Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

The cartoonist who began by doodling in zoology

A cartoon of the Grim Reaper asking someone to come down from the buzzer of apartments Image copyright Will McPhail

Cartoonist Will McPhail regularly draws for the world famous New Yorker magazine and Private Eye but a decade ago he was a distracted zoology student in Glasgow.

He admits to "doodling lecturers" when he was supposed to be learning and, despite graduating, he never sought a career in the animal kingdom.

Instead he opted to sit in Edinburgh's coffee shops and libraries, studying the social behaviour of humans and coming up with witty cartoon ideas.

At 30, and six years on from winning Young Cartoonist of the Year, he is now expected to have between eight and 10 ideas per week for The New Yorker, a long-established American magazine.

Will says he still finds it hard to explain where his ideas come from.

"The best I can do is to find an area that I want to do a cartoon on and accept the stage - then hope that my sense of humour moonwalks on to that stage.

"Your sense of humour is accumulated throughout your whole life, up to the point when your pencil touches paper; you've just got to hope it shows up.

Will McPhail Image copyright Will McPhail
Image caption Will McPhail won Young Cartoonist of the Year in 2013
A cartoon of passengers on a plane Image copyright Will McPhail

"The reason why I'm decent at drawing cartoons is because I wasn't very attractive in high school, so I developed a sense of humour as a deflection from that."

His lack of academic concentration during lectures paid off when he was first published in Private Eye while still at university.

Despite being brought up in Lancashire, and having a career that allows him to live anywhere in the world, Will decided to stay in Scotland.

"Scotland's got some kind of draw on me," he said.

"There's something about Scotland that just draws creative people and I've definitely felt that.

A cartoon of a woman showering in her worries Image copyright Will McPhail

He believes Scotland provides him with an ideal environment to draw inspiration from.

He said: "It's my job to capture all different walks of life, the idiosyncrasies of life, and Edinburgh and Scotland has got a plethora of different classes and niches of people.

"There's all sorts of fascinating social avenues you can go down and find people from all backgrounds. It's super inspirational when it comes to coming up with ideas."

'Social not political'

He accepts the political climates of the UK and US are giving plenty of inspiration to political satirists, but says he prefers to stay away from politics.

He said: "People say it must be a good time to be a cartoonist because of Trump and Brexit, but I'd much rather politics just be nice and boring again.

"I do more social things than political things."

A cartoon of a black woman interviewing in front of a panel of 10 white men Image copyright Will McPhail

'I'm always learning'

He adds that his work also keeps him learning, especially when it comes to feminism.

"There's often some feminist undertones to a lot of my cartoons, but I'm not the guy to teach people about feminism," he said.

"I make constant mistakes - I'm always learning about it.

"My most recent artistic revelation has been that when I've been trying too hard to portray a feminist storyline, I would always put the joke at the expense of a guy saying something stupid and have a woman silently rolling her eyes at him.

"Women aren't like that. Why should I be denying my female characters the right to be the goofy fun one?"

A cartoon of a woman relaxing after cancelling plans Image copyright Will McPhail

Based on his own experience, Will is keen to encourage others to follow him into their dream careers - and stresses that doesn't always mean studying.

He considered going to art school, but decided against it and instead practiced his craft in his own time, and now questions his decision to study Zoology full-time.

He blames the pressure he felt at a young age to find a "realistic" career path, but is happy he eventually pursued an artistic avenue.

"I realised I didn't need permission to be creative.

"Education is a good thing - but I think a lot of the time people feel like they need some sort of academic permission to be creative, and you don't, you can just do it."

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A cartoon of a woman on a video call surrounded by an untidy room Image copyright Will McPhail
A cartoon of a shop advertising a kick in the back Image copyright Will McPhail

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