Sunday, May 07, 2006

Friends of the Fiend 19: Noel Ford

Noel Ford is a hero of mine. I just can't think of any other way to describe him. If I had never picked up a copy of Punch Magazine, with a Noel Ford cover, and with Noel Ford cartoons inside it, and been inspired by his humour and his drawings, I'd have given up cartooning after the daily newspapers over here (with the exception of one) started dropping cartoons. Noel's Punch cartoons were never invented for the single-column world that my work existed in, up until that point. They were made for a bigger canvas, and they were more sophisticated,in style and in humour, more like something that should hang on a wall. This was what I wanted to make, this was how I wanted to draw. I wanted to be Noel Ford, me and about a dozen other cartoonists I knew.

This cartoon, from one of Noel Ford's earlier collections 'Deadly Humorous', is a terrific example of what was so captivating about Noel's cartoons. The figures'are alive with movement; the joke is both historical (Stonehenge), and contemporary(concerning pressure groups and urban planning, and the Mob). It looks so modern it could have been drawn today, yet it was drawn over 20 years ago. Some things, like the outline on the inside of an upright pillar are insinuated rather than drawn, with the shading explaining the three-dimensional shape. For me, and some of my contemporaries, just looking at Noel Ford's cartoons was like taking a Masterclass in cartoon art.

The fact that he worked for IPC as a comic artist/writer, worked as an Editorial cartoonist, illustrates books for other people and writes and illustrates his own books, and now works entirely with digital media, of course, shows his versitility but it also demonstrates his ability to remain ahead of the game. Even today, he continues to inspire and even finds the time to encourage, and help, up-and-coming new cartoonists as a moderator on the CCGB Q&A Forum.

Noel now lives in a remote part of Wales ( his daughter describes the address as 'Ten mile from nowhere'). When they moved there, in 2000, they were welcomed by having a two sheep named after them.
A contributor to Punch and, to a lesser degree, Private Eye for many years, Noel is currently editorial cartoonist for several national UK publications, including the Church Times. He also draws cartoons for clients, worldwide and was, for 14 years, the freelance editorial cartoonist for the UK national newspaper, the Daily Star, since when he has avoided reading newspapers wherever possible.
Noel has won a number of cartooning awards, including Dog Cartoonist of the Year and a United Nations Award for his contribution to Cartoonists Against Drug Abuse and, last year, second place in the Australian Lindsay Awards.
He is a member of The British Cartoonists Association (BCA), The Cartooonists Club of Great Britain (CCGB),The Federation of Cartoonists Organisations (FECO), The Cartoonists Guild and was elected a Fellow of The RSA in 2003

CF. Hello, Noel.

NF. Hello, CF, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to take a ride on your blog - where web logs are concerned I'm just too much of a lazy blogger to do one myself.

CF. Okay, what are your current projects, anything exciting in the pipeline - that you can tell us about?

NF. There's always something exciting in the pipeline, though it's sometimes (like now) just a couple of bends away and not in direct line of site. This isn't wishful thinking, it's the way things have been, for me, for the last thirty odd years of cartooning. Solid, week in, week out editorial commitments, interspersed at regular intervals with the little gems that drop out of the blue to add the extra sparkle. So, at the moment, it's my regular editorial stuff, a few calendars (2007 and 2008), some other odds and ends...and one ear to the pipeline.

CF. Did you always want to be a cartoonist, and set outto become one, or was it a gradual process?

NF. Yes. Always (and I have vivid memories from when I was three or four years old, chalking cartoons on the pavement outside our house). However, like many in the creative business, I found it too easy to be diverted by other things. I was also pulled in the directions of music and writing (and also in he direction of having to earn a living). To cut it short, I was lead guitarist with a pro-rock band for some years, had some success writing fiction for magazines and BBC radio, but finally got my act together and gave cartooning a real push rather than the sporadic attempts I had made whilst doing the other things. These days, my cartooning is paramount but I have continued to have a little success in writing (children's fiction) and have, in the last couple of years, come back to my music.

CF. The work you do at the moment, can you tell us something about the process?

NF. My main editorial stuff comes in the first half of the week, and the stories to which my cartoons or illustrations are to relate are emailed to me. Some publications like to see a few roughs whilst other allow me to act as my own editor and just send a finished cartoon. This latter may sound nice (and it is) but I still like working under editorial control - a good editor can often bring out the very best in you.
Being slightly clairvoyant, I sense that you are soon going to ask that old question, the one that I've been asked millions of times, about what tools I use and what formats I work to, so I won't go into that aspect of my work process here.

CF. I know you've been asked this a million times, but what tools do you use, and what format do you work to?

NF. I knew it!

Okay. I've been a wholly digital cartoonist since around 1998. I use Mac computers, Wacom drawing tablets and styluses and Corel Painter, by far the most versatile multi-media dedicated painting and drawing application on the planet. Photoshop? That's a great program in its own right (and many cartoonists use it) but it's NOT a dedicated painting and drawing program and has nothing like the range of media that Painter has to offer.
Because I am drawing entirely digitally, I draw to same-size format and almost everything I do goes out in highest quality JPEG format at 300 dpi, via email. I often work at 600 dpi for the finer working resolution and keep this higher res version in my archives.

CF. Is the cartoonist a proper artist? I mean, doescartooning have the same cultural impact as some otherartforms, in your opinion?

NF. You mean like proper artists who are so talented that they can rumple a bed, throw in some soiled underwear and, faster than art critic can prematurely ejaculate, produce a wonderful piece of art? Sorry, give me my Renoir (print) any day.
Actually, I regard cartoons as eighty percent writing, fifteen percent art and five percent undefinable, but certainly the finished pieces hold enormous cultural importance. Cartoons define and depict the day with an immediacy that many a serious historian can never quite manage.
But let's remember. Cartoons are a means to an end. If they finish up hanging on a wall, that's a bonus but it is not their raion d'etre. So let's not get too precious about them, eh?

Another timeless Noel Ford classic from Deadly Humorous. This doesn't look over 20 years old because of the variations of it that appear in some publications, even today.

CF. Is there any other area of cartooning you'd like to work in, if you can find the time?

NF. I'm happy ploughing my own furrow. But it IS important to have several furrows to plough, so that you never get bored. I think I have half a dozen, at least.

CF. Who were your major artistic influences?

NF. I really can't think of any that stand out. I suppose I HAVE been influenced, but it must have been while I was looking the other way. Of course, my actual love of cartooning in general was heavily influenced by the British magazines like Weekend and Reveille, which carried tons of cartoons. And, also, by those terrific cartoon/gag books that you used to be able to buy on railway stations (for younger readers, this was in the days when railway engines had proper name and weren't just buses without steering wheels).

CF. Who was/is your favourite cartoonist/writer, of all time?

NF. Let's not get into writers, as I will just go off on an ever diverging series of tangents.Cartoonist? Well, I've always been so self-driven that I have tried to avoid cartooning heroes. I suppose, though, that my cartooning hero would have to be a sort of Frankenstein's monster (though with a few more laughs) - a sort of amalgam of those regular contributors to the aforementioned magazines, The Saxes, the Styxes, you know who I mean.

CF. There's a lot of talk about a new 'paper-less future' and 'newdigital reading habits', do you think this will affect cartooning,at some point.

NF. Hey, I've worked in a 'paperless office' for the last eight years and I still manage to fill a bin-bag with scrap paper every week!Anyway, much as I love computers for working, spare me from ever having to use them for reading! I love the tactile nature of a book (preferably a hardback). Sadly, inevitably, though, the answer to your question is, Yes.

See more illustrations and cartoons by Noel Ford on his websites, here, and here.

CF. If you had the time, and you were helicoptered in to work onanything you chose, any publication, strip, panel, character,book, show, what would you like to work on?

NF. I'd need more than a helicopter. I'd need a time machine. Then I could go back and redraw all that old stuff of mine that embarrasses me so much (not the gags, but the drawing). Of course, this would be a project akin to repainting the Forth Bridge, if you take my point.

CF. Is there anything you'd rather be?

NF. Not if it involves real work.

CF. Thank you for visiting with us.

NF. Glad to oblige. Is that brown envelope for me?...


To contact Noel Ford FRSA, United Kingdom.
Tel: +44 (0)1974 831468Fax: +44 (0)8700 518267

Online Portfolio


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