Matt is renowned for his witty and beautifully observed cartoons, which, having appeared on the front page of the Telegraph for over twenty years, have become iconic. He discussed his unusual career during which has seen him propositioned by MI6 to design their Christmas cards and thanked personally for favourable cartoons by Prime Ministers.
When I asked Matt whether he was interested in cartoons as a child, I was surprised to learn that he “wasn’t at all”, though he conceded that he “did use to look at Snoopy, and [his] parents did get rather a lot of newspapers every day.” Still more surprising was the revelation; “I never drew a cartoon until I was 22, so I can’t claim it was a lifelong passion”.
One glance at Matt is enough to reveal an amusing facial similarity to that of his characters. I asked him whether he sees his cartoons as self portraits, “I’m certainly becoming more like the man I draw because 23 years ago when I started I drew him as a sort of buffoon who was bemused by modern life, but I feel now that he’s the only man in the world who speaks any sense to me. Whether I’m actually turning into him or he’s been me all along I don’t know, but he’s got an awful lot of me and an awful lot of my parents in him.” He also agreed that there were some similarities between his family and the elderly couple he so often draws, “That couple are not my parents but a little like them, and in fact my wife and I are not a million miles from that. It’s like Woody Allen saying every film is about him; you can only draw on your own experiences so I’m sure there is a lot of me in the characters”.
Matt comes from a dynasty of writers, and I wondered how this had influenced him. “Somebody once said to me that my grandfather was a short story writer, my father a columnist, and I’ve just gone down to captions, so my children will be mime artists. I was certainly aware of a love of words when I was growing up but I went to art school; writing was never really an option for me. But I’ve developed a love of language and words that I didn’t realise I had, just from struggling with it every day and seeing what an enormous difference they make to the same joke: one with a better caption or better expressed or shorter and more succinct makes all the difference”.
Matt’s work is particularly notable – and I think likable – for seeming to avoid overt political statement. He explained the motivation for this tactic, “The Telegraph is full of people making political statements and I’m always trying to make a joke. Sometimes, when I find I’m a bit stuck for a joke, I find my ideas getting angrier and angrier and it’s not really that I feel deeply about the subject, it’s actually that I can’t think of a very good joke on it. Occasionally some people tell me I’ve made a political, but I think I’m just trying to make people laugh”
I was keen to know which cartoons he was most proud of drawing. “I did a lot of jokes on why I think gay marriage is good, and I think Telegraphreaders are much more broad minded and liberal than everyone thinks: they were some of my most popular jokes. I remember one where a young man had obviously told his father that he was marrying his boyfriend, and the father’s response was just absolute despair that he was going to have to pay for the wedding. Usually, if you have a son, you think you won’t have to pay for the wedding. I was proud of it because it wasn’t making a comment – it was just looking at the practicalities of a gay wedding. I think it was much funnier for that than if I’d been trying to make a comment.”
I will conclude with Matt’s mantra for all aspiring cartoonists, “If all else fails, just draw an animal saying it”.