Nigel Parkinson, Cartoonist

Nigel Parkinson, Cartoonist
This is him, at a recent Comic Con

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Secrets of the Comics Biz Part Three

I haven't always been a successful cartoonist. Believe it or not, 35 years ago in the summer of 1982, I was anything but. They say success is built on skill, ability, talent or hard work. And maybe it is, but in my experience, there's also 'luck'.

Between autumn 1980 and spring 1982 I had managed to finally get a few jobs drawing comics. But I was losing more jobs than I was gaining. With a friend (I thought she was a friend but turned out she wasn't) I had begun to look for other illustration jobs. We eventually got some work with a TV station, and one or two other bits of commissions. I had nearly given up on being a comics cartoonist, I was starting to feel left behind. But we set out on a hot day in July 1982 to a final big push around publishers in London. We had our portfolio cases with us and struck out with the Writers and Artists Yearbook to visit all the publishers who would see us.

Well I won't bore you with the sad tale of our reception at these places. We ended up at 2 O'clock in the afternoon in a tatty, deserted pub in Chalk Farm downing two pints of lager. It was a very dispiriting afternoon. We were just wondering whether we ought to try some more publishers or get the train home when the door burst open, and what I vividly recall as a whirlwind of colour and cheerful shouting charged in. On closer inspection, it was five young women with instrument cases, gloriously mad hair and bright outfits.

After a while, two of the girls came over to us and asked what we had in our portfolios? "Are you dress designers?" asked one "I'm always looking for new ideas!" We said we weren't, we didn't know what we'd be in the morning, but up until now we'd fancied ourselves as Comic cartoonists. "Let's have a look then!" another of them demanded.

We reluctantly opened our cases, explaining that we were out of luck looking for work. "Maybe because we're not very good" I offered. "Don't say that!" said one of the girls, a very tall one who reminded me of a really young Penelope Keith in her poised precise speech, "I shall inform you if you're any good!" She had a good look at my stuff and looked at me very deliberately (I later found out she was very short sighted and that was why she fixed you with a look!) and, pointing at one page, said "this is as good as any cartoon I've ever seen, matey! Don't you dare give up, if you do I'll have to come looking for you!"

Around this point, my "friend" realized who these women were- we had both seen them on Top of The Pops the week before, in fact; they were five of The Belle Stars, and my new booster was sax player Miranda Joyce, who we'd seen singing their hit record, 'The Clapping Song'!

We all chatted for another hour or so, and promised to come and see the band play, and all of the Belle Stars were very charming and pleasant company, but for most of that time, Miranda and I spoke, mainly trivial nonsense about nothing, but I felt so buoyed and confident that a glamorous and fascinating stranger had offered me such unqualified encouragement and support that I felt I'd met someone very special indeed.

When I got back to Liverpool, that short afternoon had somehow changed my attitude. Permanently, as it turned out. I've been relentlessly positive and optimistic ever since. I'd never met a young, successful, artistic Londoner before; in the North our most upbeat catchphrase was 'it's not too bad'. Generally, things were a bit downbeat, especially in the unhappy, downtrodden Liverpool of the early 80s. Miranda's cheerful confident positivity was contagious and I determined to get more work and strive to be a success. I even put Miranda in a Beano comic when she later became a famous make up artist as a sort of secret thank you!

I mentioned this incident to Miranda many years later (see photo!) true to form, she didn't recall it at all, but was glad she'd made such a difference to me.
Lucky day for me.


Lew Stringer said...

Smashing origin story, Nigel! Glad you stuck with it!

Kid said...

If you hadn't made it as a cartoonist, NP, what do you think you'd have done, career-wise? And forgive my nosiness, but I find myself fascinated in the untold details of how your female friend turned out not to be - a friend that is. Did she ever make it as a cartoonist?

NP said...

I don't know what I'd have done to earn a living. I was drawing at 15 months of age when my granddad showed me how to hold a pencil (he'd been a draughtsman and stonemason). Nothing else appealed.
As for my 'friend' she didn't make it as a cartoonist, she went to art school after this and became an "artist"! The full story of how she turned out not to be a friend is a little odd and I only have a cameo appearance in the tale, maybe I'll flesh out the anecdote here one day.

Kid said...

Ooh, I'll look forward to that 'cos it sounds interesting (he said, with unholy anticipation).

John Parker said...

Great Anecdote!

Wd99 said...

I think she appeared in one of you're 2014 Minnie the minx strips where she gave Minnie a makeover.

NP said...

She did, she gets around.