5th Jun 2024
3 Min Read

Let there be laughs: how cartoons will catapult your comms

Pete Fletcher
Pete Fletcher
IC & Engagement

In a world where comms are so often dappled in dour, a smile has pulling power. Creative consultant Pete Fletcher sat down with editorial cartoonist Kipper Williams to discuss his career and how we can all harness humour to land even the heaviest of messages.

Pete: Kipper, it’s great to finally meet you. We’ve seen your work in some of the biggest news and media publications and you’ve still had time to help us and our clients make comms that little bit lighter. How did it all start?

Kipper: Great to meet you, too, Pete. As a kid, I was drawn to comics like The Beano. I would lay on the floor and draw for hours: footballers, cowboys – even my teachers. They liked being drawn; it was the teachers I didn’t draw that objected. People like to be noticed, even if it’s not overly complimentary like a cartoon.

Pete: So how did you get from caricaturing your teachers to appearing in likes of The Guardian or The Spectator?

Kipper: I began to draw music cartoons for my student newspaper and quickly moved to capturing some of the biggest stars – like Michael Jackson and Boy George – for Smash Hits.

Very quickly I realised that, when I would draw, I was able to create a whole world around a subject, even if I knew nothing about it. It’s why I started at some other smaller publications. I’d be asked to draw for features on things like skiing. Having never been skiing myself, I was drawing ski boots that looked nothing like the real thing which made it even funnier.

Pete: You’ve touched on one of the powers of cartoons there. As an artist, you can afford to approach the subject from a wider angle. Most people know next to nothing about the subject matter, so drawing on that parallel lack of experience is relatable.

ET Tik Tok ban
Credit: Copyright Kipper Williams. Originally published in Engineering and Technology Magazine.

Serious doesn’t have to be stale

Pete: Some people may think a cartoon trivialises a subject, bringing humour where there shouldn’t be any; have you ever experienced that?

Kipper: Most of the time cartoons are about serious stuff – in serious publications – but that’s why they’re so brilliant. I’ve tackled financial crashes, climate change, even the pandemic, all are heavy topics but they lend themselves perfectly to cartoons. The drawing is an entry point to difficult, dry or complex subjects – as an artist you can make the inaccessible, accessible.

Pete: I see it as a conversation starter, the cartoon is the spark that ignites our curiosity.

Kipper: Exactly. And you’ll find people are more tolerant to cartoons, you can get away with more than you can with words. It’s light-hearted, you’re giving people permission to laugh, and they love that.

Unearthing the amusing

Pete: You’ve had an incredible career spanning decades: I can imagine you’ve had some unusual clients and briefs in that time?

Kipper: I definitely have. The stuff that’s the most surprising is the most technical – where there seems like there’s almost no humour. You sit down to work and think ‘surely I can’t get anything out of this?’ But it’s because of that, that you swing the other way, making something silly to create that pulling power.

Pete: What springs to mind?

Kipper: I’ve been working on a piece for an engineering magazine on the history of pendulums and pendulum clocks – it’s a complex subject, and a challenge to work on, but that can provide a scope for loose thinking.

ET Eccentric Engineer Swing into Spring cartoon
Credit: Copyright Kipper Williams. Originally published in Engineering and Technology Magazine.

Simplicity is everything

Pete: The look and feel of your cartoons are so iconic, so unmistakable; has your style changed throughout your career at all?

Kipper: I’ve almost always used dip pens and nibs – it’s scratchy and laid back but it suits the subject and the method – it lends itself to fun. The one thing I have learnt along the way is that, like any message you’re trying to share, simplicity is the key.

When I get carried away with too much detail or labelling, I force myself to simplify things and to leave those elements out, even if it means starting again.

Pete: When I’m working on anything for a client, I ask myself ‘what can I take away from it, to land the message in the simplest form?’ There’s nearly always an element you can take away to make it even better.

Kipper: And that’s what makes cartoons so powerful. They’re a minority and it’s because the art form is sparing that they work wonders.

We’ve collaborated with Kipper and his iconic cartoons to engage colleagues at many global organisations. If you want to harness the power of humour to land a meaningful message, get in touch hello@scarlettabbott.co.uk

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