Where does a writer draw the line?

Share
Related Topics

The other day I was musing on the connection between cartooning and writing, saying that many a fine cartoonist has felt the urge to take up his pen and write words, but that it is very rare for a writer ever to start drawing, whether humorously or otherwise.

The other day I was musing on the connection between cartooning and writing, saying that many a fine cartoonist has felt the urge to take up his pen and write words, but that it is very rare for a writer ever to start drawing, whether humorously or otherwise.

The only example I could think of was James Thurber, who was so good at both that writers think of him as a writer, and cartoonists greet him as a fellow cartoonist. I might have mentioned SJ Perelman as well, because in his early days he did (albeit mistakenly) fancy himself as a drawer of gags. In fact, I think it was Perelman who drew a cartoon of a patient rushing into a doctor's surgery and exclaiming: "Doctor - I've got Bright's Disease and he's got mine!"

That's a writer's joke if I ever saw one - a verbal gag and nothing visual about it at all. But then, I believe there was a time when writers supplied the jokes to cartoonists and got them drawn to order. That probably explains why so many cartoons just before and after 1900 are so laboured. It seems hard to imagine now, but Victorian cartoons in Punch often included elaborate stage directions, along the lines of: "Young Blood (entering shop to purchase umbrella in case rain gets on his cravat): 'I say, have you got any etc etc ...'" and then launched into lines of dialogue, forced on the long-suffering cartoonist by the would-be funny writer.

(Very occasionally the dialogue was actually quite funny, as in the ancient exchange between two surgeons: "What did you operate on old Jones for?" "A hundred pounds." "No, I mean - what had he got?" "A hundred pounds.")

But doubts about my thesis began to creep in when I woke in the middle of the night after writing the piece and thought to myself: "Mervyn Peake!" There was a man who wrote and drew. But was he primarily a writer or artist? Who can tell where one stops and the other starts? Then I got an e-mail from an American critic in St Albans who said simply: "Spike Milligan?" and I thought glumly that he too was right. Even if Spike could hardly draw to save his life, it never stopped him illustrating his own books.

And then my glumness was increased by the thought of Max Beerbohm, "the incomparable Max", who wrote as well as he drew and vice versa. Whenever I think of Beerbohm, I remember Hesketh Pearson's description of the interview with Beerbohm just after the glittering youth had left Oxford ...

"And what do you intend to do in the world of art, Mr Beerbohm?"

"I am writing a book of studies of the obscure brothers of famous men. People like Willie Wilde, brother of the more famous Oscar."

"You are of course the brother of the actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree, are you not?"

"Yes. He will be in the book too."

One candidate for inclusion would be Jack Butler Yeats, the brother of WB Yeats. Jack is well known a painter, but less well known as a cartoonist. The biographies skate over this by saying he started out as an illustrator but soon moved on to oils, but they're being a bit snobbish, as Yeats got a lot of good cartoons in Punch. In fact, that would make a fiendish pub quiz question. "Under what name did the Irish painter Jack Yeats work as a cartoonist?" Answer: "W Bird". And Kenneth Bird, by coincidence, was the real name of "Fougasse", the only cartoonist ever to edit Punch.

A reader writes: Dear Mr Kington, Is this article an elaborate way of mentioning all the artist/writers you can think of, thus preventing further people or even American critics in St Albans writing in to outwit you?

Miles Kington writes: I would say that summed up the position very succinctly.

A reader writes: Fair enough ... What about Maurice Sendak, then?

Miles Kington: Damn!

And Edward Gorey ...

This subject is now closed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower