Prospect‘s cartoonist of the month is Alexander Matthews.
Alexander’s cartoon (above) appears on page 7 of the June issue. His cartoons for Prospect, and a selection from his new book, Crystalline Structure Friday, will be published on First Drafts over the next month.
First, give me your autobiography in 100 words or so
I’m 33 and from near Reading. I have a degree in graphic design and illustration and I lecture at university level in those subjects in Moscow. So I spend most of my time in Russia and my summers in England, balancing being a cartoonist with lecturing. Russia is very weird, but it’s an adventure. My Russian is still very bad and yes, it’s cold (but right now it’s scorching). I have been a cartoonist for about three or four years. I have recently become an uncle.
Can you tell us how you got the inspiration for your cartoon in Prospect this month?
I was just thinking about the most ludicrous thing a manager could do to raise the morale of their staff, and I came up with putting a rhino in the office. I’ve also been playing around with over elaborate captions and unnatural speech recently, so I put the two things together and it I suppose it worked.
I know it’s a terrible question to ask, but where do you get your ideas from?
What other cartoonists have influenced you, or do you most admire?
My biggest influence is Banx, from the work he did for Oink! comic which I loved as a child. Nowadays I admire the New Yorker‘s Charles Barsotti. I also love the work of the French illustrator Serge Bloch.
Out of all the cartoons you’ve ever drawn, do you have a favourite?
It changes constantly. At the moment my favourite is one I can’t sell:
It’s probably just me that finds it funny!
How do you work?
I work in a sketchbook first and draw out my cartoon ideas in little boxes, then I draw them straight on the computer using a stylus and drawing pad. I don’t work at a desk. Terrible though it may seem, I often squat on the floor or draw sitting on the couch. Something about a desk stifles my creativity. I think it’s because that’s the way I drew as a child and I have to tap into that mindset to get good cartoons. It’s getting bad for my back as I get older, though!
How do you cope with the rejections that accompany cartooning?
You get used to it pretty quick, although when you go a few weeks in a row where no magazine is buying anything it gets frustrating. In those circumstances I will rant in an email to another cartoonist who will sympathise about evil cartoon editors. As long as I feel my work is improving and I’m pleased with the ideas I’m coming up with it doesn’t bother me much. It’s more frustrating when I’m trying to think up ideas and nothing good is happening.
What cartoon do you wish you had drawn?
Oh God, loads. I have a mind that retains too much trivia so I remember hundreds of cartoons. I like this one of Wilbur‘s:
And this one of Royston Robertson’s:
Cartoons where the captions are boiled down to the simplest phrase possible make me laugh the most. Danny Shanahan of the New Yorker did this amazing one. Succinct, surreal and very funny.
What would you change about the profession if you could?
Cartooning as a profession has been in decline for many, many years. So many magazines and newspapers have closed the door to gag cartoons. The fact of the matter is that people like cartoons. I would make editors wake up to the fact that cartoons could actually improve their publications and help them sell more copies. What better way to break up endless daunting blocks of text than to have an entertaining cartoon on the page?
Do you think the internet has been good or bad for cartoonists?
I live in Moscow. Would I be getting my work published in Prospect and be your cartoonist of the month without it?
The main occupational hazards in journalism are alcoholism and RSI. What are the risks for cartoonists?
Bitterness and no money.
What’s the best thing about being a cartoonist?
I love my job, which is just about the best thing in the world.
Alexander has collected more than 100 of his cartoons from Prospect and other magazines as well as many unprinted gags into a novel-sized volume with the sensible title of “Crystalline Structure Friday” (Lulu.com, £9.10).