07 June 2023  |  Jill Lundberg  |  Posted in:

We are thrilled to introduce Royston Robertson, a freelance cartoonist whose work appears regularly in magazines such as Private Eye, The Spectator and others. Royston has exhibited in group and solo shows and is the co-organiser of the Herne Bay Cartoon Festival. Royston has also worked as a journalist, mostly as a sub-editor at The Times, and was part of a team of cartoonists on the TV quiz show Eggheads that gave the team the biggest defeat they had ever had! You can find out more about Royston’s fabulous work at his website or follow him on twitter, Instagram or facebook. 

When people ask how long I have been a cartoonist, I usually say since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I’ve always drawn cartoons, the tricky bit was figuring out how to do it for a living, as there was no clear career path.

I went to Richmond Sixth Form College from St Francis Xavier School in 1984, to do English and History A-levels. I didn’t excel academically but it was still a crucial two years for me. Thanks to the friendships I made and the encouragement of teachers, I started to grow in confidence, having previously been shy and withdrawn.

Drawing cartoons for the student magazine, which were well received, was part of that. My contemporaries may remember the mag, if only because it was printed on a Banda duplicator, so everyone reading it ended up with purple fingers.

After sixth form, I didn’t go straight to university. There was the small matter of needing to get my grades up to scratch. But the hiatus turned out to be a good thing. It was the late 1980s, when Viz comic was becoming big. Inspired by its DIY ethic, and with some sixth-form friends as contributors, I started a similarly rude comic called DoodleBug.

We printed 1,000 copies of each issue, which we took around shops and pubs. It sold well and after reviews by Record Mirror, Radio One’s John Peel and various music fanzines, orders came in from all over the world, which was a big deal in those pre-internet days. We stopped after eight issues as I went to college in 1989, aged 21. But it was a great experience that stayed with me, as did the desire to draw cartoons.

I went to Sunderland Polytechnic and graduated from Sunderland University. Good timing. I still didn’t see cartoons as a career but thought I would probably do “something in the media” so I took a degree in Communication Studies.

While there I drew strips for a succession of college publications. I also became the go-to guy for caricatures for student union election posters, for £5 each. I’m proud to say that everyone I drew was elected – bar one. And she had decided not to use the cartoon, saying it was not flattering. This is ironic because, reader, I married her (this is true!)

After uni, I stayed in Sunderland for a couple of years working as a DJ and drawing paid cartoons for a new student magazine, which was independent from the uni, and for a new wave of dreadful “adult” comics with names like Zit and Spit.

My Dad always advised me to “get a trade to fall back on” and eventually I picked journalism. This involved a move to London in 1994 and a summer course in magazine journalism that led directly to freelance writing for trade mags. But articles about the import/export of fresh produce drove me crazy pretty quickly. The course had included a good grounding in how to write news stories, legal training and shorthand, so I offered my services at the local paper in Walthamstow.

I was there for two years doing the junior reporter routine, learning on the job. A great experience but poorly paid. I became a sub-editor mainly for a pay rise. Subs are the people that design pages, edit stories and write headlines.

It turned out to be work that I was better suited to and I stayed in subbing as I moved on to the Press Association. That led to casual shifts at national papers such as The Independent and The Guardian, a features subbing job at the Daily Mirror, and ultimately a news sub post at The Times, where I stayed for almost five years.

Cartoons were still part of my life though. In 1997, I had started submitting single-panel “gags” to magazines. By the end of the year I had a pile of rejection slips and a little success, in Maxim and Punch. In January 1998, the week I turned 30, I saw my first Private Eye cartoon published, which felt like a big moment.

I put together a basic website to showcase my work and I got a better idea of the business by joining the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain. Slowly I started to get commissioned work, drawing Christmas cards for businesses, cartoons for Law Society Gazette and illustrating two books for Scholastic.

My wife and I moved to Broadstairs on the Kent coast in 2004. Just as I was thinking I’d bitten off more than I could chew with the commute to London, the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy came up. It was a chance to pursue the dream of becoming a full-time cartoonist. It was a scary decision as we had a young child, and another followed not long after, but I took the leap.

Since then, it’s just been a question of keeping on keeping on, which is all you can do as a freelance cartoonist. My cartoons appear regularly in newsstand magazines, but that is on-spec work, so the rejection rate is high. You have to develop a thick skin. But I also do commissioned work for industry publications such as Nursing Standard and am regularly called on to draw cartoons for calendars, cards, books, you name it. I even do live “visualisation” work at business conferences.

So there isn’t really a career path with cartooning. You just have to leap in. That “fall back” trade is a good idea and I have used that, doing freelance subbing and some writing now and then.

Cartooning can be precarious, you have to cast aside notions of job security. But the pay-off is that you get to do a job you love, see a body of work develop over the years, and bring a bit of joy into the world. I think the boy I was at Richmond, drawing those purple smudgy cartoons, would be happy with how things worked out.

You watch a short video of Royston and his cartoons, the process and how he got started in cartooning at

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