By Lusanda Ngcaweni
Brothers Patrick and Alex Latimer, creators of the cartoon strip The Western Nostril which appears in Business Day newspaper, could easily be characters out of a British sitcom. Minus the accent. Extremely sharp, the twosome’s sense of humour is not the laugh-a-minute, tears rolling down your cheeks kind, but the more deadpan I’m-not trying-to-be-funny, I’m-just-stating-a-fact kind that may just go right over your head. Or not.
When creating The Western Nostril, Patrick and Alex brainstorm ideas separately, then put them together to see which ideas are good and which are bad. “Alex takes the good ones and writes them into a script that works best, doing re-writes where necessary”, says older brother, Patrick. “And I do all the drawing.”
In the beginning
“We first thought about the cartoon in 2000. The ideas were good, but the drawings were not so good,” says Patrick. “Actually, some of the ideas weren’t that good either,” he quickly adds, glancing at his brother.
“Patrick doesn’t remember this, but we wanted to enter some competition,” says Alex. “We started doing the cartoon, liked it, saw the potential and decided not to enter it into the competition after all. We carried on with the cartoon in phases, doing it; then stopping.”
“It was dormant for a while, no one was paying us to do it,” Patrick adds.
In the meantime, they were doing other work, Patrick as a freelance art director, illustrator and cartoonist (though he does not do art directing anymore), while Alex, who went to work overseas, started a graphic design company with their middle brother, Gordon, and two friends. Alex missed home and decided to come back three years ago. “When I retuned to South Africa I couldn’t face going back to an advertising agency, so I opted to freelance as a writer, cartoonist and illustrator instead.”
With both brothers doing freelance work for a whole lot of people, Business Day came across their work, and the cartoon has been appearing in the paper every Tuesday to Friday since February this year. “It has been a gear change from working on the cartoon only when we felt like it, to creating six a month,” confesses Alex. “We don’t even read Business Day, nor does anyone we know,” adds Patrick, about the publication’s interest in their cartoon.
Whatever the appeal, The Western Nostril is definitely not the kind of cartoon you’ll love (or understand!) every time you see it. “It’s often a case of one person loving a cartoon, and another person hating it. But the person who hates it also has a favourite from our collection. It’s a weird fact, but we’ll carry on doing what we’re doing. We can’t please everyone all of the time,” say Alex.
The brothers once created a cartoon that only the two of them got. They asked a couple of people and the feedback was unanimous – they didn’t get it. They still think its funny, though maybe they’ll tweak it “without giving too much away”. “People laughed at it because the illustration was funny, but they totally didn’t get the copy! We have to stop doing that,” Alex laughs.
So what’s so special about The Western Nostril?
Patrick says it’s different from other cartoons in that it only has one big panel instead of a couple of panels with linear time frames. This means that nothing new can happen visually, it can only happen in the copy. “The humour is also unlike other cartoons,” Patrick adds. “It has very clever ideas that make the characters look stupid. You have to be pretty smart to be that stupid.”
“The humour is strange,” Alex agrees. “It’s what we think, things that come to mind without a conscious effort. It can be silly, but in a cerebral way.”
Another distinction is that unlike a lot of cartoons these days, The Western Nostril is totally hand drawn instead of being done on the computer (which Alex believes is cheating). “At least we can hold our cartoon once we’ve finished it,” Patrick says, quick to add that Zapiro and Madam & Eve are also hand drawn. He says there’s a big move towards web comics, with some comics that are “too edgy” only appearing on the internet. “But ours are clean so we can appear in print. We also run the cartoon on our website, where most of our readers see it.”
The Western Nostril first appeared in the launch edition of Laugh-It-Off, an annual publication. “It was a nice tester to see what kind of reception we’d get. It came up tops as winner of the ‘Best overall contribution’ in that annual’s first new media awards,” says Alex.
And the name? What’s that all about? “I was thinking about nothing when the title came to me,” says Patrick. “I wrote it down on a sticker and stuck it on my computer, waiting for something to use it on. It was there for ages, long before we started working on The Western Nostril. Everyone has a western nostril; your right hand nostril is your western nostril.”
“It doesn’t really tie in with the actual cartoon; the only link is that the character’s nostrils are distinctive,” Alex adds.
Cartooning in SA
“Although there’s not much competition here, there isn’t enough cartoon work for us to make a living out of, hence all the other freelance work we do,” Patrick reveals. “It would be a dream to make a living out of it!” Alex says. “But for everyone who does, there’s a different length of road to get there.”
In the US, illustrations started taking off 10 years ago and Patrick reckons South Africa is lagging 10 years behind. “There are tons of fantastic photographers here, but not many illustrators, which is another reason to do it.”
The brothers are also toying with the idea of having a book published, though Alex is more cautious about it. “We don’t want to do it unless people want to buy it; we must first assess the response from the website and print.” But Patrick is quick to interject, “It’s something we want to do, even if it’s a low-cost starter with only our first batch of cartoons. We’ll have a couple of hundred by the end of the year. We have 60 now; it sounds like a little, but it weighs a lot!”
They’ve already got a publisher for this book – Laugh-It-Off’s Justine Nurse (he of the satirical “Black labour, White guilt” SAB T-shirts lawsuit which went all the way to the Constitutional Court). “He punts The Western Nostril every chance he gets and has even taken it to the London Book Fair and all sorts of places,” Alex says.
About his favourite cartoonists, Patrick says: “Its no one anyone would ever have heard of: Ben Katchor (New York) and Tom Gould (London).”
And Alex? “It’s hard to say, there’s no specific one. I have a daily routine of going through (on the internet) all the cartoons I like. It’s quite strange, but I wouldn’t say any are my favourite.”
“Are there any you curse because you’re not them?” Patrick asks.
“No, not yet; we beat them all,” is Alex’s quick response.
Once they’ve got the ball rolling with the consistent four-day-a-week routine, they’ll approach other publications that are different from Business Day so there’s no conflict of interest.