Florence Nightingale is just one of many famous faces to have inspired football fanatic and creative cartoonist Graeme Bandeira in recent weeks. Whilst the coronavirus crisis has proved to be a challenging time for many, for others, like Graeme, it’s been positively productive. Shining the spotlight on serious situations and then raising a smile with his satirical sketches, this Yorkshire artist has captured the attention of admirers across the globe with his impressive illustrations.
James Mason and Carolyn Nicoll met up with The Yorkshire Post’s acclaimed artist to chat about his sometimes stark, but often colourful cartoons, that have captured the mood of the county, the country and beyond.
Born in Middlesbrough, raised in Hemlington and now living in Harrogate, Graeme recently discovered that his family roots are perhaps ‘a bit rum’.
“I found out on Father’s Day, when we were all looking through old photos, that my great-grandfather was from São Paulo in Brazil. He’d been part of the merchant navy, turns out he was a rum smuggler too and that’s how he actually ended up in Middlesbrough,” explained a bemused Graeme.
Well, that creative ancestral ‘ambition’ on an international scale has perhaps rubbed off on his great-grandson, but in a good way.
“Ever since I could hold a pen I’d be drawing on curtains … on anything. It’s so therapeutic and enjoyable and it’s constantly been a great way to get a message out there,” says Graeme. “I’ve always drawn, through school, art college and university, followed by freelancing for agencies in London. However, when the digital era came, I made the decision to continue working with pen and ink. It’s the medium I love and that I still use to this day, but when the internet arrived, work started to dry up. Then it all turned around again when I started working at The Yorkshire Post, serving the ad department, creating cartoons and here I am still doing it.”
They say a picture paints a thousand words and Graeme’s much-loved illustrations have featured everyone from celebrated sports stars, to recreating royal occasions and portraying politicians in a humorous way. “I met Boris Johnson and showed him the cartoon I’d done of him as a wrecking ball. He was actually really good fun and quite self-deprecating. When he saw the picture he laughed and said ‘I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! ‘ .”
Graeme’s brilliant illustrations have brought a lot of laugher and joy to many over the years, but in recent times his pandemic pictures have been more poignant and thought provoking.
As an artist his aim has been to capture the human side of the catastrophic crisis, the real workers on the fragile ‘front line’, from the dedicated delivery drivers to the staff stepping into the unknown, cautiously cleaning corridors not knowing if the contagious coronavirus could be closing in. Of course the real heroes of the last few months have been the NHS staff, always appreciated, but certainly now, more than ever.
Over the years Graeme has produced thousands of illustrations, but after 100 days of lockdown, putting his heart and soul into trying to capture the mood of a nation, he could quite easily choose a hundred cartoons to talk about, one for each day, but here are his thoughts on some of the most memorable.
NURSE - Depicting the weight of the COVID-19 world on the shoulders of the NHS staff. A nurse holding a global pandemic that was bursting at the seams.
“When coronavirus was first reported it initially didn’t seem to be being taken that seriously, although there were a lot of news reports, but then all of a sudden the terrible reality of people dying and the statistics started to rapidly rise. I did this piece to show how important the NHS are and the strain they were going to be under. I tried to think of how to do it in a simple way. Everyone appreciates nurses and what they do, so I came up with this model and a strange looking atom. The interest was massive on social media, it went viral in just a couple of days and the national media including Sky News covered it, so I knew it was doing its job and getting the message out there. Not bad for an afternoon’s work and from there it spiralled.”
BE KIND - “The supermarket lady was based on a very personal experience. I went shopping and I saw people panic buying and stripping supermarket shelves unnecessarily. It was complete pandemonium and a really sad indictment of some parts of society, it seemed so selfish. So when I got into work, we were still in the office then, I put pen to paper and produced BE KIND. It’s purposely in black and white to reflect the mood, there’s no joy, there’s no colour and it’s how I felt about that sad situation. It reminded me of news reports I’d seen years ago of old Russia, no food on the shelves and lots of bare concrete. I felt I’d hit the nail on the head with this one. Broadcaster Jeremy Vine picked it up and shared it. The impact again was huge.”
FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE: THEN AND NOW - “Back in 1820 one of the most iconic figures in the world of medicine was born, Florence Nightingale. Fast-forward exactly 200 years and there’s a global pandemic. This image shows Florence Nightingale handing over the lamp to the modern day NHS medical staff, who like Florence did back in the nineteenth century, are working under immense strain. I wanted to shed a bit of hope, light and support to the situation.”
The power of the pen when creating something so visually appealing can spread an important message far and wide and once that pen and ink creation is shared on Twitter, it can travel around the world in seconds. His recent TRAGEDY cartoon highlighting the plight of theatres has not only caught the attention of the arts world, but has attracted an emotional and passionate audience, all talking about an incredibly difficult ‘stage’ for the live entertainment industry. Graeme has quite literally become a star of lockdown across the globe and is proud that his pictures can raise awareness. With fans of his work in far-flung places from Venezuela and Costa Rica to Denmark and Norway, he’s aware of his very varied international network.
“It’s vital that people like to open up to different perceptions and not necessarily get bogged down with organisations telling them stuff. I’m just an individual getting my message out there. I am led in certain directions by my employer but we generally come to the same conclusion. It’s very enjoyable and very rewarding when you create a cartoon that’s well-received.”
From start to finish, from the initial idea to a completed piece of artwork, takes about 6 to 7 hours but some have to be quicker, if there’s an imminent deadline. “James Mitchinson, The Yorkshire Post editor, may say at 3pm that a cartoon is needed for 6pm, but you know I tend to work better under pressure as the ideas really flow. You just have to go with your gut instinct when time is tight. I’m lucky, I feel I’m on a roll right now and I really love what I’m doing.”
Of course, such unprecedented times have produced some real positives including an outstanding achievement from Yorkshire’s very own Captain Tom.
CAPTAIN 100 - “There have been those lighter moments of communities coming together and Captain Tom’s achievement raising money for the NHS was just phenomenal. What a wonderful man he is. The first cartoon I did of him was to commemorate him finishing his laps in the garden. He was a person I warmed to straight away … as did the whole nation. I wanted to show him crossing the finish line, with the nurses saluting him, highlighting his contribution to the NHS. By that point I think he’d raised £26m BUT he went on to top £30m. Jeremy Vine again loved it and shared it on social media and on his programme.
I then took a call asking if I’d do a cartoon to present to Captain Tom on his 100th birthday. I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen during lockdown with social distancing but I had a word with the editor at The Yorkshire Post and we set it all up with Jeremy Vine. A plan to produce the artwork of Captain Tom with a cake for his 100th birthday, with nurses saluting him and showing their appreciation of what a fantastic guy he is. A Rolls Royce from JCT 600 was arranged to take the artwork to Captain Tom and it was presented to him live on TV. For me to personally see his reaction on the television when he received his cartoon gift, was a really special moment. He’s a Yorkshire hero, known around the world, and his birth town of Keighley now have the image of Captain Tom splashed across a special commemorative bus. Just another spin-off of doing a cartoon.”
It’s certainly been a productive period, but post-pandemic what is Graeme looking forward to doing once things quieten down?
“I’m going to take the dog to Malham Cove and then call for a beer!”
Front Cover: Welcome to Yorkshire would like to say a huge thank you to Graeme Bandeira for exclusively creating this month’s This Is Y cover. We think it says it all! Another masterpiece from Yorkshire’s Graeme Bandeira. #YorkshireTogether.
This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – July 2020. To view the full magazine, click here