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…