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A weather eye

As we launch our new 10-part weekly graphic strip highlighting the climate crisis, Dan Carrier talks to its creator, John Sadler

09 January, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

John Sadler’s take on the damage caused by HS2… with apologies to George Morland

THE Thames Barrier has failed. Tidal surges are swamp­ing the city. The effects of the climate crisis are on our doorsteps. This fright­ening reality is set to be the starting point for a new, weekly graphic strip by this paper’s resident illustrator, John Sadler.

For 10 years, John has brought our Letters pages alive, drawing on what our readers care about to create a visual record of the issues we cover.

This week he embarks on a new, 10-part serial for our papers – giving him the chance to use his artistry to bring alive the most important topic we face today.

John, who grew up and is based in Hampstead, studied politics and history at Birmingham – “I considered an art degree, but art courses no longer focus on technique and there did not seem to be the opportunities to earn a living with the type of art I wanted to do” – and worked on the university’s student newspaper as an illustrator. After graduating, he worked for environmental charities and pressure groups, work he continues today on top of his weekly contributions to our paper.

Sadler’s take on a letter of complaint about one of the borough’s key bus services

“The topics I cover reflect what people are concerned about,” he says.

“It could be a complaint or an observation, a reaction to something in the paper from the week before, or based on national politics.”

He looks for visual prompts from the reader.

“I look carefully at the letter chosen. I will often bring out a word the writer used – I look for a image in the letter that can bring their point across.”

All of John’s work is done by hand with pencil and ink, and he creates each piece over a couple of days.

 John Sadler’s vision of the aborted Garden Bridge

“On the first evening I create the idea and then start with pencilling the outlines,” he explains.

“I then do the inking and colouring and work through the night until it is finished. As I insist on drawing it by hand and use traditional techniques, I can often be found standing over my stove in the early hours, waving the illustration over the hob’s heat to ensure the ink is dry enough to scan in and meet the paper’s deadlines.”

Seeing the original images highlights quite what gorgeous works of art they are – beautifully rendered and painstakingly coloured, each original has merit on its own.

“I try not to use too many words – I want it to be primarily about the illustration, it should be something that summarises and draws people’s interest in,” he adds.

“I look for ideas, for humour, for interest. Sometimes, of course, the topic is too serious for a joke. And I want to make sure it subtle, so that it supplements, not dominates, the letter.”

John’s illustration of air pollution

And while the fast-moving news agenda offers plenty of scope for imagery, he recognises there are also running issues in the borough that he has revisited on numerous occasions.

“I have drawn illustrations to cover all sorts of topics, but of course some do come up regularly – recycling, parking, pollarding trees and HS2.”

As with all cartoonists, he occasionally uses caricatures – Trump, Johnson, May and Corbyn have all had the Sadler treatment.

“I do not want to do hideous caricatures – it isn’t necessary for my work,” he says.

“Instead, I like it to be understated. I also do not want to be too cruel, though if they deserve it, I will stick the knife – or pencil – in.”

John occasionally uses famous works to illustrate a point.

One recent piece, about the effect HS2 was having on Camden, saw him cite an image by 18th-century painter George Morland, who worked in Camden Town.

He counts Steve Bell of the Guardian as an inspiration, and also name checks David Lowe of the Mirror, whose works in the 30s and 40s are celebrated. Lowe’s imagery during the Second World War have become classics.

Another comic hero has links to the Camden New Journal.

“I loved The Eagle when I was growing up – and it had an illustrator called Colin Andrew. He went on to work for the New Journal in the 1980s. I greatly admire him.”

As for the masters, he cites two from very different periods whose work he is inspired by.

“I love Edward Hopper and Johannes Vermeer,” he says. “I love the stillness in their pictures, and the sense of loneliness, too. They create a quiet atmosphere, and there is a thoughtful pattern to their work.

“What strikes me most about those artists is how it is about chronicling people’s daily lives. They have found beauty in the ordinary, whether it is milkmaids off to work or through a diner window, or a customer looking out. This is about people going about their lives – it is about capturing a moment in time.”

His new strip is called Climate Capital and looks at what the climate emergency will mean for life in London.

“It is about the biggest challenge we have ever faced,” he says.

“The story focuses on what will happen in 10 years.

“I wanted to consider how such a topic could be illustrated in a way to discuss it and raise awareness among our already well-informed readership. Time is short and we have it all to lose, made worse by the fact the government just elected was by far the weakest on the environment.

“This is a dystopian future after a decade of a lack of action by the Conservatives. We have already wasted the past 10 years when action was urgently needed. We simply cannot afford to let this happen again.”

See the new strip and more of John Sadler’s work at



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