When I talk about myself as an illustrator, I always say that, skill-wise, I’m a cartoonist on the way to becoming a comic book artist. Despite my quick wit and love of good (and bad) humour, it never occurred to me that I should take being a cartoonist seriously and see what happens. When I was a kid, I read something about how statistically unlikely it is that you’ll be the next Jon Davis (Garfield), Charlie Schulz (Peanuts) or Aaron McGruder(The Boondocks). I even met a guy last year who used to draw the Beano once upon a time. Good luck trying to get that job in this decade. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Jim Benton on Tumblr recently that I felt like I’d seen a clear indicator of a path forward for me.
Benton is American born and based. He used traditional media like inks and watercolour, but also works digitally. I (really) don’t know if you could call him famous, but cartooning is definitely his day job and he’s paying the bills with it. He has such an endearing art style, which is usually combined with subversive messages. When I look at his work, I typically laugh out loud and then go find some more. This can last for hours. This need to binge on his particular type of direct, silly and insightful humour is something I’ve always wanted to elicit from others with the Smile-e Show, for example.
He reminds me of a good stand-up comedian: one part risqué, One part charming, one part discerning, but all parts funny. You know you’re on to a winner when you laugh before you have time to realise you probably shouldn’t. Jimmy Carr taught me that one.
Benton makes it look so easy to make art and jokes at the same time. And good jokes. And good art! I had a go at trying to follow in his footsteps without just stealing his schtick outright. It’s harder than it looks to come up with something cute and barbed at the same time and then not screw up the delivery. Illustrating cartoons is far easier than making comic books from scratch in the same way that building a car is easier than building a skyscraper; you still have to make sure every thing you do is appropriate and adds to your overall quality instead of detracting. And you’d really better make sure you know how to use all your tools properly. It takes far longer to find mistakes in a comic or building than it does in the far smaller cartoon or car.
I don’t really expect I’ll ever make money from art, and being popular on Instagram for it’s own sake seems pretty puerile to me, but, if I was to go deep into my mind to pull out the best jokes and then deliver them with a commitment to quality, that sounds like something to be very proud of. We’ll see.