On the 18th of February 2012, I was looking at Changchun Friends website and thinking what a lovely name Richard Roman had chosen for his ideas group - The Bumblebees, which he soon changed to Prospero - aiya – now it sounds like a Shakespeare play! I liked the original name because it just sounded like some kids program for 3 year olds and that actually was quite fitting I thought - somehow. But it also got me thinking and I decided to cartoon it. I had never cartooned before but I am very experienced in the PowerPoint drawing tools and it didn't take me long to put it together. The speed I completed it was the important factor because then I knew I could do more even quicker with practice and decided to complete a cartoon strip which included my first 6 characters - Richard Roman and May, Finn and Ward. Steve Mellow and Jack Field – all done and posted in an evening at home. I don’t watch much TV now and spend most of my free time writing songs, stories or cartooning. All of these new cartoon characters had just made me smile at a recent event called Changchun Curmudgeons which the Changchun Live team, Matt and Ferney, caught on video and this gave me all the material I needed to complete the first Choonie cartoon strip.
In the first cartoons I drew the characters very simply and didn't really try to capture them exactly, just so they could be identified and I chose big characters that were known to most. However, with each drawing my skills grew and I now try to get true likenesses. I generally need a photograph now or the person needs to be sitting near and I draw them using only a mouse - I tried a digital pen once but went back to the mouse. I think it may help if you are good at art but it’s mostly technique and a good eye for detail. You must also be dedicated to completing each cartoon usually in one sitting.
The hardest part is getting the subject matter that is interesting or funny or both. And since almost every week someone does something crazy here then even the hardest part is bloody easy, However, the members of Changchun Friends have shown me that it's difficult to please all the people all the time, with some cartoons getting 100s of views and others getting almost ignored. Some of the more complex and detailed cartoons take a fair amount of time to put together, though I enjoy doing them the most, and I suppose it is my favorite pastime now. I do cartoons for other things too - my students are all getting cartooned, I do political cartoons for people in Scotland and I am doing cartoons now for the 100s and 100s of songs and stories I have written over the last 10 years, and there are a few other things in the PIPEline. So it has been a late skill to learn but I am really putting it to good use.
The Choonies Vol. 1 is the first collection of the cartoons I did between the 18th of February 2012 and 20th May 2012. It consisted of 48 pages of cartoons and over 50 characters and was spurred on by the Connect Arts event that was going to be the first display of the cartoons. So the book was put together and printed and it was quite an effort I can tell you. Unfortunately, it got a little or no exposure at this event but that didn’t matter as I had completed a large body of work. Now more importantly because of this work, I was invited to display my book at a huge cartoon convention held at the exhibition centre here in Changchun, the first foreigner to do so. It was a last minute thing and near the end of the week long event. It was a great experience though. Moreover, I have been invited to the next one and this time will get a weekend slot which will give the cartoon book, or by then books, a lot more exposure. I also have my first English songbook finished and printed with 20 of my songs and have just finished my second book of songs with another 20 songs – all I have written here in Changchun. So next year I should have a lot to show.
It has been fun drawing all the cartoons and Vol. 2 is in the making with the first six cartoons already completed. There is so much material out there and so many characters that I haven't cartooned yet and so many more that haven't even arrived yet – just think of the characters that might arrive. The female presence in Changchun is particularly strong at the moment which is great for the balance of the community. It looks as if the rest of the year could be full of stories and therefore cartoons, So I will slowly build up the second volume.
I am having the best time of my life at the moment and I have so many great memories of this great city. Sometimes I feel I am dreaming but each day seems to get better and better. Most of my time these days is spent with my son Thomas and my wonderful wife Mary and of course that thing called work. I rarely get to events or to meet people and couldn’t tell you were any of the new places are to socialise but I still get enough to work with from the traditional haunts that I still get to sometimes and the Changchun Friends and Changchun Live websites. Drawing these cartoons allows me to give something back to the Changchun Friends community that was and still a big part of my life though most of the characters that I knew and loved have moved on. I thank all the characters both current and from the past that have inspired me so far and apologies now to all the ones I will cartoon in the future.
An artist needs emotional times, good or bad, to create the best work. Personally, I work best when the conditions are bad. In Africa. I wrote so many songs while under the worst conditions you could imagine, but ideas just flowed out of me, and I and that community had so much fun with them. These days I have to work hard to find ways to generate emotions to motivate me, out with my family and school, so I am constantly pushing myself or finding ways to do just that. My son Thomas has been a great inspiration and I’ve written so many new songs about him or for him. My students have helped give me other ideas. But most recently they have come from the Changchun Friends community and the relationships I have there.
Finally, if you have any ideas or requests then email them to me.
I hope to teach this skill sometime in the future to Changchun Friends but at present I am just swamped and rarely have a regular schedule so it’s hard to plan additional activities.
But I will try after the summer holidays and then maybe I can have many cartoonists contributing to the Choonies.
Or phone or text me directly 18843172524 though Mahatma Jack always says, “Why don’t you ever answer your ******* phone?”
Volume 1 of the Choonies can be found here
Volume 2 of the Choonies can be found here