Useless Eustace

I don’t know if it’s another thing with my age but I’m seriously becoming jaded with this internet thing, or world wide web (strictly not the same but de facto synonymous). Once when it seemed the whole depth of the universe was simply a few clicks away, now all seems like wading through a swamp of irrelevance and superficiality. I guess popularity has won the day again.

I still try the odd safari: thinking of something I’d like to know, googling it and following whatever hyperlink looks interesting. Sometimes something unexpected turns up, other times, not a lot.

I was reading with dismay the comments of followers on some amateur leftwing political blog – it isn’t the politics that dismayed but the tone used in their rhetoric, if I can call it that – when one of them referred to the Tory MP for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle, George Eustace, as “useless Eustace”.

Useless Eustace!

This is the kind of thing I like. Not the unnecessary, vile and puerile name calling but a call from the past. Cultural history.

My Dad used to take the Daily Mirror (he also took The Sun, and the Sunday Mirror, Sunday People and the News of the World – we never discussed politics much and I haven’t any idea why he bought papers from both sides of the spectrum. Maybe, like a lot of working men, he liked to follow the sports pages. Good old Dad). Of course, these were the papers I would read too as a small boy, although flipping through would be more accurate.

I would be seeking out the cartoons and strips. I love drawing and I love cartoons and strips. Now, the microsecond after I read “useless Eustace” it came back to me that Useless Eustace was a regular cartoon character from the Mirror. I could picture it precisely in my mind’s eye. Here’s an example I found by googling.

I find it was drawn by John “Jack” Greenall who submitted the single cell cartoons regularly from 1935 until his retirement in 1975. I can appreciate the style more now than I probably did, the art of the cartoonist in conveying a mood with a few marks: the simple way a cigarette is suspended in front of a character’s mouth to express surprise, as well as the feet off the ground, implied by the shadow. It’s quite a geometric style too, as if he used a straight edge.

I don’t know how it never occurred to me to become a cartoonist. Perhaps I was too lazy or complacent, thinking it was too hard and not rewarding enough. I knew a boy at school who towards the final year, told me he might become a cartoonist. It surprised me – in caricature, I would have adopted the same position as the guy on the right, minus the fag. For starters, it was the first I’d heard that this boy even drew cartoons – I never saw any – and secondly, it was the first time anyone had connected cartooning, something I dabbled in, with a viable career option.

What ifs, eh? Utterly useless.

Here’s a link to some other cartoonists and their cartoons I’ve admired (Pinterest)

Aunty on Animation

It would seem that the BBC of late hides its lights under the bushel of its online only output – the iPlayer.

Following on from the very worthwhile bio documentary on British DJ David Rodigan and Reggae, another documentary caught my attention, another perennial interest of mine: stop-frame animation.

With CGI, stop-frame animation is likely seen as a niche and probably quaint pursuit. When it can take years to produce a five minute film, the first question on unsympathetic lips must be, why bother? It’s like the audience I was in, listening to an Oxford busker perform a longish piece on a didgeridoo. He was, as the didge goes, very accomplished but I overheard a boy whisper to his friend, “Uh, I can do that on my Casio”. I guess you get it or you don’t.

And so it is that stop-frame animators, to the informed at least, have the status of artisan and artists, not mass produced manufacturers of cartoons by computers.

As the programme explains, there is something quintessentially British about British animation historically. I think it’s possibly because there are no rules but also, as explained, there is no money. Anyway, I love it.

Here’s a couple of my favourites featured for those unable to view BBC iPlayer. If you can get it, the link is below.

This is from Osbert Parker’s Clothes (1988).

In this animation, he used a collection of vintage clothes and props laid out across his apartment floor in a sequence planned from a storyboard.

As with any stop-frame technique, the clothes are slightly rearranged before each subsequent shot – you get the picture.

Joanna Quinn is an amazing draughtsman. Such exquisite drawings and detailed expressions on her characters’ faces.

This is Girls’ Night Out (1987) about a group of Welsh factory workers visiting a male stripper event.

Click on either image to see the clip.

Secrets of British Animation – BBC iPlayer

Whale (Ice)

I noted earlier that the inspiration word for today’s Inktober is “Whale” and I had noticed this doodle of mine waiting in the archive.

It’s a cheat, I know, not to use fresh drawings but I don’t feel I have the time to get involved. Besides, this kind of thing is usually done by way of distraction from tedium, done almost unconciously or absent-mindedly. This is where the seem of ideas lies: in the cupboard, under the stairs, somewhere at the back of the brain.

As I’m not currently working, sitting in an office for eight hours, starimg at a screen, the opportunities aren’t presenting themselves.

Cartooning Around

My blogging friend, Chelsea, asked me if I cartooned. Now there’s a funny thing because whenever I got to thinking about alternative jobs I could have done – and it is a list of many albeit not many practical options – “cartoonist” has come up.

Now I remember at school a not very close mate of mine once told me he was considering a career as a cartoonist. It surprised me for two reasons; I never actually saw him draw anything ever, and I had no idea anyone could make a living from it.

In those days I was often drawing caricatures of our teachers in my Rough Book (these were basically general purpose notebooks given to each of us at the start of each year, the terminology was probably archaic as was most of the school style). Always a drawer, doodling was an easy habit to fall into, especially during long periods of otherwise dullness (eg school lessons).

But as we know, school maketh the man (or woman, I guess) and so in adulthood, in absent minded moments, I’d pick up a pen or pencil and automatically doodle. The rubbish ones got thrown away but the more pleasing ones I’d keep in a box. In the digital age, I began scanning them.

It’s not a hobby or anything serious like that, and even right at this moment, it’s astounding that some guys actually make a decent living from it. Perhaps not many.

I have my favourites, admired over the years. The American MAD magazine was the best of them all. In the UK, there was Ronald Searle who illustrated the schoolboy Molesworth books; Matt, the “pocket cartoonist” of the Daily Telegraph; Reg Smythe, the creator of the working class layabout, Andy Capp; and Dennis Collins, the original drawer of The Perishers serial comic strip, these last two appearing in the Daily Mirror. And, of course, the brilliant Heath-Robinson. There are others too which I can’t recall at this time.

Okay, a bit of self-indulgence (tut-tut), here are some I dug out of the archives. Click on them to get a bigger view if you like. The top one is a straight, silly doodle probably done at work. The second is a reflection on bringing up kids – eat your greens! Obviously it looks like I worked that one up a little. Next was inspired by a piggy bank I own; you’re supposed to smash them with a hammer when full but it’s too violent, I thought. Okay, I recall the next was playing with an idea on what a famous artist’s house would be like. This one is Edvard Munch, famous for The Scream. Lastly, this is an early drawing of Mr. Fleas visiting his pal, Boxcar Joe. This came from listening to the Willie Dixon song, Wang Dang Doodle.

That’s all folks!

MAD Magazine

Ronald Searle – Nigel Molesworth

Matt – the pocket cartoonist

Fred Smythe – Andy Capp

Dennis Collins – The Perishers

Who doesn’t like Popeye can see me after class

Folks, it’s time for a little light visual entertainment, I think, and by way of my new follow, Hobo Moon Cartoons, this blog is proud to show Popeye the Sailor (featuring Betty Boop) in the first ever feature of Popeye.

Any who knows me, or wants to for that matter, will know this kind of thing is milk to my tea, and a biscuit to dunk with it. I’m not swayed so much by awesome visuals, just give me ingenious sight gags every time. And this toon is full to the brim with them. (I love the way the seaman lowers the gang plank before Olive Oyl arrives.)

And please check out Hobo Moon Cartoons, just two minutes from this theatre!

image: “Countdown #1” by Bladud Fleas

The GIF was made many years ago when I did a bit of photography and was given some photo editing software, gratis, which included a GIF maker (when GIFs were a new thing). I found these GIFs recently while sorting through an old memory stick.

Despite enjoying movies a lot, I have not set foot in a cinema for about two decades – I simply didn’t like the experience – and as technology has come an astonishingly long way in that time, I probably never need to ever go again. Now it occurs to me that also I haven’t kept up with how cinemas work today and the “hair in the gate” problem might be a complete obsolescence. No matter, consider it a lesson in cultural history.

Still a dog, but no longer barking

How much virtual water has flowed under the bridges on social media?

Yesterday, something happened. It made me recall these two cartoons – do you remember them?

I have been both these characters. I am still the dog, but the egotist I’ve been working on. Successfully, I hope, but only others have the authority to judge.

When that something happened yesterday – a slight thing, petty and of little consequence – a former self would have rushed at it, like a bull at a gate, seeing a challenge, intent on oneupmanship, getting in the last word. Egotism – what is it good for? It probably had some evolutionary advantage but now that we’ve got where we are, can’t it be jettisoned, like a spent cartridge, a new and better virtue taking its place?

Having been all over social media in all its various guises, from early chat forums, to blogging, through all manner of Facebooks and Twitters, and back to blogging, I like blogging best. I like how it’s a personal space into which you invite others, and in turn others invite you into there’s and there exists a code of propriety, of respect and manners and civility. In contrast, those other media forms seem full of egos and hatred. It’s reached a point when even role models and statesmen and stateswomen join in. It’s why I left.

Humility is the virtue which should slide gracefully in the place left by egotism.

Nobody knows you’re a dog – Peter Steiner (The New Yorker, 1993)

(“Someone is wrong”) Duty Calls by xkcd (Randall Munroe)