E&M‘s editor Sam Stevenson caught up with 23-year-old political cartoonist, Seamus Jennings, to discover more about his rarefied vocation and delve deeper into the acerbic and withering world of political satire.
London-based Seamus Jennings is an artist—and a journalist. That’s because Seamus is a political cartoonist. To master this niche and visually unique form of media, you must be well versed in current affairs and have an innate creative flair.
And Seamus has just that.
“It is art and journalism at the same time,” he tells me over a pint of IPA in a noisy London watering hole. “But, first and foremost, I think it has to be journalism. To have that political angle is what distinguishes it from general illustration.”
Seamus began his fledgling career in visual representation at university. He started by designing art work for a university club called the Electronic Music Society. While he enjoyed the creative outlet, he yearned for something more. So he turned his hand to drawing caricatures of well-known political figures, such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. His designs lampooned their subjects in an amusing way. Before long, the aspiring cartoonist was getting his work published in hard-left-wing British newspaper the Morning Star.
There are only so many variations on ‘this is a disaster’ that you can draw as a cartoonist
His work now enjoys regular publication in national newspaper titles such as The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Times. Although Seamus says he has never felt “leant on” by an editor, he is aware of the differing editorial stances of different newspaper titles. But it is always in the papers’ interests to have a wide spread of opinion within their editorial pages, he believes.
“With more left-wing papers – like the Guardian – you can do a lot more darker stuff,” he explains. “They are happy with black humour. Whereas with the Telegraph, for example, look for a joke – they would rather have funny gag before something hard-hitting and dark.”
Seamus reveals the majority of the cartoonists he meets are usually much older than him. He only knows of one other person his age doing it—even they are six years older.
So how do others in the industry react?
“I think they are quite surprised,” he reveals. “Everyone in the industry is a bit eccentric. You are a bit like an outlier. There are cartoonists who make a point of not going to awards ceremonies and journalists jamborees. And I think that is healthy because cartooning is a little spot of anarchy in a paper.
“And you don’t want to be hobnobbing with the people you are criticising – and it is a very critical medium. It is very cynical – a lot of the job is looking for the worst in behaviour and then trying to make a joke out of it.”
Seamus likes to use different media to compose his work. “I do all my work on paper in watercolour, ink and sometimes mixed media,” he reveals. “Just whatever looks right. I’m not a purist about how it is put together.”
Sometimes the most concerning news makes for some of the best satire. And political cartooning is no exception. “The worse a news story is, the more material you have got for a cartoon,” Seamus confesses. “I’m not talking about disasters or anything like that. Someone like Berlusconi – like a villain – of course, he represented a terrible blight on Italy. But as a cartoonist, someone like him is almost a gift. Boris Johnson is fun to draw. And Trump as well.”
Brexit is how Seamus gets a lot of his ideas. “The thing with Brexit and Trump is that there is a bit of inertia that has set in now – where there are so few angles to take on what is going on,” he explains. “When something becomes such a monumental fuck up as Brexit – and Trump’s presidency as well, but especially Brexit, from day one you could have called the mistakes that have happened.”
Seamus adds: “But there are only so many variations on ‘this is a disaster’ that you can draw as a cartoonist. Sometimes editors just want to avoid Brexit and move on to a different topic – because readers get bored of it. But then again it is also important. So you have got to still try and come with new takes on it.”
What advice would the young artist give to those looking to break into his profession – or the world of journalism generally? “It is about having the humility to know there are people better than you,” he argues. “And that is definitely what works in journalism – I think there is an idea that you have got to be bullish and you can only get ahead if you are uber-competitive and you are willing to scalp other people out of the competition but, actually, it is more about just being nice, friendly and, to an extent, just humbling yourself a bit.”
Featured Image: A copy of a Seamus Jennings cartoon, published on September 20, 2018, in The Guardian | Photo: Seamus Jennings via Instagram-@seamusjennings