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INTERVIEW Meet the cartoonist

MARTIN GOLLAN talks to Michal Boncza about his work

Where were you brought up?

I WAS born in Edinburgh. We lived in a housing scheme on the outskirts of the city, first in one of the high-rise flats before moving to a house in a street nearby.

At that time, the late-1960s and ‘70s, renting your home from the council wasn’t seen as a failure of ability or ambition and, in fact, where we lived was quite mixed socially.

In the high-rise, one of our neighbours was a violinist with the Edinburgh String Quartet and I like to think the example of that relatively egalitarian experience has remained with me.

Have you any formal training?

I was at Edinburgh College of Art between ’81 and ’85. My plans were to study painting, but I ended up joining the sculpture school instead, where I discovered the pleasures of welding and generally bashing bits of metal.

What prompted you to start drawing cartoons?

After leaving college I returned to painting and, at some point, I thought I could make some extra cash by drawing caricatures. That didn’t work out as I’d hoped but I did dabble with some political cartooning and sent a few off to papers and magazines.

Nothing really came of it but cartoonists and illustrators like Ralph Steadman, Robert Crumb and graphic designers like David Carson continued to interest and influence me. Then I gradually began doing some work with local charities, essentially making live illustrations of workshops. That put me in a cartooning frame of mind.

More recently, Culture Matters published some cartoons and things are slowly building from there. I suppose I’ve also enjoyed and had a facility for drawing so that side of cartooning I knew I could do but obviously there’s more to it than that.

What kind of events impel you to make a comment through cartoons?

Usually its some outrageous act of greed or entitlement by a Tory MP, their wealthy supporters or one of their right-wing fellow travellers. But equally it could be Labour being, as ever, over- cautious, tiptoeing around and trying not to offend anyone rather than getting stuck in,

What do you think the function of cartooning is?

I think it has to be to reveal the hypocrisy and lies by which the ruling class seek to control and organise society and to ridicule the powerful so as to show where their interests really lie. I’ve not managed to achieve that yet but some have and do.

Do you think cartoonists are fairly represented in the profession in terms of class and gender?

I’m not sure I can answer that with any certainty but I’d happily hazard a guess that the answer is “no.” There might be more equal representation among graphic novelists and the zine and the comic book community but my sense is that political cartoonists are mostly white and male.

What’s the most difficult thing for you to get right when it comes to your cartooning technique?

Not dragging my sleeve across a wet drawing or tipping ink over! Capturing a likeness is difficult, though some are easier, for example Johnson’s hair is a gift, pity he’s losing it. I think my drawing of feet are getting better.

What other cartoonists do you particularly admire and why?

All the obvious ones, Ralph Steadman, Steve Bell, Martin Rowson, James Gilray, George Cruikshank, Dudley D Watkins, Robert Crumb ... and others who aren’t cartoonists in the strict sense, like the illustrator David Hughes and artists George Grosz and Otto Dix.

What I admire about them changes and can depend on what I’m looking for at the time but things like the quality of David Hughes’s line, the bitterness of Grosz and Steve Bell’s ability to sum up everything you need to know about a politician’s character in a simple drawing.

Where do you see yourself as a cartoonist in the coming few years?

It would be good to increase the number of publications, online or in print that will accept and publish the cartoons and it would be good to stop overworking the drawings.

I’m fascinated by the pen I’ve seen Steadman use in various YouTube videos, I’d like to find out what make it is and try one — sadly the internet has so far let me down on that particular quest.


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