Paul Michael Thomas was born in Radlett, Hertfordshire, on 3 November 1961. His parents took the Daily Telegraph, and he later recalled seeing Nicholas Garland’s cartoons, and loving “the brilliant draughtsmanship and the pastiches of other artists work”: “I remember trying to copy his cartoons and caricatures and being encouraged by my parents.” Other early influences were John Jensen in the Sunday Telegraph, and Wally Fawkes in the Daily Mail. Thomas’s first published cartoon appeared when he was around fifteen, in the Borehamwood Post. It showed the former Conservative prime minister Edward Heath.
In 1981 Thomas began three years’ study at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, and after graduation he worked as a freelance cartoonist for various newspapers and magazines. In 1987 he began contributing the strip cartoon “Wold Affairs” to the Spectator magazine, and continued working for that magazine until 1998, providing covers and spot cartoons, as well as his cartoon strip. Thomas recalled that the magazine’s cartoon editor, Michael Heath, “was always encouraging and generous to me.”
From 1988 Thomas began teaching graphic design and illustration on a Foundation Course at the University of Hertfordshire, and continued for eight years. In 1989 he also began drawing the main political cartoon for Punch magazine, and in the following year created a strip cartoon called “The Safeways”. This strip ran until Punch ceased publication in 1992, and Thomas enjoyed drawing it, noting later that “it was the only time I never had to submit roughs, and consequently I could do pretty much what I wanted”. For the last few months of its life Thomas was also the cartoon editor of Punch.
In 1989 Thomas also became pocket cartoonist for the Independent on Sunday, and remained with the paper until 2000, also contributing sports cartoons and the “Blair Babe” cartoon strip. From 1990 to 1997 he was also business cartoonist of the Evening Standard, and during 1995 to 1996 was political cartoonist of the Sunday Telegraph. In 1998, when Rosie Boycott left the Independent to become editor of the Daily Express, she brought in Thomas to replace Charles Griffin as its political cartoonist. He also contributed pocket cartoons. "I used to sit in my office doing my ideas, but now I sit on the picture desk," he told an interviewer in 2012: "The ideas come from banter with other people and I find it easier to think of the ideas if I’m being generally amusing and taking the piss."
Thomas’ work has also appeared in the Sunday Times, The Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, Private Eye, The Tablet, and Shares Magazine. Until around 2000 he worked with pen and ink, but then changed to drawing with a brush pen, which he believes “forces me to be much more bold and less fiddly.” He lists his influences as Nicholas Garland, Peter Brookes, Wally Fawkes, Michael Heath, H.M. Bateman, and Aubrey Beardsley.
Thomas characterises himself as “a professional cynic”, and sees his task as “being extremely rude about the people who are trying to tell us all what to do”. He thinks that this rudeness may have a cumulative effect on the politicians he draws, but adds that “I’m only really concerned with making my target audience - my editor - laugh. It’s not really much more complicated than that.” Thomas provides editors with roughs of possible cartoons, from which one is selected for publication. “The pressure of coming up with several ideas every day is still as stressful as ever,” Thomas admitted in 2008: “The relief at being left alone to do the finished cartoon is still as pleasant as ever, rather like free-wheeling a bicycle downhill.”
From 2007 to 2015 Thomas' Daily Express cartoons were the subject of a critical discussion group at www.mailwatch.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1202 But he was not concerned by criticism from readers, noting that "I quite like the letters accusing me of bad taste." In January 2015 Paul Thomas left the Daily Express, as part of a series of forced redundancies imposed by Express Newspapers in a cost-cutting exercise.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), p.223.
- Dr Timothy Benson's interview with Paul Thomas in the Political Cartoon Society Newsletter, Autumn 2008.
- Helen Lewis “Ink-stained assassins”, New Statesman, 23 August 2012.
- William Turvill “Daily Express cartoonist threatened with sack on day of Charlie Hebdo massacre”, Press Gazette, 13 January 2015: www.pressgazette.co.uk/daily-express-cartoonist-threatened-sack-day-charlie-hebdo-massacre
- Paul Thomas' website at www.paulthomascartoons.co.uk/
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