Falkirk Bairn cartoonist turns words into pictures to raise a smile

Bairn cartoonist Jim Barker
Bairn cartoonist Jim Barker

Drawing on his years of experience, cartoonist Jim Barker is turning to new technology to make people smile.

For almost 35 years his much-loved Bairn character has appeared in The Falkirk Herald providing a humourous and occasionally irreverent comment on what is making the headlines across the district.

Whether it is a new business opening, schools breaking up for summer holidays, rent rises or occasions, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day or the advent of British summertime, the Bairn, courtesy of Jim, has put his mark on it.

Humour is the key to his work whether it is illustrating books, publicising events, getting a firm’s message across or highlighting a story in print.

Now his cartoon characters are appearing in his video scribbles – online animation where the drawings develop before your eyes.

But despite these latest developments, Jim (59) admits that he still enjoys putting pen to paper to produce his cartoons.

Although he has been drawing the Bairn for over 32 years, Jim can’t claim the credit for the character. It was originally devised by his then colleague and fellow Falkirk Herald graphic artist, Derek Sanderson.

Jim explained: “It was decided to do a cartoon for the newspaper and we were both asked to come up with a character. They chose Derek’s Bairn and he drew him for the next three years before he left then I took over. I’ve been drawing him ever since.”

However, he admits that he has a much freer rein now than when the cartoon was first launched.

“Then we used to be told what the stories were going to be and we would have to go away to come up with ideas which we had to submit. Only once they had been passed by then editor Ken Waddell did the cartoon get the go-ahead to appear in print,” he said.

“Now I’m sent some ideas and come up with the cartoon which I send in. Perhaps now I understand what will be used after drawing the Bairn for so long because they don’t get rejected.”

He admits that the one cartoon he remembers because he wasn’t allowed to use it was when the Camelon bus builders, then owned by Transbus, went into liquidation. “I had the Bairn standing outside the building which had sign up ‘Transbust’ but was told no.”

Ideas for cartoons are rarely a problem and he describes his work as “turning words into pictures”, saying: “I’m a keen reader and when I read, pictures appear in my head. For instance, last week I was told there was going to be a story about how the Kelpies withstand the weather and immediately a picture came to mind of them with hats and scarves.”

Always a keen artist, his efforts were encouraged by his art teachers at Falkirk High, Miss Cairns and Mr Stewart, and from there he went to Napier College to study a ‘Design for Print’ course. On completion of his studies, he got a job with The Falkirk Herald where he worked from the artist’s studio located on the top floor of the High Street building.

Eventually he decided to set up his own business to try his hand at a more varied workload and nowadays has a variety of clients. One of his most recent pieces of work was doing the illustrations for a book of humorous poems by Basingstoke author Jan Jack.

‘Animal Angst’ is comic verse aimed a children of all ages with Jim saying adults may be able to see a slightly different side to the poems than younger readers.

“I met Jan at a networking event and she asked if I would be interested in illustrating one of her poems. I didn’t hear anything for a while then she came back to me with the idea for a book of poetry with me doing the illustrations.”

He added: “I enjoy doing this kind of work and I’m a great believer in using humour to get a message across,” he added.

“You can look at issues such as health and safety and if you use humour then you can engage with people a bit more. If you make people smile then they will feel better towards you and your company.

“Some people don’t think cartoons give the right message about their business but a little humour can go a long way to engaging with the public.

“I think a cartoon that makes you smile is far more effective than finger-wagging.”

He admits the way cartoonists work has changed a lot over the years but new developments such as video scribbles bring exciting challenges that he is keen to embrace.

Jim already has his own blog and sends out a weekly cartoon to keep in touch with clients.

Asked who his own cartoon ‘heroes’ are and he names Chuck Jones, the 
cartoonist who brought us Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner, as well as Scot Malky McCormick.

A member of the Cartoonist Group of Great Britain, he regularly rubs shoulders with people whose works have 
appeared in publications such as Punch magazine.

Although modern technology helps keep him in touch with clients and means he can send his work to them at the touch of a button, Jim, who lives close to Falkirk town centre, said he still likes to get out pen and paper to do his work.

“If I can, I’ll still use the traditional method then scan it in using the computer. It’s how I was taught to work and some things just never leave you.

“However, technology is definitely opening up more avenues, whether it is allowing you to have your cartoons with clients almost instantaneously or allowing more people to discover your work.

“And after all, that’s what it is all about.