Remembering “The Cartoonist”, Britain’s short-lived broadsheet comic paper

The Cartoonist Number 6
Yesterday, I did a quick interview with Lee Thomas at BBC Radio Stoke (starts about 11 minutes in, eventually), prompted by the sale of a rare first issue of Action Comics #1, for an eye watering price.

The 1938 comic book, which originally sold for 10 cents, marks the first appearance of Superman, and is considered a gem among comic book fans given its rarity, according to Heritage Auctions. It was expected to sell for $750,000 but fetched $956,000 (£770,000). About one hundred copies are believed to still exist, decades after production.

Lee wanted to know if there were any British comics that might command such a price, and we touched on past sales of comics like The Beano Number One, which of course is a rarity (and the Compal back catalogue is a useful resource here). Sadly, for those of you out there with a copy, it doesn’t have quite the same amount sought after appeal as some early US comics.

My advice – and I want to stress I’m not a comic collecting expert, please don’t ask me to value your comics! – was that the better condition your British comic is kept in (most so often printed on “bog paper” as I affectionately call it, which doesn’t help their preservation), the earlier the issue the better. Of course, if it still has its free gift, the more valuable it might be.

The Cartoonist Number One
Photo: Davey Jones

Intriguingly, the comic Lee Thomas has in his attic might be something of a minor collectable. Not The Beano, Dandy or Eagle – Lee’s prized comics are The Cartoonist, which completely threw me, because I’d never heard of it.

Fortunately, some of my comic creator friends had – and VIZ cartoonist Davey Jones kindly dug his  copy of Issue One out and photographed it. My longtime partner in comics crime Nick Miller tells me he was in it – and he was in very good company.

A fortnightly broadsheet “cartoon newspaper”, The Cartoonist was first published by design group Newell and Sorrell in early 1993 (the first issue is cover dated 1st April 1993) but lasted only eight months. The eBay seller claims the first two issues are very hard to find, so perhaps, despite my initial reaction, Lee’s treasured collection might be worth a bit more than I thought.

Comics fan Simon Russell supplied another piece of the jigsaw, tracking down copies for sale right now in eBay from Muck2Brass that suggested The Cartoonist was the brainchild of current Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell…  but via Twitter, Chris in turn pointed me to cartoonist Steve Way, who sold his first cartoon to Punch back in 1982 and was, from 1989, Cartoon Editor of Punch until it closed.

In their biography for Steve the British Cartoon Archive notes that in 1993, after the closure of Punch in 1992, Way was co-founder of The Cartoonist with cartoon and drawing aficionado Sir John Sorrell, one of the leading figures in UK design and the brains behind the long-running London Design Festival.

As the paper’s editor, Steve signed up a number of prominent cartoonists for the new publication, including Ed McLachlan, David Austin, Lowry, David Haldane, Kipper Williams, and Chris Riddell, but sadly the project failed to get advertising and folded after eight months.

From 1995 to 1998 Steve was Cartoon Editor of Maxim and also cartoon editor for Jack. In 1997 he again became Cartoon Editor of Punch in the magazine’s second incarnation. More recently he’s been recognised for his work as “Cartoon Coordinator” for Reader’s Digest. Here he is talking about his career in 2012 to Gill Hudson.

In 2005, The Jester, the Newsletter of the Cartoonist Club of Great Britain, noted “His detailed and reasoned rejections are regarded by many gag cartoonists as the most entertaining (and useful) in the biz.”

Down the years, Steve’s drawings have appeared in The Guardian, The IndependentThe Listener, The Observer, The OldiePunch, Private Eye, Spectator, the Sunday Correspondent and The Times. He was also sports cartoonist for the Financial Times.

His work has featured in Varoom in 2011 (Issue 16) and online, his work (and amazing visual diary) features on the web site Illustrated Adventures, alongside other creators such as Will Dawbarn and Tom Gauld.

Among many other well deserved accolades, he was presented with the Pro Cartoonists Award for Services to Cartooning back in 2013.

Find out more about newspaper and magazine cartooning over at ProCartoonists

Procartoonists.org, the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation, was formed in 2006 from the amalgamation of the Cartoonists’ Guild and the UK branch of the Federation of Cartoonists’ Organisations

Read an interview with John Sorrell about The Sorrell Foundation and more

“I have been saying for a very long time that creativity and design are critical to helping drive growth and economic success…”

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", working as an editor, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years. His credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel UK and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines. He also edited STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics, including Team M.O.B.I.L.E. and The Beatles Story. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare” for Tian Books. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.