperate. “I don’t really care what you ask me to do as long as it’s something for someone…”

    The likes of John Jensen used to draw things for Penthouse a good few years back. Probably sexist and highly unacceptable these days, but it was edgy at least. With creative integrity. Some of it was visually stunning. Experimental. They were different times, a golden age for cartooning, but there is no reason why some of this can’t be reclaimed these days.
    My point is that for cartooning to regain relevance it needs to become – god help us, this is deliberately controversial- cool again. And by that I mean brave, edgy, stylistically exciting, graphic, funny, outrageous and professional. It needs to engage beyond the gag.
    I obviously don’t mean that a cartoon in itself necessarily needs more than a good gag, but the IMAGE of cartooning needs a lift.

    That is where the PCO should come in in my opinion. Let the cartoonists deal with ideas and clients and make the PCO a hub of debate, showcases, interviews, galleries and multi media treats. Have a film showing how quickly Andy Davey can draw Ed Balls mudwrestling with Oliver Letwin, and an audio clip of Royston Robertson explaining how he gets his ideas… There could be drawing challenges. Some for the cartoonists – others open to the public. Competition to see who can get their work published in the weirdest magazine.
    A shop selling products made by cartoonists. Books, DVDs, mugs, mousepads, self-published stuff – original artwork even!
    These are just off the cuff ideas, but my point is that we could create a buzz on this page. Not only would it be an interesting place to visit for people interested in cartooning, or those commissioning or planning to commission, it would give us a place to try concepts that people commissioning work might pick up on.
    It would also give cartoonists a place to ‘gather’, to draw inspiration, get feedback and be pushed forward! The worst thing if work dries up for a while, is that your ideas often dry up as well.
    And so on…

    ANYWAY…maybe I’m talking bollocks.
    It’s hard to say.
    My feeling now though, is that for the PCO to be an appealing organisation for a broad range of cartoonists to join, the public to be interested in and media to listen to, it needs to re-evaluate where it’s coming from, and where it wants to go.

  3. Andy Davey Says:

    Your article is EXCELLENT; especially the bits about how funny I am [the usual tenner is in the post].

    I agree absolutely with just about everything you say. Yes, we do need to make the website more interesting, and to do many other things, but we are beholden to the time constraints of people generously donating chunks of their working day for free. We only have a very small budget, as we’ve had to create the whole thing from scratch. Trying to persuade a bunch of creative types to join up to anything is like herding cats. Even persuading people who have paid subscription money to actually upload some cartoons is difficult. Believe me, I am as frustrated as (it sounds like) you are.

    We want to make it a showcase for the very best of UK cartoon art but, without the substance, that is simply an empty wish. We have to make it happen, which means persuading the best cartoonists to join up. It will, as you say, all be about impressive content; stuff which impresses even the casual, disinterested visitor. I appreciate what a task that is.

    When I look at it through my mood-indigo spectacles, I see that we have achieved very little so far. All we’ve done is to build the foundations, which is always a pretty visually unrewarding process; nothing has really appeared above ground yet. We have tried to do everything in the right order, so that we don’t fall flat before the starting pistol.

    Your comments are really very useful. We need more harsh but fair criticism to prevent us from becoming a back-slappers club.

    By the way, I DID try to enable the comments facility on the blog; it wasn’t a vainglorious attempt to prevent criticism. There seems to be a glitch in the software; I tried jamming a bit of chewing gum in between the steam valves, but it doesn’t appear to have worked. We will do something with spannners shortly.

  4. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  5. poldraw Says:

    Idetrorce,

    That’s good! Why not?

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