Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Interview with cartoon historian Mark Bryant (UK)

He wrote several cartoon reference works, made me discover some important cartoonists and his books all are holding my attention ... my interest in the man behind the books was piqued. Time for an interview with the author who lives and works in London.

When or where did your love/interest for cartoons start?
How does one become a cartoon historian?
When did you first realize you wanted to be a cartoon historian?

Like most British schoolchildren of the 1950s and 60s I was brought up with comic magazines such as the Beano and every Christmas was spent with the annual cartoon collections by Giles of the Daily Express. However, I also enjoyed war cartoons from an early age - my father had been in the RAF in Burma during the war and brought back Jungle, Jungle, Little Chindit by Jon Musgrave-Wood (later Emmwood, political cartoonist of the Daily Mail) and collections of RAF cartoons featuring Pilot Officer Prune by 'Raff' (Bill Hooper).
My first professional involvement with cartoons was in 1984 when I was working as an editor in book publishing. After editing the biography of David Low, I commissioned biographies of Vicky (Victor Weisz) and Ronald Searle.
Soon afterwards I began compiling anthologies of cartoons, was invited to become the Secretary of the British Cartoonists' Association, organised three English Heritage commemorative blue plaques to cartoonists (Low, Vicky and H.M.Bateman) and wrote two biographical dictionaries of cartoonists and caricaturists. A number of other books on cartoon history followed and I have been writing two pages a month on the subject for History Today magazine for the past five years, have written obituaries on cartoonists for the Independent for the past 10 years and have contributed entries on cartoonists and caricaturists for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and other reference books. I have also lectured widely and curated exhibitions of cartoons.
In 1992 I began Park Art, selling cartoon books by direct mail and to specialist shops, galleries and museums, and the following year was co-founder of the cartoon book publishing company Park McDonald, of which I was also editor-in-chief (1993-96). I have also been a Research Associate for the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent, Research Consultant for the British Cartoon Forum and a consultant for the Cartoonist of the Year category for the British Press Awards.

Do colleagues take a ‘cartoon’ historian seriously?
My main interestis political cartoons, especially in wartime. My PhD is on this subject, going back to the Napoleonic Wars (and 'serious' artists such as James Gillray) but focussing in particular on the Second World War and Leslie Illingworth of the Daily Mail. There are many distinguished art historians working in the field of graphic satire. Also the reviews that I have received for my books and the fact that Prince Charles, Lord Baker, Michael Foot and others have contributed forewords to some of them make me believe that my work is taken seriously.

What does your family think of your writing?
Is this a fulltime job ?
When did you write/edit your first book and how old were you?
I have been a full-time freelance writer, editor, journalist, lecturer and exhibition curator since 1987 and have also served on the jury of a number of international cartoon competitions, worldwide. Prior to this I spent a decade as an editor in literary and academic book publishing. I am also a former director of the London Press Club, of which I was secretary (and editor of its magazine, Press News) for eight years.
Cartoon history is not my only interest. As a writer, my first published book, Riddles Ancient and Modern (written when I was 27) later received a Special Commendation in the best Specialist Reference Books of the Year Awards. I have also written a number of books on non-cartoon subjects, notably the biographical reference book Private Lives  and have compiled nine short-story and verse anthologies. I recently also wrote an official history of the famous literary book publishing company Constable (founded in 1795) 'Constable: a Brief History of Britain's Oldest Independent Publisher'. Many of my books are dedicated to family members so I hope they like them.

I found in my (early) book collection the books ‘The World's Greatest Rugby/Cat and Do-It-Yourself Cartoons’, edited by Mark Bryant. Can you tell us a bit more about those books?
This was a series commissioned by Exley Publishing for the gift market after a discussion I had with them at the Frankfurt Book Fair. My involvement was to assemble international cartoons on 11 different subjects (chosen by Exley) fromwhich Exley themselves made a choice. In some cases cartoons were even redrawn to fit their market. The title 'world's greatest' was Exley's, not mine. All are now out of print.

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
The material comes from a wide variety of sources - books, magazines, newspapers, historical archives etc. The ideas for the subjects of the books are either mine or are the result of discussions with publishers.

Wat is your favourite cartoon book? Why?
What’s your favourite cartoon? Why?
What kind of cartoons are your favourites? editorial? gag?...
I have no favourite cartoon, cartoon book or cartoonist and am constantly discovering new and amazing artists worldwide and throughout history. However, that said, I do treasure a lucky black cat cartoon drawn by my grandfather which I inherited on my father's death.

If you could have dinner with one cartoonist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Probably James Gillray or Robert Seymour - or any other cartoonist who committed suicide (Vicky, Ridgewell, Wallis Mackay, Kevin Woodcock et al.) - so that I could try and convince them to keep producing their amazing work.

What inspired you to write WWI and WWII in cartoons (or other )?
What was the hardest part to write those books?
Why should people, read ‘cartoon’ historic books?
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I don't understand what people mean by inspiration and there is no particular motive behind any of my books (though part of the reason I wrote Illingworth's War in Cartoons was because I thought he had been unfairly eclipsed by Low and Vicky).
However, having written those particular four war books (World War I in Cartoons, World War II in Cartoons, Wars of Empire in Cartoons and Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons) I wish there had been something like them around when I was at school because they are certainly a very good way of learning history.
The hardest part was not the writing but the publishing - World War II in Cartoons first came out in 1989 and went out of print soon afterwards when the publisher went bust. I approached more than 30 publishers over the next 16 years until I succeeded!

Have you been in Belgium before? What was you impression?
My first trip to Belgium was to serve as a jury member for the Knokke-Heist cartoon festival many years ago. I have since been back to Brussels and Bruges and have always enjoyed my visits - especially the people, the food and the beer.

Do you have a message for the readers of Scherper, the Flemish cartoon magazine?
Congratulations on your excellent magazine and especially because it is in Flemish - I wish we had something similar in Britain (e.g. a Welsh-language cartoon magazine). Oh... and please keep buying my books!

Thanks a lot for this interview.

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