Friends of the Fiend 22: Royston Robertson
Royston Robertson, 38, is a freelance cartoonist based in Broadstairs, Kent, England. His gag cartoons have appeared in publications as diverse as Reader’s Digest, Private Eye, Prospect and The Oldie. He has illustrated children’s books for Scholastic Publishing, and his work has been commissioned by the BBC, Oxford University Press, and many other companies.
CF. Hello, Royston.
RR. Hello Mr Fiend, if indeed that is your real name.
CF. Okay, what are your current projects, anything exciting in the pipeline - that you can tell us about?
RR. Er, not exciting exactly. My next project is a series of cartoon illustrations for some careers textbooks. I can see you nodding off already, but that’s the kind of stuff you have to do sometimes. Obviously it’s always a personal triumph to get a cartoon published in a magazine that people you know might see, such as Reader’s Digest or Private Eye, but the bread-and-butter stuff is trade mags,
business training manuals, PR campaigns etc. Some cartoonists hate all that kind of stuff, but right now, as someone who only took the plunge to give up the day job a couple of years ago, I’m just happy to be drawing pictures for a living.
CF. Did you always want to be a cartoonist, and set out to become one, or was it a gradual process?
RR. I suppose I always wanted to be a cartoonist, but for years I never really saw it as a viable career so I only ever dabbled, doing stuff for friends, college magazines and the like. For a short while after I left university I decided to make a go of it. I had a few strips and gags published in those poor Viz imitations that were around in the early 1990s, with names like Zit and Spit. But when I had difficulty getting money out of one of them I sort of lost interest. I didn’t have the drive then I suppose. It took ten years of doing a mainly office-bound "proper job" to convince me to give cartooning a serious go.
CF. The work you do at the moment, can you tell us something about the process?
RR. The usual thing: staring blankly out of the window trying to think up ideas. I tend to work in silence for the thinking part of the day. Then, when I’m drawing up cartoons I reward myself with some music on CD, or a bit of radio comedy from the BBC website.
CF. I know you've been asked this a million times, but what tools do you use, and what format do you work to?
RR. I recently started using brush pens for the first time. A few years back I used to draw very precisely, over pencil lines that were later rubbed out, mainly because I started out doing strips rather than spot cartoons. In recent years I’ve drawn more loosely, on a piece of paper over a rough placed on a lightbox, but I carried on using the same Rotring technical drawing pens. They’re good for
precise work but the results were not always great with looser stuff.
Anyway, brush pens were recommended to me by a couple of fellow members of the CCGB (Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain). I use Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens. It’s been quite a transformation. They allow for a thicker, more confident line and they’re more fun to use, though you do have to get used to drawing quite a lot bigger. I still draw on A4 but the drawing now takes up the whole page rather than nestling in the middle. Now all I need is a pen to help me write
As for technological tools, I scan my linework into my Apple Mac and colour on screen with Adobe Photoshop. Sometimes I find I’ll move elements around on screen, enlarge some bits, get rid of other bits etc, just generally improving the composition. But it ends up looking a bit odd, with different line thicknesses and so on, so I print it out, stick it on the lightbox and draw it again. That might seem a bit odd to some, but it works for me.
CF. Is the cartoonist a proper artist? I mean, does cartooning have the same cultural impact as some other artforms, in your opinion?
RR. It has a huge cultural impact, no question whatsoever. Cartoons are everywhere. But as for the "A" word, that’s a tricky one. I suppose it’s the same as with any medium, some cartoons are art, some aren’t. If it’s drawn with a purely commercial purpose, i.e. for the money, it is probably compromised and therefore you can’t really call it art. But if it’s a pure expression of the cartoonist, and not
compromised, then maybe it is.
CF. Is there any other area of cartooning you’d like to work in, if you can find the time?
RR. I like the idea of doing a comic (in the US underground vein, I’m not that big on superhero comics except for ones written by Alan Moore) or a graphic novel, but not right now, that’s very much something for another day.
CF. Who were your major artistic influences?
RR. In the order that I became aware of them … as a kid I was well into The Beano and other D.C. Thomson comics, and also the more anarchic IPC comics such as Krazy and Cheeky; Viz Comic, which was like punk rock for an aspiring cartoonist; Oink! ; The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; Gary Larson, who was the first person to get me into the idea of gag cartooning (I think that clearly happened for a lot of people); Robert Crumb and subsequently lots of other North American underground artists, namely Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Chester Brown, Joe Matt and Seth. I don’t think many of these people affected my style as such (I wish!) but they all just really made me want to do cartooning. Since I've been concentrating on gag cartoons there are lots more cartoonists that have had an effect on my style of drawing and gag writing, but far too many to mention.
CF. Who was/is your favourite cartoonist/writer, of all time?
RR. Mr F, you have stumped me with that fiendish question. Picking a single favourite is impossible.
CF. There's a lot of talk about a new 'paper-less future' and 'new digital reading habits', do you think this will affect cartooning, at some point.
RR. I’m a bit sceptical about the disappearance of books and other printed matter (it’s still the best technology there is – easy to use, no compatibility problems and no dead batteries) but if it does happen, the proliferation of excellent cartoons on the web prove that cartoons have a healthy future.
CF. If you had the time, and you were helicoptered in to work on anything you chose, any publication, strip, panel, character, book, show, what would you like to work on?
RR. The Simpsons movie.
CF. Is there anything you'd rather be?
RR. Sometimes I think I’d like something that involves more travel, getting out and about and meeting people. Cartooning is a solitary profession. But then again, I think solitary suits me for most of the time, so probably not. I suppose the answer is: a more successful cartoonist!
CF. Thank you for visiting with us.
RR. You’re very welcome.
Check out Royston's terrific blog, Back to the Drawing Board.