Relax - I'm not going to draw a cartoon

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Raymond Briggs is the cartoonist and creator of such familiar figures as Fungus the Bogeyman, the Snowman etc, Father Christmas etc. He was on Desert Island Discs the other day, talking entertainingly about art and life, and choosing some interesting records, when suddenly it was all ruined for me. Just after the programme ended, the announcer said: "And don't forget that today's Afternoon Play on Radio 4 is also written by Raymond Briggs".

Raymond Briggs is the cartoonist and creator of such familiar figures as Fungus the Bogeyman, the Snowman etc, Father Christmas etc. He was on Desert Island Discs the other day, talking entertainingly about art and life, and choosing some interesting records, when suddenly it was all ruined for me. Just after the programme ended, the announcer said: "And don't forget that today's Afternoon Play on Radio 4 is also written by Raymond Briggs".

Not another one! Not another cartoonist who has become a writer! All my life I have been compiling a secret hit list of cartoonists who, not content with doing nice little drawings, felt compelled to invade the world of writing as well.

It is quite a long list now. It includes people like Mel Calman, who wrote plays for Radio 3 and put out books of prose with names like What Else Do You Do? It includes Bill Tidy, who never really became a writer, but strayed from single gags into such wordy strip creations as The Fosdyke Saga, which eventually found its way on to the stage, thus joining other dramatised strip creations as Li'l Abner, Peanuts ...

It includes Quentin Blake, who once upon a time was happy to illustrate books by others but then graduated to writing his own ...

Suffice to say it is a long list. But I also have a list of humorous writers who decided they would like to become cartoonists. It is a very short list. It has James Thurber on it. That is all. Apart from Thurber I cannot think of any writer who also draws. Does Craig Brown draw? Do we see Alan Bennett's sketch books on sale? No. And yet within every cartoonist there lurks the urge to splash words around.

I have seen this happening at close quarters. Many years ago, when I worked for Punch, Princess Anne got engaged to Captain Mark Phillips (yes, it was that long ago). Mark Phillips announced that he was going into farming, and as he was commonly thought to be not too bright, I suggested we might do a comic strip called Farming With Mark, in which the basics of farming would be spelled out by the good captain in simplistic terms. Ho ho ho.

Still, the editor said yes, so I teamed up with the artist Ken Taylor, and he did the drawings for my captions. For a while it seemed to work, till I noticed Ken was starting to work his own verbal jokes into the drawings. Characters started having speech bubbles saying things I hadn't thought of, farm objects sprouted witty labels, and animals in the field started adding comments. It got so that my words were hardly needed. I often drew his attention to this, but I don't think he ever quite caught the point I was trying to make.

It's happening to Steven Appleby at the moment. I like his cartoons very much, his straggly, cock-eyed approach to the universe, but I have noticed that the words are beginning to take over. Not long ago he had a series on Radio 4 called The Normal Life of Steven Appleby in which there were no pictures at all. It was very funny and very clever. When you have a writer like me looking on, who can only write, and not draw, it's sickening to see someone like Appleby doing the writing stuff so well.

Perhaps the grandest example of all was Osbert Lancaster. He started life as a pocket cartoonist with architectural leanings, and ended up as a full-blown writer. I sat next to him at lunch once, and said I liked his Zuleika Dobson murals in the Randolph Hotel at Oxford. "Ah!" he said. "I didn't paint those, you know." Didn't he? "Well, yes, I did, in that I was in charge, but when I was hired to do it, it was years since I had done any oils, and I had to draft in a lot of clever art students from round Oxford to do most of the actual laying on of paint ..."

There is a moral there. If artists take to the writing game, they may do it so seriously that they forget how to paint and draw. Stick to the drawing, lads!

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