My process for creating cartoons begins with a collection of scribbled ideas and jokes cobbled together on various scraps of paper and phone notes over the course of a week. I then sit down on a Monday morning, with an enormous coffee, and try to collate them into a vaguely-coherent script. The ideal week for me is one in which a big story breaks on a Saturday, allowing me time to mull it over and hone my ideas. Unsurprisingly, the hardest weeks are the ones in which not much happens, or worse – a huge story breaking while I’m already halfway through drawing a cartoon (the recent Sam Allardyce exposé hit the headlines about an hour after I’d filed that week’s effort).
I don’t actually watch as much football as you might imagine; often only catching a couple of games a week. My cartoons really focus on the stories away from the pitch, looking at the circus that surrounds the game. I try to abide by a rule of not mocking individual footballers for their abilities, as I’m aware that even the worst players are infinitely more talented than I could ever dream of being. I’m most comfortable when drawing cartoons about the attitudes or ideas that permeate throughout the sport. Thankfully, there’s a steady supply of characters willing to do or say stupid or crass things, so I’m rarely short of material.
As I begin drawing the cartoon, fresh ideas will often pop into my head. These deviations from the ‘script’ are usually my better ideas. For example, I recently drew a cartoon that finished with an image of Sam Allardyce as the baby from the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind album, swimming towards a Gregg’s voucher. That single frame probably got a bigger reaction from readers than anything else I’ve drawn, but it was a last-minute idea, replacing the original image that was far blander (and far less disturbing).
The creative process for my book, The Illustrated History of Football, was slightly different. I started out with a long list of moments that I considered to be pivotal in football’s history and then cut it down to around 90 stories (1966, The Hand of God, Bury’s Chris Brass scoring an own goal with his face etc.). Then it was a case of scouring books, websites, autobiographies and videos for information about those stories and finding an amusing way of presenting them. The main aim for me was that the book should be funny, but it also needed to be factually accurate.
All of my cartoons are hand-drawn. On a recent trip to The Cartoon Museum in London, I was relieved to see that I’m not the only Luddite whose artwork contains bits of paper glued together and the liberal use of correction fluid. The finished cartoons often bear little resemblance to the original collages, which contain more awkward cover-ups than Donald Trump’s election campaign.
Therefore, I continue to work on paper in a traditional way, sketching out the images, slowly inking over the outlines, then adding tone and texture with grey Copic pens. Life would be easier if I learned how to create the images digitally, but Tip-Ex would probably go out of business.
Here is my average Monday: