David Austin was born on 29 March 1935 in Chelmsford, Essex, the son of a shoe manufacturer. He attended Southend High School for Boys, where he first began drawing, and afterwards read Chemistry at Leicester University. Austin did his National Service in the RAF, and afterwards worked as a chemical analyst at Esso's Fawley oil refinery on Southampton Water. Deciding he did not like corporate life, he left and in 1966 began training as a teacher at Reading University. In 1969 Austin became a teacher, first at John Milton Primary School, Battersea, and later at the William Tyndale junior school in Islington.
A self-taught artist, Austin later recalled that "I didn't go to art school and I wasn't allowed to take art A-level." His first drawings were published in Caravan - a caravan trade magazine - but in 1970, while Austin was still a teacher, Private Eye began publishing his long-running "Hom. Sap." strip, set in Ancient Rome. In 1974 a new headteacher introduced radical changes at the William Tyndale school, which precipitated strikes and a public enquiry. Austin left, and in 1976, disillusioned with teaching, decided to become a full-time cartoonist, noting afterwards that "things were a bit rocky for a time, but quite soon I picked up work."
In 1986 Austin became the daily cartoonist on Today, launched by Eddie Shah, but he left when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch the following year. He worked for a time at The Daily Telegraph, before in 1990 becoming daily pocket cartoonist for The Guardian, providing at first one, then two cartoons a day - one for the front page and one for the letters page. For nearly thirty years Austin shared a studio with Nick Newman and Kipper Williams, above a shop off London's Tottenham Court Road, to which he walked each day from his home in Highbury. Austin worked meticulously in spiral-bound workbooks to produce up to nine rough ideas each day, and in the afternoon walked over to The Guardian office.
As two of his Guardian colleagues recalled in 2005: "He came into the main building in Farringon Road, Clerkenwell, each afternoon at 4pm, read through the letters to be published the next morning, began identifying his possible themes, and went to the editorial conference at 5pm. Then he scowled, stuck in his ear plugs - defiantly not an office-dweller, he did not like noise - scrawled sketches across complete pages of his notebook, and produced a set of nine little boxes containing drafts of his ideas. The duty editor chose one, the letters editor another, and David polished off the finished product. By 6.30, he was gone." As one of the paper's editorial staff recalled, "the difficult bit was not picking two to adorn the newspaper, but having to discard at least three or four others which would also have been sure to give pleasure."
Austin also worked for the Labour Weekly, Spectator, Field, New Scientist, Mail on Sunday, and many other publications - in New Behaviour magazine he drew a strip called "Albert the Experimental Rat." Austin had a loose drawing style and hand-lettered his captions, drawn without speech balloons for "Hom. Sap", and inside oblong bubbles hanging from the top of the frame in his pocket cartoons. Asked in 1994 what he personally found funny, Austin replied "anyone who takes themselves deadly seriously is funny, like Phil Collins, who sounds like an air conditioner and sells worldwide and Sting, who's a mega-bore on a huge scale": "I like MTV, that can have you chewing on your hankie. Apart from that, Ren and Stimpy and the Marx brothers."
David Austin's last cartoon appeared in The Guardian of 28 October 2005, and he died of cancer in London on 19 November 2005.
- Michael Bracewell "A Laughing Matter", Observer, 6 February 1994, p.4.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), p.10.
- Michael Heath "How to Draw Fiends and Influence People", The Independent, 13 December 2004, pp.20-1.
- The Guardian, 21 November 2005, p.30, Leading article “In praise of... Austin.”
- Nicola Jennings and Patrick Barkham “David Austin: Guardian pocket cartoonist”, The Guardian, 21 November 2005, p.32.
- Mark Bryant “David Austin: Self-taught cartoonist admired throughout Fleet Street”, The Independent, 22 November 2005, p.58.
- The Daily Telegraph, 22 November 2005, p.21, “David Austin Cartoonist of deceptively simple style”.
- The Times, 23 November 2005, p.65, “David Austin.”
- GNM Collections in focus at The Guardian
33 boxes uncatalogued original artwork [DA0001 - DA8686]
90s (mainly undated)