Star cartoonist James Whitworth never dreamed of seeing his work leap from the pages of a newspaper to the shelves of an art gallery.
But the 46-year-old’s work – known for capturing everyday life in Sheffield, celebrating its assets and summing up often complex news items with a single, wry image – has now made exactly that transformation.
Visitors to the Millennium Gallery can take home a permanent version of four of his Sheffield-focused cartoons, made into coasters, mugs, greetings cards and prints, after a launch last week.
“I never thought I’d get to see my work on display anywhere,” said James, who lives in Fulwood.
“The problem I had was my father was so successful and popular that it was really daunting and I never really thought that I would be able to follow in his footsteps.
“It took a lot of time – I’m now in my 40s and I have been drawing cartoons since I was at university for the university magazine. Thank God no copies exist any more!
“I often get asked how do you become a cartoonist, if there is a course – which there isn’t. It’s quite rare as an industry in the fact there is no way into it apart from drawing every single day, sending your work off every single day and being able to deal with a quite startling amount of rejection.
“I did that for years and years until someone finally bought one of my cartoons. T o get from that stage to being in a gallery is just fantastic.”
Former Hallam student James made his first sale to The Weekly News in 2005 and has been The Star’s cartoonist for five years.
His work also appears in publications as diverse as political satire magazine Private Eye, the Jewish Chronicle and Hi Fi News, the country’s oldest magazine of its kind.
The national Record Store Day campaign – celebrated in a big way at Record Collector in Broomhill – uses his cartoons and they have featured in exhibitions.
Father Ralph Whitworth was the cartoonist for the former Sheffield Morning Telegraph for 40 years, then when it closed for the weekly Telegraph and also The Star until his death in 1998, aged 73.
The paper had no cartoonist until James picked up where Ralph left off.
James said: “Growing up being a cartoonist seemed like the normal thing to do – it was only when I got older that I realised it was quite a rare job.
“I was surrounded by drawings, papers and pencils so it was inevitable really that I would do it too.
“I enjoy the challenge – although that’s not always true when you are desperately trying to find something – of looking at a news story from a different angle, trying to find a funny side or put a new spin on a story.
“I love the news and have always been fascinated by it. It is a privilege really to put your opinion across.
“When it works, and I’m not just talking about my cartoons, when a cartoon works it is because the cartoonist has taken what may be a 1,000 word feature and they’ve managed to come up with a line that really captures the story.
“What I try to do is cover the stories that people are talking about at the bus stop and in the pub.”
While James’ work has featured on cards in Sheffield shops before, this new collaboration is on a larger scale and has the potential to take it to a new audience.
He submitted around two dozen examples of artwork for consideration, and four were selected for the project by gallery chiefs.
One was perhaps an obvious choice, as it features a Rembrandt painting, while the others make cheeky nods to Sheffield places and institutions such as Hunters Bar and Barker’s Pool, as well as the brand Made in Sheffield.
James, also a published author, said: “Newspaper cartoons have a very short shelf life – just like newspapers do.
“But I have always done general cartoons too, and I have always loved the galleries in Sheffield – they are one of the city’s biggest assets.
“The thought of making the leap, taking cartoon characters out of the pages of the newspaper and putting them into a gallery is fantastic.
“It is wonderful to have it on sale in a real Sheffield institution and to see my work alongside some really lovely art.”
While James has gone into schools to teach his skills to youngsters, he also urges budding cartoonists to practise as much as they can, and to emulate those who have made the leap from drawing badly to publication.
He added: “I urge young cartoonists to copy other cartoonists – there’s nothing wrong with that just to get into how they form an idea.
“It’s really doing that for years that makes your own style come out.
“I think my cartoons sometimes look like my father’s.
“It’s not intentional but he did teach me to draw.”
Two of the biggest controversies in Sheffield – cuts to bus services and the felling of trees – have produced several inspired Whitworth cartoons in recent months.
They have also proved popular with readers and residents... if not local authorities.
James added: “I think the tree ones sum up a lot of people’s feelings, even if they are not interested in the tree campaign themselves, and I know it doesn’t make me very popular with the council.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to get one of those stars on the pavement outside the Town Hall!”