Chances are, you’ve stumbled upon John Atkinson’s work before. His cartoons comment on everything from social media to mathematics, from history to popular culture. His work, which you’ll find on his blog, Wrong Hands — and most recently in the last twenty issues of Time — is very accessible: his humor translates across cultures and generations. Here, we’re excited to chat with the Ottawa, Ontario-based artist about his work.
What’s the story behind your blog name, Wrong Hands?
I call it Wrong Hands for two reasons. One, it’s a play on the idiom when something “falls into the wrong hands” — you never know how it might be perceived or interpreted. And two, I’m left-handed and I draw all of the cartoons directly on the computer using my right hand.
I’m left-handed and I draw all of the cartoons directly on the computer using my right hand.
Your work appeals to a wide audience. Who do you illustrate for?
I would like my work to be accessible to everyone. I think there are a lot of universal truths that people can relate to, so I try to address those in my work — sometimes more successfully than others. Mostly, however, I illustrate for myself. If it makes me chuckle, I’m happy with it.
When I spot one of your cartoons out in the internet wild, I know it’s yours. Can you talk a bit about your style? Any major influences over time?
My style is simply the way I draw. Over time I’ve refined certain things, made them more consistent or cleaner, but it hasn’t changed dramatically. I think the best cartoons have a certain recognizable style, not only in their drawings but in their humor. I’ve always loved the work of Gary Larson and Roz Chast but there are many, many cartoonists and humorists who have influenced me over the years.
Which cartoons generate the biggest response? Which ones don’t perform as well?
By far, the most popular are the ones about social media and technology. Social media is the primary vehicle on which my cartoons are distributed, so it makes sense. Also, the “Anatomy of…” series seems to strike a chord with a lot of people. The ones that perform the weakest are probably the more traditional, one-liner cartoons. They would probably perform better distributed in traditional print, but I haven’t had the opportunity to explore that yet.
I love your work that comments on our technological habits. You’re an active blogger, with a Facebook and Twitter presence, so it appears you’ve embraced online platforms. How has the digital age changed you and your work over time?
I wouldn’t say I’ve embraced the digital age, but I don’t have any disdain for it either. I just roll with it. Online sharing and distribution offer an opportunity for everyone to have a voice. It always amazes me that I can post a cartoon and two minutes later get a response from someone halfway around the world. That’s the beauty of online platforms!
On the other hand, technology changes so rapidly — it can be quite daunting at times. I suppose that’s where the technology cartoons come from: a way of slowing things down a little and grounding myself.
I suppose that’s where the technology cartoons come from: a way of slowing things down a little and grounding myself
One thing I love about your cartoons is you deftly balance words and images. Even the cartoons with more text, like your “Anatomy of…” series, provide the right amount of context and information. When you get an idea for a cartoon, how do you approach it?
Ideas for cartoons come from just about everywhere. I usually carry a little notebook around with me. Most of what I jot down is gibberish, but some of the scribbles evolve into cartoons. The cartoons normally go through a few drafts and often the end result isn’t what I had intended. My son Jacob is a creative consultant on some of the more involved cartoons.
Getting the idea across in the simplest most succinct way and still keeping the humor isn’t always easy.
Highlights from the “Anatomy of” Series:
What’s your favorite cartoon or series you’ve published on your blog?
I really don’t have a favorite. Usually the one I’m currently working on is my favorite. But by the time it’s finished, I’m a little tired of it and begin a new one which instantly becomes my new “favorite” — it’s a vicious circle. The series that has been the most successful is probably the “Anatomy of…” ones. They certainly generate the most traffic and comments. Everyone wants to weigh in with their own opinion. They’re a lot of fun to do.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring cartoonist starting their first blog, what would it be?
Don’t take yourself too seriously.