Cartoonist is drawing up a big reputation at home and abroad

09/18/2008

Cameron

Oct 18 2008 by Peter Elson, Liverpool Daily Post

Phil Disley is drawing himself an international reputation from a Liverpool back room. Peter Elson reports THERE’S a word that award-winning Liverpool cartoonist Phil Disley uses to describe his character – and that’s “average”. In terms of his pushiness in a highly competitive field, he comes across as below average, but, in terms of international success as a cartoonist, he’s not average at all, he’s exceptional. From a spare bedroom-cum-studio in Liverpool’s leafy suburb of Aigburth, he pours out work for Britain’s national press and, increasingly, the US media. Given that Liverpool was once the vital link to the US, here is a man who is single-handedly keeping that special trading relationship open. Surrounded by his framed covers from a plethora of leading publications, he draws away with a row of faxes laid along the floor, detailing each commission in deadline order. By the studio door is a Spectator magazine cover of Tory leader David Cameron shown as a blue chameleon on a branch, snapping off a symbolic Labour red rose. This was a response to the jibe that backfired, with Labour accusing Cameron of acting like a chameleon to different voter groups. Alongside is a framed typed letter to the Spectator’s editor from Cameron, who has added by hand “I love the picture”. He later bought the original. Phil, 37, has just received an editorial award from The Association of Illustrators, presented to him by one of his heroes, artist Quentin Blake. This was for a drawing of Winston Churchill, called Mad Churchill, commissioned by The Guardian newspaper for a feature about mental illness and specifically manic depression. While Churchill is shown in the throes of his “black dog” depression, Phil himself is glowing with pleasure at this premier national award. The judges’ citation reads: “Although a familiar image, the illustration brilliantly uses a few simple strokes to completely change the subject’s personality, while creating an original image and excellently meeting its brief.” Phil says: “Many caricatures distort faces, but this was an attempt to retain his look while conveying his state. I sent it off to the competition and forgot about it. I can’t believe I got a silver award. “It was fantastic to get the award from the legend that is Quentin Blake. “I have fondest memories as a kid of his illustrations of Roald Dahl stories like James and the Giant Peach and The Witches. “Quentin’s characters are in the British sub-conscious, they’re kind of scatty, but informed and win through against all the odds.” About the only set-back in latter years was the shelving of a long-awaited animation series for BBC3, but he’s hopeful that the team will eventually succeed. As a favourite Spectator cover artist, he has just provided the second edition cover for its newly-launched Australian off-shoot, edited by Oscar Humphries, son of comedian Barry. Ask him whom he’s worked for and he goes blank (“I have the short-term memory of a goldfish”), but most recently he has provided a cover for journalist Anthony Holden’s poker book, Hold ’em. His pictures also adorn the Mocha Lounge, in Sir Thomas Street, Liverpool. His impressive regulars include The Tablet (“that’s not about drugs, but godly things”), The Wall Street Journal, The Times, Financial Times, GQ Men’s Magazine, Decanter wine magazine, Ace tennis magazine, Golf World in the US. Besides caricatures, he’s great on visual gags and quietly witty in person. Our interview takes place while he takes a break from doing a cover for the US Federal Computer Week. “In America, I worked for The Inquirer, which is the largest selling mag in the world. It’s a trashy version of Britain’s OK and also did stuff for its sister magazine called US,” he says. “Contrasted with that was a drawing for The Boston Magazine about the art market. Then the 9/11 attack happened and everything went quiet, but it’s finally picking up.” The son of an insurance salesman and a housewife, Phil was brought up in an “average” working class household. Art and sport, especially cricket, have always been a big part of his life. Married to a GP, his sport suffered with the arrival of his two children. Recalling his own upbringing, he says: “At Dovedale Infants School, we would spend half the day doing art and the other half doing sums.” Afterwards, at Quarry Bank School, art remained a passion. He left with eight O-levels and two A-levels and was, he says, a “very average” pupil. Following a one-year foundation course at Liverpool Hope University, he applied to study graphics at Liverpool University – but was rejected. Luckily, his second choice, Newcastle University, provided an above average course. Then the real graft started with a duff job in a jewellers shop, which wasn’t average, but simply awful. During holidays, he travelled to London with folios of his work, dropping them off at art directors. A year later, the London Evening Standard hired him to illustrate chef Albert Roux’s column, and he has literally never stopped working. So how does he relax when not drawing? “I’m working on a children’s book. I’ve written the text and will illustrate it.” 

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