Candid Cartoonists: Pat Campbell on truth, simplicity and the uncontrolled laugh

Our Candid Cartoonists series continues with Canberra born-and-bred Pat Campbell. After graduating from ANU in 1993 he worked a couple of years freelance before landing casual work at the Canberra Times, working with Geoff Pryor, Ian Sharpe and John Tiedemann. In 1996 John Tiedemann left the Canberra Times and Pat was offered a full-time position, and has worked for the times for the last 20 years. Aside from cartooning, Pat took over the small family farm in the ACT; a work of love rather than ecomonics. Pat has won a number of awards, including a Walkley for Illustration.

What makes a great political cartoon?
Truth, simplicity and an uncontrolled laugh requiring a little bit of cleaning up afterwards. Not easily replicated.

Tell us about your cartooning process.
Start calm, with a cup of tea. Read the news. Clickbait. More clickbait. Damn, wasted time. Read the news. Nope, nothing’s changed. Write down issues of the day. Choose an issue. Apply basic creative thinking exercises. Nothing (or maybe something). Look at the paper. Swear a bit. Deadline closing. Damn that clickbait. Swear a bit more. Walk around. Abandon topic and move to another topic. An uninspiring primordial idea sort of drags itself onto the blank paper leaving a mucus trail. Throw some foundation on it and a bit of lippy and send it off 5 minutes past deadline. Is there another process?

Courtesy of Pat Campbell.

Courtesy of Pat Campbell.

How does editing work? How does it change what comes out?
I experience very little in the way of editorial influence. I mostly self-edit. I should probably be much tougher on myself.

How do you think about your audience, and has that changed over the years?
I always thought my audience was older. Looking at social media stats my audience is actually quite young. Of course, that could just be the social media factor. But cartoonists have to embrace social media. I was reluctant to at first as I wanted to get away from the screen, but that didn’t do me any favours.

Are there lines you won’t cross in satire?
Won’t draw Mohammed. I just walk right past that packet of aggro at the supermarket. There are other lines I’d like to say I don’t cross, but I’ve probably stooped to crossing them on one occasion or the other. I don’t go out of my way to be gratuitously offensive, but humour is subjective.

What are your current obsessions as a cartoonist?
A sabbatical, and fortunately I have a voluntary redundancy coming up so I’m covered.

What could cartoonists be doing better?
Finding wealthy benefactors to start up publications dedicated to paying cartoonists.

What can cartoons tell us that words can’t?
Words can probably tell us the same message as cartoons, but not in the three to five seconds that a cartoon takes to deliver its message. The humour aspect, the visual comedy, is something else, whether it’s just the weird little upturn or thickness of a line that just makes a particular facial expression work, or not. You could describe a Gary Larson cartoon and tell the joke, but conveying the deadpan expression of the dog is an idiosyncratic aspect of the art form that can only be seen.

What’s the future of political cartooning in Australia?
Well, traditional cartooning is facing a bleak future as the old print models that supported us collapse. There will be some holdouts, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it as a career path to an aspiring young artist looking to earn a crust. That’s not to say there isn’t a future but it’s morphing into memes and other variations. We’re producing original content and it’s easier to disseminate than ever before. The power has been taken out of the hands of the media barons, but everyone expects a free lunch now. In the long run the dispassionate will probably be culled, leaving only those truly driven to produce.I don’t know if that’s a good thing for political cartooning, as while passion is good it is generally biased.

Courtesy of Pat Campbell.

Courtesy of Pat Campbell.