Monday, September 5, 2011

My favourite Cartoons (13): Frank Cotham

"Everything's so easy for you, Mr. Perfect."

"I've hacked into our bank account."
Here's an interview with Frank Cotham from The New Yorker website:

Though Frank Cotham claims he was no great shakes at drawing in his earliest years, you’d never believe it now from examining his record: nearly 600 cartoons published in The New Yorker since 1993. This Tennessean began working in television graphics after college in Memphis (think of those colorful shapes that merge to form a news station’s logo). He left TV to pursue a different graphic art, churning out some of our favorite New Yorker cartoons reflecting the cynic’s attitude toward business, medicine, and law. Frank still lives in Tennessee, but through the wonders of technology, e-mailed us with the following insights into his life story.
TCB: Tell us about how you came to be a cartoonist. Did you draw as a child?
FC: I did draw as a child, mostly pictures of Second World War airplanes – I was especially fascinated by the Japanese Zero. But once I strayed from my favorite subject and drew some cartoons about UFOs, which my father, who really didn’t have that much of a sense of humor, inexplicably took with him to show to his coworkers. I’ll bet they weren’t that impressed.
A friend of mine, at the TV station in Memphis where I once worked, suggested that I might try combining my staring into space with my doodling, and come up with some cartoons to send to magazines – which I did. It was two years before anybody bought anything.
TCB: Were your parents or anyone else in your family of an artistic bent?
FC: I’m told that my paternal grandfather was a musician, but being a car mechanic paid the bills. In any case, I never knew him.
TCB: What’s the first thing you remember drawing?
FC: I really can’t remember that far back – if I drew anything as a little child, I’m sure it was awful. I remember a teacher holding up a picture before the class that I had colored with crayons, as an example of how not to do it (crayon strokes weren’t all in the same direction) – very humiliating; and another time I did a Thanksgiving Pilgrim crayon drawing with green leaves on the trees (no green trees in autumn), and the teacher ridiculed it in front of the class. I never really liked school anyway.
TCB: Did you always plan on being a cartoonist as a kid? If not, what did you want to be when you grew up?
FC: I had always figured that I’d be a commercial artist, which is what my parents wanted for me, since I was better at drawing than I was at anything else. My father was under the mistaken impression that commercial art was a very lucrative profession – he was retired Navy, and was totally out of touch with the private sector.
TCB: How did you get into working in TV, and how long did you spend in the business? What kind of work did you do?
FC: In college, I got into what was then called television graphics (it seems laughably antiquated now) and got my first full-time job with an educational television network based in Jackson, Mississippi, where I lasted four months – I just couldn’t live on what they paid me. Then there was the job in the audio-visual department of an optometrists’ college in Memphis, which fizzled out after a couple of years (the job – not Memphis). After that fiasco, I landed a job at WHBQ-TV, also in Memphis, where I worked for 13 years producing graphics for the news department; it was an enjoyable time in a place where I met many nice people.
TCB: What made you finally decide to pursue cartooning full time?
FC: That gentle nudge from my friend got me started, and when my income from cartooning exceeded my income from the TV station, I decided to go out on my own.

TCB: What was your reaction when you first got published in The New Yorker? What was the cartoon?
FC: I couldn’t believe my good fortune, and figured it must have been some kind of mistake. The cartoon was an operating room scene where the doctor says, “Damn it, nurse! I didn’t ask for a twenty. I asked for a ten and two fives.

TCB: Where do you get inspiration for some of your “darker” cartoons? For instance this one about creating a child’s legal defense fund or this one here about volatile relationships?
FC: Most of my inspiration comes from worrying.
TCB: Do you often draw inspiration from where you live in Tennessee? How does your location affect the kinds of cartoons you produce?
FC: I often draw cartoons of a man and wife sitting on the front porch of an isolated cabin or in front of a peasant’s hut. Eccentric people who believe that what they have is all anyone should ever need, but whose beliefs are based on insufficient information.
TCB: How do people you meet react when they learn you’re a New Yorker cartoonist?
FC: Most seem puzzled – they ask if I draw political cartoons.
TCB: Who have been your role models among New Yorker cartoonists? Was Charles Addams very influential on your work, as he has been with so many cartoonists?

FC: Sam Gross, I love all his stuff. I’ve probably been influenced too much by Charles Saxon‘s drawing style, thinking when I first started out that that was the way all New Yorker cartoons were supposed to look; and I’ve certainly always been very fond of Charles Addams’ cartoons.
TCB: Do you have any favorite New Yorker cartoons you can share with us (by you or others)?

FC: I’ve always liked the Sam Gross cartoon of the man and the whale crawling through the desert, and the man says, “First, let’s concentrate on water. Then we’ll worry about krill.” To me, that just about says it all.

No comments:

Post a Comment