There are cycling slogans and cartoons everywhere - mugs, T-shirts, tea towels... but most of them are not that funny! That is, with the exception of Dave Walker, who has become the go-to cycling cartoonist of our times. Although he claims his works are more 'diagrams' than cartoons, his acutely observed drawings are perfect pen and ink reflections of our two-wheeled obsession, and now Bloomsbury Publishing have commissioned him to produce a book of his work. Ride Velo went to meet Dave and his two furry friends at his home in South Essex.
45-year-old Dave lives in a modest house with his wife outside Basildon, "I work in Leigh-on-Sea one day a week so that I don't go completely mad!" We could see that being a full-time cartoonist working from home could easily send us over the edge... But Dave manages to channel any restless energy into his work, well that and a restorative bike ride to clear the head once a day which seems to keep him sane!
Dave didn't start out working as a cycling cartoonist - he actually made his name drawing cartoons about life in the Church and has been the weekly cartoonist for the Church Times newspaper for the last 10 years. But despite his artistic success, Dave has no formal art training, and never intended to become a cartoonist.
"In '96, '97 I was at college studying Theology. I found it quite hard going and drawing cartoons of college life became my release. I had this door which was on quite a busy thoroughfare and I stuck the cartoons up on the outside. I'd be inside, working, and hear this chortling - they went down quite well! I just did them for fun, but you never quite know what's going to take off."
After Christian Training College ended, Dave became a Youth Worker within the Church, based in Eastbourne and then Cookham in Berkshire. "I did it for seven years - it was hard work and I needed a change." By his own admission, Dave doesn't often draw about anything terribly profound or political, instead drawing about what he knows, "a cartoon works best if you know about the subject." Dave started posting his work on the internet, alongside his blog, and before he knew it the Church Times was knocking on his door. He's been a full-time cartoonist (with one short break) ever since.
As well as drawing very 'Vicar of Dibley' style cartoons, Dave is passionate about cycling, having cycled for as long as he can remember. "I got into the racing side of it while I was doing my A levels. I had a go at racing, riding quite a few time trials, and I did a road race or two. I did a few cyclocross races as well, though I'd get dropped on the first lap and get entirely demoralised!" He only stopped racing when he moved briefly to Central London. "I was skinny and could go up hills quite well, even on my mountain bike. In the last 10 years I've got much more into it again."
But it's not the lure of a lighter, faster, shinier, new bike that motivates Dave to keep working on his cartoons, it's trying out different styles of riding that does it for him. "I've done a bit of everything. I even tried out at the Velodrome in Lea Valley a few times. I got to Level 1, I had to do that twice - I failed the first time! Then Level 2 - you have to ride a lot closer to people. After that, well I realised that I wasn't going to progress. I really enjoyed it but I don't think I'm cut out to be a track cyclist." Nowadays, he's more often seen out at the Langdon Hills Country Park on his cyclocross bike, or going for a road ride on his Trek bike out beyond Billericay.
He's just bought an Elephant Bike - which ticks several boxes - not least the ethical box. Elephant bikes are ex-postal bikes which are reconditioned by offenders in HM Prisons. For every bike that's sold, one is sent to Malawi to help boost social enterprise. Only trouble is, they weight about 25 kilos - but the ethical value is what matters to Dave, he doesn't go in for marginal gains!
Dave, as far as we at Ride Velo are concerned, is most famous for his fantasy bike shed cartoon. We were so inspired by this that we wrote a whole article in his honour about what was in our fantasy bike shed. So we were very keen to take a look inside his garage...
"I've only got seven bikes in there, and two of them are my wife's. Everything's fairly basic. There's a mountain bike, my cross bike, the road bike, the new elephant bike, a hybrid (which is the one I use most). Oh and of course my Brompton lives under the stairs! I would love a better road bike, but I'm not really one of those people who needs to have the latest kit. I like the variety of doing different types of riding and that's what interests me." This was the rather disappointingly modest reply, but then Dave is very Christian, and we shouldn't have expected him to atavistically hoard a cache of glistening carbon and steel for our delight!
He does, however, love watching road racing and has spent two summers on the trail of Tour de France riders in the Alps and the Pyrenees. Last year he even rode up Alpe d'Huez - a personal fantasy bike climb, "you feel quite good about yourself as you pass other riders and think, actually, I'm not too bad! I did get a bit lost at the top, though, so I couldn't really record an accurate time," yeah yeah Dave... "I would love to do any cycling - anywhere that's not South Essex really."
This year, though, he's got his work cut out as Bloomsbury Publishing have just commissioned him to produce a book of his cycling cartoons. Something along the lines of P is for Peloton by Mark Fairhurst and Suzy Clemens, except without the text. "It'll be a mixture of fresh new cartoons and old classics. I've done some cartoons for other people but I've been saving some stuff up too, so I've got quite a lot of material in various stages being worked on." He's going to need about 100+ cartoons and it's a slow process - thinking of the concepts, pencilling them in and then scanning and editing.
"I quite like the challenge, I'm really looking forward to doing it. Bloomsbury have been great to work with so far," he says with characteristic enthusiasm. "Where my ideas come from is still a complete mystery to me. I scribble down a rough idea in pencil. A lot of it is getting the text right, whereas for other artists it's all about the drawing. A lot of the stress and anxiety is getting the idea and the words to illustrate it, then deciding on the format."
Dave always starts in pencil on a plain piece of A4, then inks it over in pen, scans it into his computer and erases bits and edits it until he's happy with the end result. He relies on people sending him things to inspire him "people email me," he says. He sometimes puts out requests for ideas on his blog and on Twitter, although he puts it more subtly than that, "I'll say I'm taking suggestions," he says modestly. Ride Velo gave him lots of our ideas for cycling cartoons, such as our hilarious cycling hand signals routine, developed over many long rides in the Kent Alps. But to be honest he didn't look that impressed!
So thank you, Dave, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk bikes with us and show us your prides and joy. We can't wait for the new book to come out, though it's not going to be until 2017. And if you're stuck for ideas - well you know where we are...