Gone are the virtuoso performances of the past. Can’t remember when I was last given a double-page spread to illustrate. “Do your own thing, Ian. No roughs. Take as long as you want.” Where’s the gutter? I think I’ll lie in it with a pile of ageing tear sheets for a pillow upon which to rest my disillusioned head. I’ll wake up having never heard of myself. “Ian Pollock? Who’s he?”
Middle-aged angst has overwhelmed this angry, quintessential, middle-class misfit with a penchant for drawing and a sneaky feeling that he can make money out of sitting at a desk, doodling in the marginalia of telephone directories, or drawing silly pictures for anyone daft enough to fund not-having-a-proper-job. If the truth be told, I’m a lazy bastard! I’d love to have had a no.1 hit in the sixties and be famous for ever.
Compare what we earn to that of a professional sportsman; a premiership footballer kicking a goat’s bladder around a manicured lawn for ninety minutes on a Saturday afternoon for a King’s ransom. Us illustrators barely receive the minimum wage for the same ninety minutes work, the other twenty-two hours and thirty minutes of felicitous rumination we give free, out of the goodness of our art. Illustration isn’t a profession, we’re tradesmen, at best a charity. We’re a league of Eddie Eagles. Illustration where is thy sting?
What is the alternative? Stacking shelves at B&Queue or flipping burgers in some jacked-up caravan at the entrance of a third division football club.
I feel like the dirty old man of illustration who hasn’t yet been sectioned under the mental health act.
I recently took a peek at one of my old diaries, the equivalent day in January 1984. I was doing a job for the Observer Magazine, first job in all week, convinced my career was ending after just ten years’ subservience. That was twenty years ago. Funny. Surely I was turning down three jobs a week, or was it the same three jobs week after week, or was it just my imagination looking through the rose-coloured fug of two decades? Dare I conclude that nothing has changed or is it different this time? I have a feeling the tide has gone so far out it can’t remember its way back to the foreshore. Even the moon doesn’t know where it is anymore. All these damned computers! Someone defended computers by describing them as just “a tool” in the illustrator’s arsenal. I’d say they were more like a cyanide capsule in the despot’s hollowed tooth. All this damned software littering the beach. If Palaeolithic man had stumbled across the computer rather than the flint, just imagine the revolution there would be today if Bill Gates had given us the Gillott 303 nib - there’d be a sketchbook in every house. I’ve always had this image of the point of a pen being the Lord’s stylus through which his Will be done, it being the point of contact between the physical and that other world which us illustrator’s inhabit. As for proper artists they only have to pickle their grandmothers and indulge in a little body piercing in order to gain access to the Great Sphincter in the Sky. The Camera saw off painting as a serious threat to art, only the primitive painter and illustrator endured. The noble art director took on the mantle of royal patron and darkness and confusion spread like a miasma across the land and into the portfolios of the image-makers.
I don’t wish to vilify our palliative cottage industry but illustrators were never meant to adorn the walls of palaces, or earn a living wage, or hold the country to ransom by withdrawing their services. The most we dare hope for is to be tomorrow’s litter, or a book jacket in some small-town charity shop.
Let me ask you in all honesty: if you were lying on your deathbed staring into the twilight with, say, a couple of days left, would you take on that job from Ann O’Dyne at Heaven Monthly for less than a plumber earns in an hour, artwork needed by yesterday, rough by the day before that; or would you immolate yourself by swallowing a pocketful of Gillott 303 nibs? I know what I’d do.by Ian Pollock