Interview with Queen’s Counsel cartoonist Alex Williams for his new 20th anniversary ‘Queen’s Counsel Lawyer’s Omnibus’

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first ‘Queen’s Counsel’ cartoon in The Times and to celebrate that fact, its cartoonist Alex Williams has put together a bumper edition Queen’s Counsel Lawyer’s Omnibus which you can buy for £9.99 from amazon.co.uk. To mark the anniversary and the launch of the book, Alex has kindly taken part in an exclusive interview for the BabyBarista Blog which you can see below.

10 questions for Alex Williams

1. How did Queen’s Counsel first come about?
QC began life in the early ‘90s as a satire on politicians, and was politely rejected by Private Eye (quite rightly) for being “too much like Alan B’stard” on TV. So when I went to law school in 1992 I stuck wigs on the characters and turned them into barristers – which worked great. This was the era of lawyer jokes and the OJ Simpson trial; everyone wanted to make fun of lawyers.

2. How did you get a deal with The Times?
It was a cold call really, I just sent it in. But I did have a friend of a friend on the inside to vouch for me, which helped. In the early days though my real champion at the newspaper was David Driver, who was art editor for over two decades. He loved cartoons and wanted to encourage young cartoonists to develop their work. So I became his protégé really, and he stuck by me in the uncertain early months when it took time for the cartoon strip to find its voice.

3. Are you the longest running cartoonist on The Times?
Peter Brookes was there when I started, so he outranks me in seniority. Jonathan Pugh was there too but he has since defected to another paper. But in a way everyone in print journalism is a bit of an old geezer these days; print has been a shrinking business for so long that it’s wonder that anyone can break in anymore. “Young cartoonist” is something of a contradiction in terms. I went to the annual dinner of the British Cartoonists’ Association a couple of months ago – I was almost the youngest person there.

4. Where do you get your inspiration?
In the beginning the jokes all flowed from my personal experience, but after I left the Bar that particular spring dried up. So, today, they come from many sources, but mostly from my long-suffering wife Sarah who works insane hours for a big firm in the City. Her daily battle is my inspiration. And, after 20 years of writing lawyer jokes, it becomes a bit of a habit. I couldn’t stop now if I tried.

5. Is it right to say that the cartoons are a fond satire of legal life?
Exactly. We like to blame lawyers for our troubles but they are just mirrors of ourselves – reflecting and magnifying our own less attractive features. If we could straighten out our own problems without litigation we’d be much happier – and richer too.

6. Why did you leave the law?
In 1996 I got an offer to go and do cartoons in Hollywood. Warner Bros sent a stretch limo to pick me up at LAX – it was ridiculous. I just couldn’t say no.

7. Do you miss the law?
I liked the whole wig and gown thing and the sheer poshness of it all. Good barristers are very impressive characters and as a lawyer you get a lot of respect from your clients. And, of course, you can be very well paid. Whereas, as a cartoonist, respect, admiration and enormous fees exist mainly in my fantasies. But I don’t miss the stress of conducting a trial, and the constant fear of having made a mistake, of having missed some vital detail upon which the whole case depends.

8. What are some of the main themes in the cartoons?
All the vices of the law – dullness, pomposity, self-importance, and a tendency to talk as if everything that is said is being written down and engraved for posterity. But, mostly, the conflict at the heart of the law – lawyers need the business, so they like to be optimistic, but really they should hang a big sign on their door saying “go away – in here lies misery and ruin”.

9. What cartoonists do you admire?
Posy Simmonds is my favourite cartoonist – hers is a very wry, affectionate kind of humour. But the French are the best – Herge, Goscinny, Uderzo, the comics we grew up with as children. There is still nothing to beat Asterix or Tintin.

10. Do you have advice to anyone entering the law now?
Run away! (but only once you’ve made loads of money, obviously.)

October 3, 2013 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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