Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Person of the Week: Cartoonist Alex Williams

Occupation: Animator and Queen's Counsel and BabyBarista cartoonist

1. Briefly describe what your job involves.
I draw the weekly cartoon strip "Queen's Counsel" which appears each Thursday in the law pages of The Times. My wife is a solicitor and as my deadline approaches I harrass her for ideas, insisting that it has been weeks since she wrote anything funny for me. She replies that the only funny jokes I do are her ideas, and frankly why don't I do some work for a change? Eventually I draw something, scan it, paint it in Photoshop, and send it to The Times, hoping that this week I don't get fired. I also work on animated movies, breathing life into digital characters, which is a lot of fun. I spent 10 years in Los Angeles stuck in traffic and working for various studios, but nowadays London's Soho is a world-class centre for animation and visual effects work, which is the main reason I moved back home.

2. What do you like about your work?
Working on movies can be huge fun, especially if you have the sense that the picture will be a hit. My first ever film job was on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and I vividly recall the feeling of being on something that was destined to be a sensation - we could just smell it. That kind of certainty is rare, but more recently I worked on the last 3 Harry Potter films which are about as close as you can get to a box office sure-thing. Cartoon strips are a quieter pleasure, but the work is much more personal and in some ways more rewarding.

3. What would be your dream job?
Directing films is about the best job going. I have done a little of it and more would be greatly appreciated. There is nothing quite like watching a movie come together with a team you love to work with. Writing books is fun too but the economics of publishing are profoundly depressing.

4. What are your favourite things beyond work?
Hmm...that's a tough one. I work all the time, but mainly because I love what I do. So I suppose if you do what you love then that becomes your favourite thing. I don't have hobbies as such. I do have a bit of Wikipedia addiction however which brings out my repressed monkish tendencies, writing long biographies of obscure dead people, which no-one reads.

5. What are your favourite books and films?
My favourite books are the ones which have had the most profound influence on my thinking, though not necessarily the best read. In no particular order: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins - a book that makes you feel brainy just by reading it. God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens - the finest and most clear expression of the case for the non-existence of a deity. Free to Choose by Milton Friedman - Adam Smith for dummies. As for films, I love the old Sergio Leone westerns - A Fistful of Dollars and all the others. Marvellous fun. And pretty much anything by Ridley Scott.

6. What changes would you like to see in the law?
I was a barrister 20 years ago but my legal skills are pretty feeble these days, so I dare not presume any great insight into legal reform. But as a member of the 4th estate I would say we could do a lot for Freedom of Speech if we binned our libel laws, or at least made them less chilling in their effects. I'm an admirer of the US constitution, and the case for free speech seems as unassailable now as it was in the 18th century.

7. What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers?
The best thing I did as a baby barrister was join the Free Representation Unit. Real cases for real clients; proper courtroom experience and the chance to make your mistakes early - and out of sight of your pupil master. And, best of all, a sense of putting your legal training to good practical use. Also, enjoy the Inns of Court dinners. Everyone rolls their eyes at having to dine in hall but the dinners can be huge fun; the booze flows freely and where else do you get to take snuff from a Queen Anne silver snuffbox in the Hogwarts Dining Hall?

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