Artist Ian Jackson has enjoyed an incredible career, creating comics, greeting cards and much more, so we thought we’d put the veteran creator in the spotlight in the week marking the 35th anniversary of the launch of Oink!, in which he played an integral part.
Born in Liverpool on 19th June 1964, Ian Jackson drew prodigiously as a kid – and simply hasn’t stopped.
“As a child I drew prolifically,“ he said back in 2015, interviewed for Whisky Tango Foxtrot back in 2015. “Dad would come home with reams of unwanted paper from his office – it didn’t matter that one side was full of boring work stuff, the reverse was blank! I would hurry for my pens in ‘my drawer’ of the sideboard and I would lie on my tummy in front of the fire and telly and draw – always animals or Disney characters.
Visited my brother Ian @ianjacksonsnif1(cartoonist published in @PunchBooks @PunchCartoons) in his shop Wild Hart in #Sandsend .Here is his depiction of Sandsend Valley: one of us was born with talent the other was born to argue #northyorkshire #cartoonist #talent pic.twitter.com/X664HExejb— John Jackson (@jgj1111) July 29, 2019
Above: Ian Jackson (right) with his brother, John, in 2019. Via Twitter
Alongside Disney characters, His particular focus, initially, was on elephants, then animals of all kinds, gloved and un-gloved.
“At school I was always the kid who could draw, if the school needed pictures it was me they came to,” he recalls. “At the age of six I was put in charge of the art cupboard. At middle school, I seemingly excelled at academic subjects, mainly because my grades were based on the lurid illustration which dominated the page and distracted unwary teachers from scrawling inconsequential text.
High school corrected this illusion, and Ian’s work, denied a legitimate outlet, was put to use in more subversive ways, caricaturing teachers, currying favours with girls, and, he claims – or should that be confesses? – “forging fictional excuse notes for fellow games skivers.” At 14, he was producing “a rather feeble” jokes page each month for the school magazine.
Like many other comic creators with a natural talent for drawing cartoons and comics Ian also fell foul of the ‘helpful’ art teacher, who advised him he I would never make a living as a cartoonist and that he should stick with “proper art“.
Put downs like this perhaps led to him considering other careers, led by his early love of animals, such as a vet, zookeeper and, later, a palaeontologist… or perhaps even a taxidermist!
Luckily for us, a love of art trumped such musings.
“Years passed and thoughts of being a vet gave way to the possibility that I might actually be able to earn a living from my drawings,” says Ian. “Sure enough, after two years studying graphic design at Leeds College of Art I was spring-boarded into the world of professional art.
“Graphic design [is] perhaps not the obvious course for a cartoonist,” he admits, “but after two years of hand lettering (actually, this has proved quite useful) and type setting (not so useful), my cartooning skills were spotted by a sympathetic lecturer, Rex Ripley who recommended that I looked for holiday work.
“Despite the course leader warning me and my college colleagues that we wouldn’t do any colour work until we’d been in the business twenty years. I went to look for illustration work.
Aged just 17, in 1982 Ian was offered a full-time job in the studio at W.N.Sharpe (Sharpe’s Classic Greeting Cards) in Bradford.
“I was designing cards within a month,” he noted. “Within a year and a half I had probably designed 150-200 cards.”
Despite this turnover, the atmosphere in the studio wasn’t right. The world of journalism then beckoned me and Ian joined the art department of the Yorkshire Post “trying to sneak cartoons into otherwise dull reports on budgets or articles about fish and chip shops”. He also continued to work freelance for Sharpes.
He also started to submit cartoons to Punch magazine, the urge to make people laugh or at least smile a strong one – which, of course, it still is. He got his first cartoon accepted at the age of 19, beginning an association with Punch that was to last for ten years until the magazine finally, tragically, folded in 2002.
Other work came Ian’s way via Punch, which saw him drawing cartoons for a number of publications and comics – including Oink!
“I received a phone call from cartoonist Tony Husband,” he recalls, “telling me of a new comic he and two other writers/ artists were putting together.
“The Oink! work (I drew Uncle Pig, Mary Lighthouse and Hadrian Vile) gave me no alternative but to go freelance properly, so a month before my 21st birthday, I became my own boss.”
While he’s continued to freelance ever since, there have been lean periods alongside the good. In the 1980s, his card work, Punch, Oink! and various other bits of advertising work provided him with a good income, and he also worked, on occasion, for Playboy and Spitting Image, and sold original cartoons to members of the royal family and even one to cartoon royalty Charles M Schulz.
“The early 1990s however seemed to herald a change in fortune,” he notes, ruefully.”After 150 years, Punch began to fall apart, my greetings card work was swept away, despite assurances to the contrary when Sharpe was taken over.. The Oink! boys had a better offer from television.”
But the slow demise of traditional cartoon and the British comics market led to new creative path. Television and animation were uncharted waters for, and without contacts, hard to break into. Ironically, it was while looking for more greetings card work, through agent Michael Woodward, that Ian was introduced to ex-Cosgrove Hall (Danger Mouse) man Tony Garth.
“A mutual liking of beer cemented our relationship,” says Ian. “Between pints, Tony showed me the basics of storyboarding and layout.”
Thanks to Tony, Ian worked together with him on several projects ever since, such as Microscopic Milton, first broadcast on CBBC between 1997 and 1999 and Little Monsters, based on Tony’s books of the same name, focusing on mischievous and eccentric children, first broadcast in 1998.
He’s also worked on other animation projects, independently of Tony, for studios such as Cosgrove Hall and others, but their partnership helped see Ian return to creating greetings cards, after his friend was offered a job developing ideas for Hallmark, the company that bought S.W.Sharpe).
Today, when he has time, Ian continues to develop his own projects with partner Tracy Tyas from their 250-year-old cottage in North Yorkshire, including a series of sculptures and paintings based on illustrations of his rhymes that feature the Yorkshire goblins known as Hobs, some exhibited at York’s Pyramid Gallery.
Ian says the rhymes themselves came to him by chance as he searched the Yorkshire Moors for evidence of the mythical faerie, household spirits found in the north and midlands of England.
His fascination with mythology also led to the creation of “Fork Folk”, made from wooden chip forks, each with their own personality, previously sold through the Wild Hart shops in York and Sandsend, which Ian set up with Tracy, a company that has also highlighted the work of other artists.
In recent years, Ian he’s created many card designs for UK Greetings, including the “Plonkers” range, commissioned by fellow Leeds College of Art alumni Phil Renshaw, so, happily, he is back once again doing what comes most naturally to him – drawing!