Prospect‘s cartoonist of the month is Nick Downes
Nick’s cartoon (above) appears on page 3 of the May issue.
How did you become a cartoonist?
A couple of decades or so ago, I was working as crew, or “sternman” on a lobster boat off the Maine coast. One day it was too windy to go out, so I spent the morning at home drawing a lobster boat getting tossed violently about on huge, Hokusai-like waves, lobsters flying about, sternman thrown face down in the bait-box, and the lobsterman on the radio, drawling, in Mainer lingo, “Some choppy.” I left it lying on the kitchen table and went upstairs. Later, I heard one of my housemates come in and then this really loud guffawing “Ho, Ho, Ho! HO, HO, HO, HO!,” like a deranged Santa Claus. It took me a moment to realise he’d stumbled upon my cartoon. It was like a small epiphany. I thought, wow—you can draw humor—like trapping a laugh in amber. You don’t have to be around to tell the joke, it’s there, captured on the page. It might even be more fun than stringing bags of bait into lobster pots. That was the beginning… I know it’s a terrible question to ask, but where do you get your ideas from?
Sometimes at a dinner party, or at someone’s family gathering perhaps, someone will say, “You’re a cartoonist? Boy, did you come to the right place! You’re gonna get a lot of ideas from this wacky bunch!” Never happens. Nor do I ever see something occurring in real life that makes for a good cartoon. (Although, in Coney Island once, I saw a guy who had pulled his bumper-car off to the side, passed out. I remember thinking, how drunk do you have to be not to be able to drive a bumper car? A fairly straight-ahead visual of that made it into a cartoon.) Usually, however, a cartoon idea occurs to me that seems to have little relation to whatever I’ve just seen or heard or read. I assume it’s faulty wiring, but wiring you don’t want to fix, or…