Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Polyp - Cartoonist Survey #122

UK cartoonist, political activist and campaigner Polyp is based in Manchester, England. He has been drawing his political cartoons since the 1980's when he was drawing for the Leeds Student Newspaper. He got his first big break in the 1990's from the New Internationalist magazine and since then has drawn for numerous publications and organizations including, The Big Issue, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Ethical Consumer Magazine, Christian Aid, War on Want, Friends of the Earth, Liberty and People and Planet. In 2002 a collection of some of his best cartoons from his 'Big Bad World' cartoon columns featured in the New Internationalist magazine was published. His second book, the graphic novel 'SPEECHLESS: World History Without Words', was released last October. You can read about how it came to be written and published here on the book's official website.

Polyp is actively involved in a campaign to ensure that Manchester creates a monument to the Peterloo Massacre.
The Peterloo Massacre took place in Manchester, England on August 16, 1819 when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000 to 80,000 citizens who were at a meeting to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. The cavalry ended up killing 15 and injured up to 700. In addition to his cartooning, Polyp also designs and builds props and costumes. Over the years he has built, "20ft junk-o-saurs, caricature face masks, hamburger daleks, exhibition stands, mutant radioactive lobsters, 8ft tall articulated grim reaper puppets, spoof consumer products, crowds of huge staring eyeballs, and a giant all dancing all singing condom." You can learn much more about Polyp here at his website.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
Mechanical. Convenient and more ecological, in the long run, I think.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
I used to do everything by hand until I discovered digital manipulation. I still produce some stuff in a painted style, which I enjoy, but for regular strips I like the clean modern look to mechanical colours.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Transparent inks, colour pencils, crayon, biro sometimes for a nice soft outline. But using a pen tablet feels very much like drawing by hand.

What type of paper do you use?
Scrap! I'm currently working through a huge pile of blank letterheaded paper left by the previous tenants of the studio. When it runs out I'll buy some more posh recycled stuff.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Cars, which is ironic, since so much of my work is about climate change etc! Horses drive me crazy as well, and I had to draw quite a few for the early part of SPEECHLESS. I think the ones I drew look like crap. I adore drawing fractal based things, though. Blissful.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
A local shop, but to be honest, I hardly ever get through much material given my style, so it's only a few times a year.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
Yeah. Staying in bed and avoiding it till the last minute.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Anything that takes my fancy, but not stuff with lyrics while writing dialogue or scripts.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
I was a sci fi geek... Frank Bellamy's 'Thunderbird' strips totally hooked me with their economical beauty and dynamism...

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
I really admired BC and The Wizard of Id when younger, but was gutted to find out Johnny Hart became an evangelical (Or was it born again? Whatever... It's all fairy tale bullshit) christian. With a lower c. Nowadays... hmmm... other political cartoonists, I guess! I'm not a huge fan of the genre for it's own sake... the fact that I'm struggling to think of a particular favourite name probably answers the question. Maybe Bill Watterson stands out?

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
The name 'Polyp' emerged from a Victorian 'family airloom' book called 'The Sea and it's Wonders'. I've still got it. Other than that, not really. My tastes have changed so much I didn't really hang on to anything. I've bought a few comics dating from my childhood for nostalgia.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
Just at school till about 17 or whatever age it was I left. Can't say I really tried very hard, though... as a result, I found once my career got going I needed to do a hell of a lot of practice at drawing people to try and bring myself up to scratch.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
An absolute blessing! The ability to type in obscure visual reference inquiries is superb... how could anyone feel 'cursed' by having a vast library the size of a small coffee table on the desk in front of them?! Plus I love the freedom it gives you to send material digitally, then alter it and resend, without having to worry about the postal service etc etc...

Did either of your parents draw?
Nope. My Mum created fantastic clothes, and my Dad was an engineer who wrote poetry.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Well, my parents for not trying to push me into a career like so many do, and then without a doubt New Internationalist magazine, who have got the political balls to publish the blunt, angry messages I put out. I owe them my career.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
Not regularly... but during the creation of SPEECHLESS I had a clipboard style one with me 24/7... it became huge as I added pages, though it was predominantly filled with written notes.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
Yeah... it was OK, but didn't really grip me. If anything, though, it did make me focus on what I should be doing to improve my work!

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
If you can express yourself through very 'unskilled' basic drawings, then great! I sometimes work with a project called World Comics India, who encourage people who aren't artists living in rural areas of the developing (well, 'deliberately impoverished', I call it) world to express themselves through cheaply produced mini comics, which is just fantastic, I think.
Do you collect anything and if so what?
I like buying small publisher comics from round the world, when I get the chance. There's lots of 'found art' junk in my flat.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Maybe 'the Brain' from 'Pinky and the Brain'... always trying to manipulate the whole planet... in a good way, natch... but to be honest, coz I've never wanted kids, I sometimes think of my characters, particularly the SPEECHLESS ones as my babies, if that's near enough.

Are you a righty or lefty?
A righty for drawing, and an amby for some stuff we don't need to mention here...

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
Anything that spread the ideas I want to spread, but cartooning seems to be the best way, for me, to get people to listen.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Environmental and social justice Bill Hicks style rants.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I play a mean droning 'dum-chinga-chinga-chinga-AUUUGH! chord change!-dum chinga-dum-chinga' guitar.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
Well... you're gonna have to be hugely determined, there are just so many people who want to do this for a living... and you'll have to deal with a LOT of rejection... and risk finding out that Peter Shaffer's Salieri character from Amadeus is your patron saint... "I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. Mediocrities everywhere... I absolve you. I absolve you all." Oh my... how that quote still stings me! More optimistically, someone once said to me 'talent will out' which really helped. Maybe 'JUST KEEP DRAWING!!' is the best advice?

Who is your favorite artist?
I really like the impressionists, if you mean that 'formal' definition of the word.

Thanks again Polyp.

Cartoonist and illustrator Terry Laban's answers to the Cartoonist Survey are next.

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