The sub­ver­sive hu­mour of Andy Watt

Though you may not know his name, you’ll have seen Andy Watt’s work – I guar­an­tee it – and, like any child­hood an­ti­hero, it’ll have got un­der your skin, says Can­dia Mck­o­r­mack

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE -

As the great fish moved silently through the night wa­ter, pro­pelled by short sweeps of its cres­cent tail, a scratch­ing sound cuts through the still of the cool air.

Scritch. Scritch. Scri­i­i­i­itch.

The sound be­comes more au­di­ble, more fren­zied even, as if in re­sponse to the ad­vanc­ing men­ace of the great white near­ing its prey. The sweeps of its tail quicken, pow­er­ing it through the inky black­ness, nearer, nearer to the swim­ming form of the young woman. It’s upon her now and, as ra­zor teeth clamp on to kick­ing limb, crim­son is re­placed by lamp black spray­ing across car­tridge pa­per. Then, still­ness. An­other draw­ing is com­pleted by dead­line. As I sit in il­lus­tra­tor Andy Watt’s gar­den stu­dio at his home in Cro­predy, Ox­ford­shire, we’re looked down on from all walls by comic book and movie he­roes from our youths. 2000 AD’S Judge Dredd vies for space next to Ron­ald Searle, and model Air­fix air­craft teeter atop books on Ralph Stead­man… while all the time we’re watched by the steady, high­eye­browed gaze of that king of Bri­tish com­edy, Ron­nie Barker, re­spect­fully framed and sit­ting on the artist’s desk.

But what re­ally floats Andy Watt’s boat is the movie based on Peter Bench­ley’s best­selling novel.

“I can’t re­mem­ber how old I was when I first saw Jaws,” he says, with ob­vi­ous rel­ish re­call­ing that mo­ment, “but I watch it all the time. If I’m work­ing late, I’ll be blast­ing out mu­sic to a cer­tain time, and then I’ll put a movie on… and it’ll al­ways be Jaws.”

And this is what has shaped the man. The artist.

“If they re­made it now, it would be aw­ful; if it was done with spe­cial ef­fects it would be dread­ful,” he says sin­cerely.

And there’s no get­ting away from the fact that the 25-foot-long, five-footwide heap of la­tex and rub­ber used in the mak­ing of the 1975 movie reared its delta-toothed head in many of our night­mares for many, many years to come.

For the long­est time, Andy waited pa­tiently for the op­por­tu­nity to draw a shark to come along. I say that, but of course he didn’t; he was beaver­ing away on count­less bril­liant projects for news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, in­clud­ing The Guardian, The Times, The In­de­pen­dent, NME, FHM, GQ, Esquire… *deep breath* … Pen­guin Books, Chan­nel 4… you get the gist. But, he did get a re­cent com­mis­sion from The Tele­graph to draw a shark… yep, the fab­u­lous crea­ture you see here (though the con­fi­dent smile of the woman strad­dling its back is a far cry from our ear­lier tragic hero­ine).

The work of a news­pa­per il­lus­tra­tor is spo­radic – from the fren­zied throes of shark mid-feed, to lan­guorous bask­ing in be­tween meals (how far can I take this anal­ogy?) – but this al­most seems part of the ap­peal to an il­lus­tra­tor of Andy’s de­meanour. Of course he has com­mit­ments – he has a crack­ing home in Ox­ford­shire, a wife and young daugh­ter Florence (who en­joys watch­ing Wacky Races al­most as much as he does) – but he’s dis­tinctly rock ‘n’ roll at heart.

“I’ve worked for The Guardian and In­de­pen­dent for a few years, do­ing a lit­tle spot ev­ery week… and then, and then The Tele­graph will say,” – cue the no-non­sense at­tack of the ev­ery-mo­ment’s-a-dead­line de­liv­ery – “‘We need eight pic­tures TO­MOR­ROW!’ Uo­hhh!”

Oh, yes, there’s noth­ing quite like a ‘yes­ter­day’ dead­line to fo­cus the mind.

“I once did a job for The In­de­pen­dent which they ap­proved,” he con­tin­ues, to bring home the point, “so I went out shop­ping and got a call in Sains­bury’s say­ing ‘Andy, the story’s changed, can you do this now?’! Oh­h­hhh-kaaaaay, when do you need it? ‘Five o’clock.’ And it’s half past three.”

Luck­ily, as he puts it, it was a char­ac­ter he’d drawn be­fore – Tony Blair, as it hap­pens – and so he turned it around in be­tween pay­ing for tea and putting it in the oven. That’s pro­fes­sion­al­ism, right there.

Some peo­ple, he says, are re­ally easy to do. As well as Tony Blair, Obama and Nick Grif­fin are ap­par­ently a gift to il­lus­tra­tors.

“The editor of the Indy rang up and said ‘We’ve got some spare bud­get, how do you fancy do­ing this?’, and asked me to do a pull-out poster, hav­ing a laugh at Nick Grif­fin for the In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day.” Bread and but­ter for a satir­i­cal artist – look it up.

A few weeks later, he was asked to do some­thing in a sim­i­lar vein on Jeremy Clark­son – ladies and gen­tle­men, I bring you ‘Jeremy Clark­son’s Brain’,

‘I haven’t been brave enough to send that one to Jeremy. He’s lo­cal enough to come and visit me…’

which, as you can see, needs no ex­plain­ing here.

So, has he had any neg­a­tive feed­back from frag­ile egos?

“I haven’t been brave enough to send that one to Jeremy,” he says. “He’s lo­cal enough to come and visit me…” Yes, Cro­predy is cer­tainly a small vil­lage, and Jezza does have pre­vi­ous.

For some­one who is paid to put other peo­ple’s view­points across, I won­der how will­ing he is to show his own po­lit­i­cal lean­ings.

“Oh, to­tally,” he says, laugh­ing, “Par­tic­u­larly if it’s some­one like Trump. I’ve done him on the bog, and one of him with a swastika on his pants – both for the New States­man – and one of him as a gi­ant pe­nis, which I sent round, but un­for­tu­nately that wasn’t pub­lished. I think I went a bit far.”

Andy grew up in the Folk Hor­ror­sound­ing vil­lage of Fen End be­tween War­wick and Soli­hull, and went on to study at War­wick­shire School of Art. As a boy his in­ter­ests were – as in­deed they are to­day – aero­planes, comics, draw­ing, car­toons and sharks.

At War­wick­shire, his tutor told him he was ‘too nice’ to work in ad­ver­tis­ing – which Andy thought was “lovely” – and was con­se­quently shown a pic­ture by Ralph Stead­man called ‘Hit­ting the Wall’. The pic­ture is a par­tic­u­larly vis­ceral de­pic­tion of a marathon run­ner, and it made Andy re­alise that there could well be a way for him to do what he loved do­ing and make a liv­ing do­ing it.

His par­ents sup­ported him whole­heart­edly by bring­ing home “piles and piles of of­fice pa­per” and giv­ing him marker pens for Christ­mas, and he would be end­lessly draw­ing.

As well as his satir­i­cal work for news­pa­pers, Andy has been in great de­mand from book pub­lish­ers.

‘A Mess of Igua­nas, A Whoop of Go­ril­las’ – en­dorsed by Ridley Scott and Jane Goodall, no less – is a lov­ing, but playful look at col­lec­tive nouns for an­i­mals, bril­liantly il­lus­trated by Andy in his own dis­tinc­tively ink-splat­tered style.

That par­tic­u­lar work was a we-need150-il­lus­tra­tions-by-next-month kind of job, but Andy was solo and liv­ing in a flat in War­wick­shire at the point, so able to keep both ends of the can­dle toasty.

“Crazy, craaazy hours… it drove me in­sane, but it was a bril­liant ex­er­cise. I don’t think I could do that now”

By con­trast, he pro­duced a book called ‘All Ears’ with Michael Holden

– a series of over­heard con­ver­sa­tions pro­duced over about four years for the Guardian, which was a joy to work on.

“Fried Chicken Ladies – ladies eat­ing chicken out of the boot of a car,” he smiles, “that was one of my favourite briefs. ‘Yep’ I said ‘leave it with me!’”

And, shown in this and other car­toons and il­lus­tra­tions of his, there’s a def­i­nite grotesque na­ture that is surely an homage to the work of Ron­ald Searle, Ralph Stead­man and oth­ers of that ilk.

“It’s funny you should men­tion Ralph Stead­man,” he says with a wry smile. “I asked him for a few words for the back cover of my book, and his re­sponse was ‘Oh my god, don’t buy this book! It looks sub­ver­sive and smelly, and you’ll never get it off your clothes if you pick it up’.”

Now, what sub­ver­sive, shark-lov­ing il­lus­tra­tor could wish for more?

‘I’ve done Trump on the bog, with a swastika on his pants, and one of him as a gi­ant pe­nis. I think I went a bit far’

Andy Watt in his home stu­dio, Cro­predy, Ox­ford­shire

Chicken Ladies, by Andy Watt

Clark­son’s Brain, by Andy Watt

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