TOM JOHNSTON – Cartoonist | Writer | Comedian
Tom Johnston was born in Belfast, Ireland in 18th May 1951. He attended St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School there until 1969, then moved to England to go to Leeds College of Art for a Fine Art Degree, progressing to complete a Masters in Education at University of London. After teaching art in Leyton Girl’s Senior High School for two years he became a freelance cartoonist in 1977.
His early work appeared in the ground-breaking, weekly London listings magazine Time Out, the respected fortnightly British satirical & current affairs magazine Private Eye, as well as the weekly music paper Sounds. He also had many of his more risky / “bleeding-edge” cartoons published in the radical UK political magazine The Leveller and anarchist magazine Il Male – one of the most important and successful satirical “revolutionary journal[s]“ in Italy.
Tom Johnston became known as the originator of the “Punk Cartoon” through his work in the iconic music paper Sounds and from there was talent-spotted / invited by visionary journalist John Blake to create daily Pocket Cartoons for the first Pop Culture & Celebrity Gossip column in any UK newspaper – the London Evening Standard’s ‘Ad Lib’ page.
In 1985, The Standard’s editor, John Leese, contracted Tom to supply more conceptually sophisticated daily Political Cartoons for the news & current affairs pages of the paper. Under John Leese’s mentorship Johnston’s talents were fine-tuned and showcased, as he honed his skills as a leading cartoonist and cultural mischief-maker.
This career break eventually led to Johnston becoming the featured Political Cartoonist for The Sun, The People, The News Of The World and The Daily Mirror. By the mid-1980s Tom was the main Political Cartoonist for four different newspapers at the same time.
On top of this work Tom Johnston created Pocket Cartoons for The Sun’s Bizarre Pop Column, as well as two Strip Cartoons – ‘Flynn’, about a loveable dalmatian and the popular ‘Rock Steady Eddie’, who was an ageing and socially-inept celebrity DJ with the catchphrase “AROOGA!!!”… years before Harry Enfield’s ‘Smashie and Nicey’. Also at this time Johnston drew two Strip Cartoons for The News Of The World – ‘Short John Silver’ and ‘Ello Ello Ello’… about the Police. In the now defunct Today Newspaper Johnston had a strip called ‘The Yuppies’, which ran for about two years.
In 1996, after Kelvin McKenzie left, Johnston was persuaded by Piers Morgan to join him at The Daily Mirror, where he again generated the main Political Cartoon and a (somewhat autobiographical) Strip Cartoon called ‘Real Life’, about the silliness of the human condition. He also provided The Daily Mirror’s Sunday publication The People with four Current Affairs Pocket Cartoons under the title ‘The Week That Wasn’t’.
Tom Johnston has been nominated for ‘Cartoonist of the Year’ three times by the UK Press Gazette (UKPG). In a print interview from August 1989 (“Being funny is a serious business: Three cartoonists give Michael Durham the secret of their success”) in The Independent, Tom likens the job of being a professional cartoonist to “controlled daydreaming”, where “you have two ideas flying around in your mind, then suddenly they come together. It’s a gift”, and added that the secret of his success was having “a sideways view of life”.
Tom Johnston’s original artwork is highly sought after with multiples of his drawings being owned by The Queen, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Samuel Beckett and many other celebrities. A sample of some of Tom’s early work is on display as part of the British Cartoon Archive, administered by the University of Kent, and can be viewed on the BCA website.
Tom Johnston‘s cartoon books include Sex ‘n’ Dogs ‘n’ Rock ’n’ Roll – Tagline: “Pop with its Pants off!” on Hook Books; 1st edition (1981) and the risque Animal Lovers, published by Boxtree Ltd… as well as several yearly compilation books of Political Cartoons from various newspapers. His work has appeared in many publications about the British Royal Family… also in two books by Professor Colin Pillinger ‘Mars In Their Eyes’ & ‘Space Is A Funny Place’ and even in Richard Branson’s ‘Losing My Virginity: The Autobiography’.
In 1978 Tom Johnston published and edited the renegade cartoon magazine Duck Soup along with his friend and fellow cartoonist David Austin. It’s worth noting here that publisher / cartoonist Chris Donald credits Duck Soup Magazine as being influential in the birth of VIZ Magazine. In 1981 Johnston became the target for a police manhunt when he and friends from Il Male published a spoof of The Times while it was on strike. In the end The Times was awarded all the profits from the spoof and Tom had to sign an affidavit to promise never to publish The Times again.
In 1978 Tom Johnston was one of the original founding members of the innovative / under-rated band The The with Matt Johnson and Keith Laws on synthesiser… Tom Johnston’s cartoon work financed the band in the early days and Matt recalls that Tom even bankrolled the recording of The The’s first single “Controversial Subject” / “Black & White” in 1980 on cult label 4AD Records. Both tracks were produced by Tom’s friends Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis from influential and experimental art-punk / post-punk band Wire. Tom left The The in the early ’80s.
More recently Johnston produced Hip-Hop & Jungle remixes of The Muppets’ classic, “Mahna Mahna”, for his friend, movie director / producer Brian Henson. The record was made with Yello‘s producer, Ian Tregoning.
Tom Johnston has been married twice to Californian artist Tina Engressia and TV presenter Franky Ma with whom he has a teenage daughter, Billy Johnston. Tom now lives and works from a cliff-top house near the village of Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim, Northern Ireland. He regularly commutes to London and the USA to meet with clients and creative collaborators. His original artwork is available for sale HERE on this site and he is contactable through his personal email address –