Candid Cartoonists: John Shakespeare on minimalism, messages and new media.

John Shakespeare is a Walkley award winning cartoonist and illustrator for The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. Born in Brisbane, he got his first job as a cadet artist at The Courier Mail, where he was lucky enough to be mentored by Alan Moir, the editorial cartoonist at the time. He moved to Sydney in 1985 as the editorial cartoonist for The Sun, owned by Fairfax. When The Sun closed he moved to The Sydney Morning Herald. His work covers a variety of mediums, from watercolour to 3D computer illustration.The day job is illustrating politics, but his great love is animal drawing.

Aside from your own work, what has been your favourite cartoon of the election so far and why?

I loved David Rowe’s “Malcolm in the mirror” cartoon, very clever. The grand King Malcolm looking at his real reflection, the right wing of the Liberal Party that controls him.

Malcolm in the mirror, David Rowe. Reprinted with permission.

Malcolm in the mirror, David Rowe. Reprinted with permission.

What makes a great political cartoon?
For me the best are the simplest, with minimal dialogue and bold visuals that immediately give you the message. Alan Moir’s “Malcolm on the mountain” and Cathy Wilcox’s “not drowning” cartoons are perfect examples.

Malcolm on the Mountain, Alan Moir. Reprinted with permission.

Malcolm on the Mountain, Alan Moir. Reprinted with permission.

Not drowning, Cathy Wilcox. Reprinted with permission.

Not drowning, Cathy Wilcox. Reprinted with permission.

Tell us about your cartooning process.

Firstly I make sure the deck’s clear so I have enough time to think about a concept without panicking! I then start researching the subject and decide what line I’ll take with my comment. Then I sit down with a pen and jot down every visual or word that comes into my head on the subject. Gradually an idea emerges. It could take two minutes or two hours. I dread the latter because by that stage I’m starting to stress!

How does editing work? How does it change what comes out?

For me it’s a simple matter of showing the editor my ideas. Usually they get approved straight away, but sometimes we talk it through and make changes. They can be very helpful.

How do you think about your audience, and has that changed over the years?

Without doubt, social media. It’s opened up a new audience for us. Before I was sitting alone at my desk, with very little feedback about my cartoons. The occasional letter would come my way from a reader. But now we have instant response, which is great! It’s also lovely being able to chat directly to the readers at any time.

Are there lines you won’t cross in satire?

I’m usually very cautious of criticising religion, but that’s about it.

What are your current obsessions as a cartoonist?

I’m enjoying the various platforms that digital media offers. We made a game for the election which was enormous fun. Keeps my job interesting.

What could cartoonists be doing better?

Keep trying to be funnier!

What can cartoons tell us that words can’t?

Hopefully a cartoon is able to summarise a story with one image. They are also a bit more immune legally I think. If you draw someone as fat and ugly the politician might buy the drawing, but if you wrote that the politician was fat and ugly, you may get sued!

What’s the future of political cartooning in Australia?

On one hand it appears grim with the demise of print, but there’s another world out there online, with huge potential for cartooning. If I was starting out now, I’d be able to be published immediately on social media. No money in it to start with, but as your audience grows, there’s lots of potential. I think the future is bright for cartooning.