Monthly Archives: April 2015

THE SHREWSBURY CARTOON FESTIVAL

Robert Duncan draws a crowd…*

Canaan-fashion-week*Reason for the asterisk? My wonderful ward Sam said this line when he saw me commencing my efforts. The lad’s coming on well, and could be as stupid as me in a few years.

We drove up to the lovely town of Shrewsbury on Friday afternoon to meet up with a great collection of Britain’s finest cartoonists, and draw/drink our way through two days of magic marker frolics.

Not much happened on the first night, apart from meeting a few of these luminaries in the bar (Tim Harries, Clive Goddard, Martin Newman, who I went to art school with in the fifties, Royston and the legendary Noel Ford) and drinking our way through one glass too many of the Lion Hotel’s top Sauvignon.

An unsettled night followed, with the inevitable ‘never again’ mumbles, and all cartoonists were under orders to meet with the festival organisers at 8.45 for a briefing. My role was clear – me and seventeen others were to go to the Market Square and do a large cartoon with the theme of Style on 8ft x 4ft boards. Sun shining. Cathy despatched to Starbucks followed by a worryingly long shopping expedition. Time to put pen to canvas. Although I often draw in front of hundreds of people in my hazardous pursuit of conference cartooning  I still get quite nervous. A line from Mel Brooks’ film The Producers came to mind – no way out, no way out. The trouble with this sort of thing is that you can’t just shred the piece of paper and start again, and you can’t really explain to puzzled passer-by that it will be alright when it’s finished – you just have to go for it. In my usual style I made life difficult for myself by choosing a subject that involved loads of perspective, no chance of raising a smile until the last line had been drawn, and a cast of thousands in my carefully constructed opus.

At one stage I heard a voice say ‘Ooh that’s clever. He he!’ Or words to that effect. Turning with my half smile ready I realised she was talking about Martin’s effort that was being produced next to me. Doh.

Things cheered up considerably when dear friends Karen and Andrew, who live nearby, turned up. They (a) said my enormous cartoon was fantastic, and (b) we’ll take you to lunch. That’s what friends are for…

The picture that accompanies this in-depth artistic review is the finished cartoon, 8ft wide and done in three and a half hours. It’s amazing how fast you can work when lunch with wine is mentioned.

I spent the rest of the day tweaking my masterpiece and visiting the other cartoonists. A jolly lot indeed. That evening, after poshing up at the hotel and taking a small glass of blush, we walked to the venue that Alison and the other festival organisers had arranged for us. Much eating and drinking followed, accompanied by loads of drawing on tablecloths, taking incredibly daft group shots, and listening to the strains of our very own ukulele (halfway through typing that word the spell check replaced it with useless. Was the spell check there?) combo, who played up a storm and had us dancing through the night.

That last sentence was a lie. We all repaired to the Lion Bar (don’t say it, it’s been said) to drink to the big board artists, computer guys, caricaturists, gag cartoonists and musicians who had made it such a wonderful day – which, we all hoped, had been thoroughly appreciated by the good people of Shrewsbury.

Good sleep (eventually), fab breakfast and a walk round the beautiful town. The art exhibition was closed but I could just see one of my efforts through the window, and we were on our way home, with big hugs for everyone, promises of doing this more often, and memories in my camera and in our heads of a lovely time.

I love cartoonists. They’re such silly people…

MANCHESTER

Robert Duncan concerns himself deeply…

Manchester_UnitedOut of all the things I would hate to be involved with – beer drinking until you fall over, earning my living as a teacher, eating batter covered Mars Bars, saying haitch instead of aitch, trying to read labels on small hotel shampoo bottles, people that say toilet, the works of abstract artists, the work of minimalist artists – the worst is football.

Two things have happened. My darling six year old son is proving to be rather good at it, and today I visited Manchester United’s home ground. The former I have no control of, and if he happens to bring home £150,000 a week, so be it. The latter is far more worrying.

Today I was at Old Trafford to do one of my conference cartooning gigs, and found myself not only wanting to visit the merchandise shop, but actually wanting to admire the sacred turf. If I was a United fan, which hopefully I’m not, I would go on this pilgrimage and check out every panel, blown-up photo, statue and winners board of this extraordinary institution. They clearly have enough money to do precisely what they want, and for pocket money they rent the place out to the likes of my client, who took over several of their cavernous areas to entertain the few hundred people who attended, to see (but not mainly) my cartoon efforts.

I was drawn in, and wished I was one of the millions who treat this place as the Mecca of their dreams. The hush as Wayne Rooney or some other pretty ordinary bloke runs on to the beautifully tended turf, the roar when the first boot makes contact with the ball, the mayhem when the most unexpected happens, and someone scores a goal.

I walked back to my hotel, past Matt Busby Way or something, thinking how totally wonderful it would be to be interested – admiring every poster, cheering on your dream team, brandishing your scarf as you carefully protect your souvenir bag, with your red shirt, MU keyring and David Beckham model in it.

It could be an interest that could take over, or save, your life. On the escalator I asked a kindly steward if he loved football. ‘Ooh yer man’ he said, in what I presumed was a broad Manchester accent, ‘It’s my world!’

Can you imagine the exhilaration he’ll feel on match day? I’m not sure if I ever feel like that – apart from when Jamie scores a goal, I complete an above average cartoon, Sam gets the marks he wants, and Cathy finds the handbag of her dreams.

She’ll tell me off for that, so replace the last sentence with – captivates her class with her ground-breaking Viking lecture…

And don’t worry about the football. It was a passing fancy – like when we won the World Cup in ’66.

ME, MICKEY AND CAPTAIN AMERICA

Robert Duncan and co hit Disneyland Paris…

DSCF3199www.duncancartoons.com probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the inspirational genius of Walt Disney. My hordes of eager followers probably know that already – I go on about this pet subject at every available opportunity.

So when we booked up a few days of this strangely un-American version of the American dream I was pathetically excited, and tried to persuade myself that the whole event was for Jamie and Sam. Luckily they were excited too.

We drove to Dover or somewhere near there, drove straight onto a train, and twenty minutes later drove off in la belle France. Three hours later we were in a massive hotel on the very edge of Wonderland. Ignoring the drizzle and, slightly miffed that the power of Disney couldn’t control this very basic situation, we headed off for the light show.

Wow! The Cinderella castle became a gigantic screen for a staggeringly good animated show, where all the projected characters we know and love ran on, climbed up, floated down and generally danced around to quad sound and a ‘new year over Big Ben’ scale firework display. Cathy wanted to know if they did this every night and I said no, it’s just that they’d heard we were coming.

Comfy night, scrum down for breakfast, and we were off on the second leg of our adventure. Space Mountain was closed. Oh dear me, I was so looking forward to that. Not. But Small World was open so we travelled gently through some terrific artwork before shooting everything in Buzz Lightyear’s ride. But you can read about all these thrills and spills on the Disney website if you can be bothered. So briefly… queues… hotdogs… small rides that you’ve forgotten by the time you walk back into the fresh air… and endless souvenir shops.

When I first went to one of the American Disney parks I spent loads on lovely little figures of Mickey, Minnie, Thumper and Snow White. The latter was for my Mum God bless her, and when she departed and left us all to it I reclaimed the little classic porcelain princess and I have her on my shelf in my studio today. But guess what? They don’t do those any more. After much searching I found a model of Mickey, and Jamie found a … Captain America outfit – something you wouldn’t immediately associate with Disney. But he loved it, loves it, and wore it throughout the entire trip. A lot of passers-by said how glad they were that Captain America was there, and that obviously things would now be alright. All worked well until we got to the Wild West Show, when this mini-super hero refused to take the costume off and we had to content ourselves with him wearing the compulsory cowboy hat over his Captain America mask. So there was the sort of Lone Ranger that would have scared the hell out of Silver, and probably
made him bolt, scattering silver bullets all over Tonto and Dodge City generally.

Anyway, enough of all that. The Wild West evening was considered to be the second best bit of the whole trip – with its wonderful horses and riders, a whole herd of very obedient cattle, stage coaches, lots of shooting, cowboy tucker served on metal plates, too much beer ‘n’ beans, and Mickey Mouse coming on to save the day. Whooping brilliant.

So, eager reader, what was the first best bit? No contest. About 3000 of us were let into a mighty grandstand and stunt cars (don’t read that the wrong way round) performed amazing high speed tricks for our delight, along with a motor bike bloke who’s going to end up in traction eventually, and shoot-outs, explosions and amazing chases. Do they really do that every day? Extraordinary…

One of the latest Disney treasures is Ratatouille – the adventures of a sweet little rat who happens to be a genius chef, and probably better than his fellow countryman Raymond Blanc. After the customary fifty minute wait it was all into a car thing and off on a 3D ride through an enormous kitchen, where we were rat size and having pans, onions and rolling pins hurled at us. We drove at high speed from one giant 3D screen to another in total disbelief. That was it. Disney Magic still alive and well.

A wonderful early evening parade, supper, sleep and on to the last morning. You could tell it was the last morning – the sun came out. The Runaway Train was closed so we queued for ages for a rather indifferent ride that went wrong literally when we’d made it to the platform. We comforted ourselves with the fact that we weren’t as badly off as the lot before us, who were stuck halfway up a worrying hill with no way of escape.

Lunch at the Ratatouille Restaurant, where everything was giant size – we sat on bottle tops, admired booths formed by edge-on plates, and took photos of six foot high forks, electric plugs and pepper mills.

Long journey home. Loads of pictures to turn into an album to bore relations with, and a bootful of souvenirs to scatter around the house.

Captain America watched videos all the way home, and didn’t go to sleep or save the world once…

1954

Robert Duncan comes home to the little woman…

Dinner-for-the-man-of-the-houseHe’ll be home in a minute. Just in time to pop upstairs to change into a pretty frock and cheer up my makeup before he walks through the door. After all, there are always girls at the office, and boys will be boys! A quick application of Revlon’s Flaming Desire and a squirt of Paris Mist and I am ready. Just in time to put on my new lacy apron, and get down to the kitchen. We can’t have him hungry can we! I pause for a moment to look at our beautiful bedroom with its stylish padded headboard, neatly made bed (with hospital corners) and the new eiderdown in mint green with its sewn rose patterns and fashionable sheen. The truly wonderful print of Tretchicoff’s Blue Chinese Girl, an anniversary present from Robert (along with the Minute Mop), looks fine above our bed, and you can hardly see the dent where it fell off the wall and landed on the Teasmaid.

But I must stop thinking for myself like this. I haven’t even checked the boiled potatoes yet, and the roast probably won’t pass his fastidious inspection. Oh dear. Will he storm out of the house and have a light ale at the Feathers, threatening not to get back until the end of Emergency Ward Ten? If that happens I will simply die.

Downstairs. I tidy away my copy of Woman’s Weekly – I don’t want him to know where I get my secrets from do I – and lay the table, being careful the new wooden handled cutlery is straight and the hunting scene mats are shiny clean. I even try to get most of the stains off the stainless steel bowls.

A final clean and polish, final check that I have ironed his shirts to perfection, and I think I’m ready for the fabulous man who has made my life complete, by deigning to marry me – and include me in the wonder that is his life. A lucky girl indeed.

Footsteps on the pathway. Final opportunity to straighten myself up in the gilded mirror (which Robert gave me for my birthday) and I’m ready. Key in the door…

“Hello darling!” He beams, sweeping me up in his strong manly arms, “Good day? Enjoy the washing in our new twin tub? Sorry, your new twin tub!” (Christmas present.) “Did you get the new shoes like Princess Margaret in Saxone’s?”

“Oh Robert,” I say, bursting into tears, “I have something to tell you. I went out today without my gloves. Will you ever forgive me?” I see his face darken, but then he surprises me and I fall in love all over again. “Never mind! What’s for supper? Spam loaf? Frankfurter casserole? Bad for my urinary problem but so what!”

What did I do to deserve such a wonderful man? He goes into the lounge, kicks off his shoes and asks me really nicely to clean them and put them away. So considerate. And then he shouts “Where’s my tea?” He’s always been a great romantic.

Dinner is a success. He enjoys the mutton pot roast, and said my two custard tartlets were delicious. I feel I am beginning to reach the high standards he has set for me. He even suggests I keep the remains of the supper in the fridge! (Valentine present.) ” Not the fridge?” I quip. “Our new fridge?” We laugh heartily at this humorous badinage and I once more admire his shiny well cared for teeth. Thank goodness he gave up smoking when cigarettes got to 3/11 a packet.

There is just time to Hoover the floor before we go to bed. (Easter present.) He goes up, telling me sweetly not to spend too much time clearing up his discarded socks, pants and the tartlet he threw at the wall, and I am alone to reflect on my perfect life. I stand there grinning, staring into the middle distance as I lean on my Hoover, and wondering if Robert will include me in his all-expenses-paid weekend in Paris next time.

Finally I clean my teeth with the Ultrabrite, slip on my shortie nightie, and slip into our cosy nylon sheets.

I hope he doesn’t want to take me tonight. The window cleaner wore me out…

AWAY FROM HOME

Robert Duncan realises it’s not quite what it’s cracked up to be…

Away from home photoYou catch me in reflective mood. I am sitting in the bar at the Holiday Inn in Lincoln, on Sunday evening at about 8.30pm. I stress the pm bit in case you think I have developed an unhealthy habit of early morning drinking. I’m here to be ready, refreshed and prepared to start on a seven day conference cartooning gig.  The company is taking its roadshow around places like Lincoln, York, Manchester and Worcester, and I am attending and drawing wise and witty gags about the proceedings of the days.

So here I sit, reflecting on the fact that during my first very long marriage I basically wasn’t allowed to go away on such jollies. I would be accused of all sorts of things which wasn’t very fair, because I usually behaved myself blamelessly.

Along with the sadness that inevitably followed her demise was a strange feeling of freedom. I could dash off all over the place, markedly seven years of fine trips for Coutt’s, where I was treated like royalty (without the rude satire) and allowed to stay in fab hotels, chat to some of Britain’s finest, and draw silly cartoons about them.

And then I met and married a girl who thought it was important to carry on this sort of dashing about for the good of my career, giving me the opportunity to spot yet another element of her sheer perfection.

And you know what? I seemed to have lost that desire for freedom. That wonderful feeling that I could get into my car, settle back in air conditioned comfort for a two or three hour ride, and enjoy a night or two away, paid for by a few grateful clients.

I want to be at home. I want to read my little boy a Winnie The Witch book and then come down and watch Mr Selfridge. I want to eat a fruity yogurt and hug Sam goodnight. What’s the matter with me? Where’s the bold adventurer? Light on his feet as he bounces off on another caper? Where’s the guy who hits the bar and chats on in an easy charming way?

I’ll tell you where he is. He’s gone off for an early night, with maybe a quick game of Scrabble and a Lemsip, to be ready for drawing at least 25 witty and relevant cartoons per day, until he can return to his loving family.

Getting older? Or just happy?

Aaaaah…