My former life as a cartoon writer

In 2006, when I was 25, my flatmate Zarina Liew was a very talented aspiring illustrator, and as two Asian girls, she and I decided to produce a range of greeting cards for girls with the tongue-in-cheek name Love You Long Time. The venture was emphatically not a success, and I think I lost around £4,000 altogether trying to get it off the ground. It was the first of my three failing businesses. (Remind me never to start a business again!)


Then my lovely journalist friend Michael Shaw put a cartoon strip we created forward for a slot in his newspaper, the Times Education Supplement. Our bid was successful, and our cartoon All-Time High ran for six months in the magazine that came with the paper. We used the weekly £150 payment to replenish the £4,000 savings I’d lost on the greeting card business!

Each week, I would script the cartoon and send it to Zarina, and she would produce the strip. Here’s my favourite of our efforts:

TES - 'Definitions'.png

This next strip was based on my experiences at school, as teachers’ default positions seem to be that kids have a great relationship with their parents:

TES - 'Mother's Day'.png

And here’s another one I quite liked:

TES - 'Mendacity'.png

I really enjoyed scripting All-Time High, but the editor at the TES who was responsible for commissioning it (who has now left the paper) wanted to exert more and more control over it. At first everything was fine – we’d just deliver the cartoons each week – but then she wanted to see the scripts before they were inked; next she wanted to agree the topics before they went to script stage; finally she was vetoing everything I suggested. Eventually it became impossible to continue, and I quit in fury, thinking she was being thoroughly unreasonable.

Having been a journalist for many years now, I’ve yet to encounter this kind of control freakery again, so I think I was probably right. It’s a shame though, as it was a fun gig and I would have liked to carry on.

I can’t draw like Zarina, but I dabble from time to time. I wrote a little children’s book which never got published, about a hippo who wanted to be a supermodel, and I drew this illustration as part of it:


Here was the text:

Hetty the hippo and the supermodel dream

As Hetty the hippo
Lay dreaming in bed
A wonderful vision
Swam into her head

Of walking a runway
In beautiful clothes
Fine frocks on her figure
High heels on her toes

She leapt out of bed then
To tell all the land
About her ambition
So epic and grand

“A famed supermodel’s
What I want to be!”
Brave Hetty confided
To friends over tea

Alas, she was faced
With both laughter and scorn
At first, Rae the rhino
Sighed, tossing her horn

“What makes you think
You could strut like a star?
A massive fat hippo
Is all that you are!”

“She’s right!” chimed Pandora
The petulant pig
“Like me, you can’t model
We’re both much too big!”

“I won’t let that stop me!”
Het cried, undeterred
“Who cares what my size is?
That’s truly absurd!”

“We care,” hissed Camilla
The sleek and mean cat
“The whole of the world thinks
You’re simply too fat!”

Poor Hetty felt crushed
And her dream now seemed bleak
A single large tear
Made its way down her cheek

She stumbled away
Through the forests and streams
Vowing to give up
Her big fashion dreams

“Hey,” came a voice
“I don’t know who you are,
But your figure’s amazing
I’ll make you a star!”

Hetty turned round
And a jackal stood there
“I’m Jen,” she explained
“What great curves! What good hair!”

“But there’s no time to waste
Let’s not stand here and talk
My show’s in an hour
Please say that you’ll walk?”

Hetty was thrilled
Soon she donned fancy clothes
Sashayed down the runway
And strutted and posed

“This is the life!”
Hetty smiled, “It’s a doddle!”
For Hetty the hippo
Was finally a model.

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The time I made a man pick his nose

My dad was a film lecturer, and was always visiting London film institutions like the BFI, the NFT and the Goethe Institute, often with me in tow. One day when I was eight years old, he took me to London’s Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI for short) on the South Bank. It was fascinating: there were all kinds of activities for kids to do, but the one I remember best was drawing your own animation.

You were given a long strip of paper with eight rectangles on it, and told to draw a cartoon. You drew a similar scene in each rectangle, with a subtle change. Then, when you slotted the paper into a round spinner called a zoetrope (shaped a bit like a lampshade; the paper filled the inside of the lampshade) and spun it, you could see your animation come to life.

zoetrope.jpg[A zoetrope I nicked off Wikipedia. That’s not my carpet, I PROMISE.]

As I was rude and cheeky, I thought it would be funny to draw a man picking his nose. I started with his finger below his nose, then made him push it into his nostril, then pull it out covered with green slime.

My dad, who shared my sense of humour, thought the animation was hilarious, and laughed uproariously when he saw it. He said to me: ‘Next time, do something really raunchy!’

I frowned: ‘What does ‘raunchy’ mean, Daddy?’

‘Really rude and naughty!’ he replied, smirking.

‘OK,’ I said, baffled but pleased to be given carte blanche to draw rude things.

I don’t think we ever visited again though. And sadly, the Museum of the Moving Image closed down 12 years later, so I can’t even continue the family tradition by taking my eight-year-old there and telling her to draw a cow farting.

Funny Toddler[Me, aged three or four. I don’t have any photos of myself
from the ages of five to ten, so this will have to do.]

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