I would like to formally introduce myself. My name is Richard Duszczak(Pronounced Du-shack!), I am 57 years old. I have Polish parents, a wife of 26 years and two daughters Samantha and Stephanie. I live in Walton Chesterfield UK. I have worked as a freelance cartoonist for the last 30 years. Which brings me around nicely to the title of my blog…’BORN TO BE A CARTOONIST’
I’d like to go way back to when I was at infant’s school – St.Mary’s Primary School. I’ve racked my brains and I still can’t figure it out. But I remember that I loved going to school. I’d be the first kid at school in a morning, I never missed a day. But I just didn’t like doing the lessons!
Now it’s dawned on me I must have Attention Deficit Disorder before they even knew about it!
I was bottom of the class in most subjects.
I’m the first to admit I am poorly educated – but I only have myself to blame.
But while others were getting prizes for getting top marks in their strong subjects I did get my prize – although it was only a merit for full attendance!
An old friend who seems to have a much better memory than I do reliably informs me that even in junior school I was always drawing funny little pictures in my exercise books. I’ll have to believe him. I remember drawing cartoons in my lessons at a later age but not that far back.
Onto secondary school – not much better I’m afraid.
I definitely remember one day upsetting the teacher while continually messing about and he got so fed up he decided to make an example of me in front of the rest of the class. This was in the days when they still could use the cane. I was given the option of having six of the best on the backside or three whips on the end of the fingers tips. I immediately decided on the three because it was half the punishment…. How wrong was I? The first one nearly killed me – tears of pain and embarrassment trickled down my cheeks. The trouble is I still had another two to come. And for every time I shied away he added another. So I had to close my eyes to take the rest. Oh, and he also made sure he did it on my non-writing hand. I wouldn’t have been able to hold a pen for the rest of the day.
Funnily enough I didn’t misbehave for ages and ages after that. Who said caning doesn’t work has never had it! I am dead against caning because it works – it was a deterrent for me!
Again the main subject of English, Maths and Science had little or no interest to me. But I was pretty good on the practical and creative subjects like woodwork, metal work, technical drawing and art!
There was this art teacher called Mr.Thorpe and he was the guy who really encouraged me to not only draw but do sculpture and pottery – I was in my element. Soon I was top of the class in one subject.
I left school without any qualifications – hang on I did get an O level in art as they were called in those days. Don’t ask about the other subjects.
Drifted in and out of dead end jobs.
I worked in a bed-making factory for two or three weeks. (Got caught sleeping on the job after a heavy night out.)
Went to Birtley Engineering as a junior draftsman – wasn’t too sure if I could settle there – they all wore shirt and ties. My old school tie didn’t fit in there.
Clayton Tannery – I only got to the door and saw all the cow hides. Couldn’t stand the smell so quit on the spot.
Onto Bole Hill Quarry where I thought I was to get me chance at sculpting – at sorts. But after two weeks I found this job was just not going to work – I thought I was going to work with a stonemason – but ended up splitting blocks to make stone fireplace surrounds.
Finally offered a job at Robinson’s of Chesterfield’s largest employer at the time. Finally I got the message that I must settle down and do some real work and forget my dreams of an artistic/creative job.
Although I had settled into a job I was still hoping something better might come up and it did in the way of an apprenticeship. Again my good time keeping was the attribute that helped me get the job.
This kept my parents quiet and having an apprenticeship was the way to go in those days. (For the working class that is.)
The first year was full time down a Chesterfield Technical College – which was one long party. After the first year I’d actually done quite well – mainly because it was a lot of practical stuff. But again on the theory side I struggled.
This consisted of four days in the factory and one day release down at college. Day Release – it sounds like parole or something.
I spent most of my time while on day release drawing caricature of my lecturers. I just wasn’t interested in the engineering side. I didn’t like getting my hands dirty!
While down at college I came across one of those Rag Mags , remember those? They were full of cartoons and jokes. I found out where the material was originated and offered to help out on the cartoons and jokes. Now this is what college was all about for me. Although the Student’s Union were very grateful for my help they didn’t want me their full time.
One of my friends commented on how funny the cartoons and jokes were. Had I ever thought of becoming a cartoonist? A CARTOONIST! THAT’S WHAT I’LL BE!
I visited the library and found a few books on ‘How To Be A Cartoonist’. I started reading everything I could lay my hands on. But I soon ran out, as there weren’t many about. (If you do a search on Google nowadays there’s probably 54,000,000 results).
I cam across some stuff from America advertised in Exchange and Mart – it seemed to be the place where all the cartoonists were and all the information. So I saved up and sent off for everything that mentioned cartooning.
But while looking for these books I came across the book, which changed my life completely. The book was ‘THINK AND GROW RICH by Napolean Hill. Has anyone ever read or heard of this book?
It had absolutely nothing to do with cartooning – but the book gave me the self-belief that I could achieve anything I put my mind to. One of Napoleon’s greatest quotes is: ‘What the mind can conceive it can achieve!’
So the kid with absolutely no qualifications (Besides the O level art one!) started to believe there was a way.
Back to the job at Robinson’s. It was so boring, I worked on a maintenance gang and we only really worked when something broke down. So in between jobs I sat and drew cartoons while studying my cartoon books. I also made it my priority to get those machine running at 100% efficiency, so that I had more time to study my books.
At this time I was working full time and drawing in my spare time I was submitting cartoons to all the newspapers and magazines without any luck. Everything came back rejected – it was hard going and I could have given up a thousand times if it wasn’t for the motivational books I was also now reading. Every time I was on a downer I’d read something inspiring and then knuckle back down. So rejection was actually making me try harder and I was improving all the time in leaps and bounds. Newspapers like the |Daily Mirror got 300 cartoons a day submitted and chose and printed four of five. Competition was fierce especially for an amateur.
Finally, I got a cartoon accepted by Weekly News and they paid me £5! Now considering that my wage was at that time was £8 a week I thought this is good money. I’ll pack my job up straight away! But then back to reality with more rejections slips from newspapers and magazines. Months passed and I did sell the odd one here and there.
Meanwhile back at work, the Engineering union were trying to get us a raise and it was back in the 70’s when you downed tools for the least bit thing. That manager looked at me funny let’s walk out! We tried a few things like ‘working to rule’ and they didn’t have any effect on the management. The only way we were going to get better pay was to have a strike!
So it was an all out strike!
The second major turning point of my life!
While all the maintenance staff picketed the gates I decided to stay at home and draw cartoons all day.
The strike lasted six weeks before all the machines came to a gradual halt with no maintenance.
Luckily for me I was still single and living with my parents and I’d sold a few cartoons, which nearly made up my wages. So I survived okay. But by the end of these six weeks I knew that being a cartoonist is what I wanted to be. On my return to work I handed in my notice.
People laughed at me and my ambitions – but I had made my mind up.
But this was now something I could give 110% effort to. By this time I was reading more self-development books. But my English was still terrible – so I learned to draw a lot of visual cartoons without captions. Which went down well especially in foreign papers and magazines.
Within one year I was making double the amount of a maintenance engineer and I was still getting loads and loads of rejection slips – enough to paper my bedroom wall.
I met other cartoonists at the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain. These guys had been to Art College and were ten times better artists than me. But most of these people were struggling to make a living. Luckily for me I had attended the ‘College Of Hard Knocks’ and all this positive thinking had given me a better background in being successful.
In those days everything went through the post – so in a morning your days was either made or broken by what the postman brought you. Acceptances or rejections. There was no email, no faxes and no web.
I even remember going to see an editor of a new magazine called Horse and Pony. She looked at my efforts – bearing in mind I knew nothing about horses or ponies and do you know what she said and did? There’s only one place for these! Do you know where these are going? (To print I questioned?) No way! These are absolute crap!
You know nothing about the subject. I didn’t bother getting them out of the bin!
One Birthday I got a few joke cards and friends said I could do better – yes, I could I agreed. So off I went down to the card shops and bought those that had the company contact details on the back. So I had another market to explore.
I got some jobs writing humorous gags with card companies and soon made a name for myself for writing risqué card jokes. At that time I got around £25 for the gags and the artist who illustrated them got £75. Easy money! But most publishers said they loved my gags but my artwork wasn’t up to standard. Out came the positive thinking books again. I’ll show them I thought. But £25 a gag was still good money, so I started doing quick sketches to go with these to help get the ideas across. I was working for all the major high street publishers of greetings cards. Then one day a publisher said my sketchy style was very refreshing and said I could illustrate any gags I got accepted. Over night I was on four times as much pay!
I was on the road to success!
There were still plenty of highs and lows along the way and things weren’t always rosy. But I loved what I was doing and the challenge each new day brought. I loved what I was doing and had no problem leaping out of bed on a cold frosty morning.
This was the life I wanted.
By this time I had gotten married and my new wife wasn’t too pleased with the peaks and troughs that working in the greetings cards industry presented. You have to remember that everything I did was speculative. If I didn’t deliver funny material I didn’t get paid.
Simple as that!
I still had a great belief in my gag writing skills and my artwork was improving all the time. Even today I find new ways of doing things on the computer. Different art packages make drawing more creative.
I did start looking for different work and started marketing myself to book publishers and again my gag writing caught the eye of some editors. What my wife liked about this most was that I got a contract with each job. So we knew we were going to get paid no matter what. The work wasn’t quite as creative or as exciting/rewarding – seeing my work in card shops always gave me a thrill.
Which brings me up to the present day; I still do a lot of educational book illustrating! What me doing educational books – I did spend quite a lot of time reading some of these and art editors told me off for being a bit slow – just do the cartoons and don’t bother reading the whole book! I still do a few greetings cards for creative directors I’ve built a relationship with but insist on some advance before I start.
Other areas of my work involves with public relations agencies, advertising and design agencies. Even Joe Bloggs who’s trying to get more people into his chip shop. It’s the variety that makes this the best job in the world for me.
Watch this space!