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Sage Fright

Graham Rawle is perhaps best known for the long-running 'Lost Consonants' series in The Guardian newspaper, although his illustrations have also adorned the pages of GQ, Arena, Cosmopolitan, The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph Magazine. A successful author, his published books include 'The Wonder Book of Fun', 'Lying Doggo' and 'Diary of an Amateur Photographer'.

With his cut 'n' paste approach to illustration, Graham has been described on the messageboard as the 'Godfather of Photoshopping,' despite doing most of his work with scissors.

We asked him for an interview, and the b3ta boarders came up with the questions.

Where did you get the idea for doing such a surreal cartoon?
(dr goodthrust)
I didn't think my carton was particularly surreal. Perhaps you mean my cartoon. I like surrealism when it's borne out of something normal. I think it's funny to imagine an illustrator getting a typing error in a brief who unquestioningly carries out the task and ends up doing a completely different picture. "Dear Bob, we'd like you to illustrate the collected woks of William Shakespeare"

Are you dyslexic? (speaking as a dyslexic myself)
No, I'm not dyslexic. One of the things that prompted the idea was seeing a note left by a girlfriend's flat mate that said, "If you go out, make sure you close all the windows. I don't want to come home to find buglers in the living room." I know burglars and buglers are spelt differently, but I thought it would make a nice picture.

What reaction are you hoping for from your audience? Laugh, groan, slap on forehead, bang head on desk..?
Laugh, choke on food, fall off chair, die.

Can you tell us about you & Tony Hart?
I won a painting competition when I was 14. The prize, a holiday in Italy, was presented by Tony Hart at an award ceremony in London. He told me I should get my hair cut because I looked like a girl. He was wearing a flowery shirt with a cravat and lots of after-shave.

Is there one consonant that seems to go missing more than any other?
I've never checked, but I suspect it's probably S.

Does that text message language with missing vowels annoy you?
Nt rlly.

Do people ever get you mixed up with Bill Bryson, the Lost Continent guy?
No, but I hope people get him mixed up with me. I was originally going to call the series Missing Consonants but Bryson's Lost Continents was very big at the time so it seemed funnier to play on that.

Which is your favourite ever Lost Consonant?
Every time the doorbell rang, the dog started baking.

How do you feel about the Yorkshire dialect? Since we can drop any ot'letters from t'words we care t' use.
I grew up in Sheffield. There were no rules. It was linguistic mayhem. I had to get out.

If you were to stage an illegal fight, which two animals would you choose to fight each other and why?
A horse and a sardine. Sardines are surprisingly plucky fighters.

What is your favourite consonant? Do the ones you lose end up on Countdown?
X would have to be my favourite letter, and OXO my favourite word because of it's perfect symmetry. I don't know what happens to all the lost consonants. I think a lot of the Cs and Zs end up in Poland.

Reluctant horse

What's your favourite joke?
Knock knock
Who's there?
M.A.B. It's a big horse
M.A.B. It's a big horse who?
M.A.B. It's a big horse I'm a Londoner

Do you know any other joes?
I know two Joes but I can never remember them.

Is it just coincidence that the paper that carries humour about The Lost Consonants is The Grauniad, who have a reputation for getting their consonants (and vowels for that matter) very mixed up?
It's just coindicence.

What is your favourite pun? Have you ever had anyone complain about the tenuousness (or otherwise) of your punnage?
I think that over the years my puns about eyes have got cornea and cornea.

If you could illustrate any book in the whole world (for bucket loads of money) what would it be?
I prefer to illustrate my own books. But somebody else's? Hmmm. Probably Alice in Wonderland.

Do you ever get "consonant block" (like writer's block but smaller)? Do your readers ever send suggestions?
I often have trouble making a line work or finding the right pictures. I get a lot of suggestions from readers through my website and mostly they're pretty good, but I've usually done them before.

When did you last fall over?
About five minutes ago. Oops, there I go again.

I once worked with a psychiatrist who used your 'electric sock therapy' picture to decorate his ECT folder. Have you any other examples of people using your work appropriately? Someone famous perhaps?
People often buy the original artwork (sale now on at grahamrawle.com - only £200+vat - what a bargain) because of some connection with a name, subject or profession. I've sold work to lots of famous people.

hand-painted globe

What websites do you like? (no crawling or self promotion please...)
I'm not much of a surfer: I get enough distractions as it is. But Harry Hill's site is funny.

Ever had any copyright problems using some of the elements in your work ?
I'm pretty careful to disguise my source material so it's never really happened, though I did once get told off by D.C.Thompson for using the Beano in a picture. And one of my Wonder Quiz puzzles that showed a man holding a red cross prompted a snooty letter from the Red Cross Society, who informed me that I was not allowed to use a red cross or the words Red Cross Parcel because they owned the copyright on it. I would have thought a red cross was pretty universal symbol, but hey ho.

Do you wander round looking at road signs and biscuit packet labels, dropping various letters in your head? Doesn't it drive you nuts? Can you switch off?
I try not to think about it until I have to. It can become quite obsessive.

Do you ever meet people who have no idea who you are, and tried explain what it is that you do?
It's very difficult because I work in lots of different ways. I do 2-D and 3-D work, photography, installation and I write. So the only sensible job description is 'Artist' but that always sounds pretentious. I don't know why it should. It's just a job like anything else.

Would it be right to ask "Is this an English 'thing'?"? If so, is this an English 'thing'?
(rainman of mighty)
Yes, it would be right to ask, and yes, it probably is.

What sentence can you make up using the words train, pineapple, spoon, kitten, jumper, drunken and finally... socks?
The Olympic high jumper was unable to train his drunken kitten to spoon pineapple chunks into his socks.

We're getting a bit sick of kittens at b3ta. Can you suggest another funny animal?
I find sheep very funny.

What is the most important thing you've lost?
My James Bond bubble gum cards, traumatically taken away from me when I was eight.

Have you ever done a rude Lost Consonant?
(Canada Joe)
I've done "Andrew Lloyd Webber writing another hit musical". And there are a few rude ones on the list that I haven't done. Canal and anal is nice, as in "He was taking a barge up the canal passageway."

I loved the Diary of an Amateur Photographer. Any more book projects in the pipeline?
Yes. I'm writing a book about a manic depressive who believes himself to be a crime fighting hero off television whose identity has been changed by enemy agents.

How the hell did you come up with the Michael Wittingham character for the Diary of an Amateur Photographer? He's an awful man. Do you know him?
He seems quite real to me now but he isn't based on anybody. At times I would just let him tell his story. If you write in character it's surprising what comes out. He is an awful man but I feel sort of sorry for him.

Diary Of An Amateur Photographer

If you were a superhero what would your special power be?
The ability to travel through time.

Do you ever get stuck and wish you'd never started it?
I used to do another series, When Words Collide, for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. They were really hard to think of and I often wondered why I'd suggested it. But Lost Consonants isn't too bad. I leave it until the very last minute each week but always seem to come up with something in time.

Who's your favourite newspaper illustrator? And why?
Gary Larson. Very funny.

Where do you find all of your 1950's looking imagery?
Magazines, catalogues. I have a vast collection built up over the years.

Do you really make your work using paper cut-outs or is it done digitally?
It's all done by hand, cutting bits out and sticking them down. It's all very primitive but I prefer to spend my day looking through old books and magazines rather than staring at a computer screen.

How do you get the saturation and colour right for those old fifties and sixties pics?
I don't fiddle too much once it's been scanned. For the 50s photos in Diary of an Amateur Photographer I took a lot of magenta out of the pictures before staining them with tea and kicking them round the studio. I do use the computer to assemble pictures sometimes but the approach is very non-digital. No colours or type are sourced from the computer. Everything is done by hand first.

Puppies or kittens?
Mmm, difficult one. Kittens for bathroom, puppies for kitchen.

If you could ask "God" a question... which question?
Has Earth ever been visited by aliens from another planet (or was that just my Dad dressed up with a TV aerial on his head?)

What question would you hate to be asked? And what's the answer?
Do you know the way to San Jose?
No, sorry, I don't.

Colonel Cuter

Do you play scrabble and if so, are you any good?
I haven't played for years. I'm better at making words than scoring points. I think this probably says a lot about my career.

Does it annoy you when people pronounce "Consonant" as "Constinant"? Do you stop, wag your finger and correct them?
I never correct anybody, but I'm surprised how many people say "Lost Consternence".

Is being able to draw a gift, or can you learn it?
I'm not sure, but I think you can learn to draw a gift.

On average how many letters/emails do you get in a week, asking you to explain a joke?
Not many, but people I meet often confess this to me.

Does anyone you know actually "cut out and collect the series"?
Several people have told me that they cut them out. One man told me he had saved every single one since the series began in 1990.

Do you have a backlog of jokes to work on in future Lost Consonants?
Sort of. I have a list of word ideas that for some reason don't quite work that I turn to if I can't think of anything new.

Have you ever illustrated mucky books?
No. I've never been asked.

If you were to join the Blazin' Squad, what would your name be?
I don't know what the Blazin' Squad is, but my name would be Susan.

Were you surprised when the one about the singing frog inside the lump of rock turned out to be true?
Yes, that was from my Lying Doggo series. I don't think it was singing exactly, but it was alive.

Can you teach us "MA Sequential Design" in 10 words or less?
Yes. Sequential Design, it's just one damn thing after another.

Would it be fair to say that Lost Consonants is a single great idea, repeated endlessly?
Yes, that would be fair. I only intended to do a series of 30 or 40, but no-one at The Guardian told me to stop so I keep sending them in. I've now done over 600. Now I think it's funny that it just keeps going on endlessly.

"Monkey brain tastes like watery tofu." Tell us your favourite one line fact.
The duck-billed platypus would rather eat torch batteries than any other food.

Yuletide Gladness

Do you like Christmas? If so, is there anything special you'll be asking Santa for?
I love Christmas. I'm hoping Santa will be bringing me a Cadburys selection box and a Shetland pony.

Has you ever been tempted you to drop a vowel instead? Would you be left feeling dirty and depressed, as though the world had lost its meaning?
No, I'd feel cleansed and uplifted. I do feel cleansed and uplifted because next year I will be launching the sister series to Lost Consonants, 'Vowel Movements'. I'm sure a good Vowel Movement will leave everyone feeling purged and at peace with themselves.

Discover The Lost Consonants for yourself at Graham's website, where you'll find plenty of his other work. Also be sure to check out Niff Actuals, online home of the Niff Institute, of which Graham is Director; they have some splendidly odd limited edition art for sale. Thanks to Graham for the use of the images, to Rob for organising the whole shooting match, and to Fraser for asking the questions and making it live and breathe on the interweb.