Like father, like son

Ralph Whitworth.
Ralph Whitworth.
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WHEN your father was Sheffield’s most famous cartoonist – so well-loved his face would appear on city buses – the idea of sketching something yourself could perhaps seem a little intimidating.

“Teachers would shove a pen and paper in front of me and say ‘Be funny like your dad’,” recalls James Whitworth, son of the late legendary Star cartoonist Ralph. “And, because of that, there was nothing I wanted to do less – I ended up doing a degree in English.”

Cartoonist James Whitworth

Cartoonist James Whitworth

The fear, it seems, has been overcome.

For next week, the 41-year-old will host his first ever exhibition of his own cartoons.

He eventually took that pen and paper up in his late 20s, and hasn’t looked back since.

He now draws daily digests for news website Creative Boom, a weekly sketch for The Jewish Chronicle and regular freelance pieces for a variety of magazines, books and corporate leaflets.

And this upcoming show – called Sheffield Dozen (“although there’s actually 13”) – will feature cartoons, like those above, taking a sideways look at some of the city’s most iconic names and places: The Crucible, the Winter Garden and Fagan’s pub, for example.

Just don’t compare him to his pa too much.

“People say I draw like him, which is probably inevitable because he taught me,” says James, of Hallam Grange Close, Fulwood. “But he was so unbelievably talented that it’s a compliment. I tried not to draw like him for a while and they were rubbish.

“I remember at school I’d get asked for his autograph – and that was from teachers. His face would be on the side of buses which he didn’t really like because he was quite shy but he was a major selling point for The Star and The Morning Telegraph. People wanted to know what Whitworth was drawing. As a kid, it could be hard but now it makes me so proud.”

And if father and son have one more thing in common - apart from the fact they both sported tremendous beards – it’s their sense of humour.

“I think growing up with a cartoonist helped give me that skewed way of looking at the world,” says James. “You almost pick up that cockeyed humour through osmosis. He was a very funny man.”

Indeed, it is that humour James tries to infuse in his cartoons.

“You can have an artistic masterpiece but if it’s not funny, it’s not doing its job,” he says. “That was something else he taught me. I was very lucky to have him as a father.”

James’s Sheffield Dozen is exhibited at Bank Street Arts, city centre, October 4 - 29.