Cartoonists’ mentoring project with Dave Lupton also known as Crippen – the movements foremost disability cartoonist


Dave Lupton, aka Crippen disabled cartoonist is offering to share over 30 years of experience as a disabled cartoonist with other disabled artists via Skype. He wishes to mentor up to three disabled cartoonists, in partnership with DAO who are planning to publish work that emerges from this opportunity. Here the cartoonist elaborates on what he can offer and who he is looking for to take part.

A woman with no visible impairment - we are perhaps to assume she does not have any disability - is frowning and waving a hand at a sign which reads 'Normality training: How to stop upsetting people by looking disabled.' A woman carrying a crutch and a man wearing dark glasses and carrying a white cane respond to the frowning woman by saying: 'Be normal - but what makes you think we'd want to lower our standards.'

Normality Training cartoon (c) Crippen

Dave Lupton didn’t initially realise that his disability-based cartoons were political. They were just snap shots of situations that he’d encountered as a disabled person, sometimes funny, more often ironic.

When other disabled people began identifying with aspects of his work, especially those cartoons that identified the barriers that had been erected to stop our full participation within society, he began to see a political element emerging:

“My work became more overtly political when I began to focus on those political figures who were actively seeking to maintain the status quo and impose more restrictions on disabled people. The manipulation of legislation and the control of benefits being the main areas I addressed.”

“I saw the relevance of the Social Model of Disability as a basis for my cartooning. The Social Model understanding of disability is based upon identifying the many barriers that exist within our society that ‘disable’ us from a full and active participation. By focusing on the barriers that society has created, and by identifying these and the effects that it has on disabled people, I am able to portray situations with which other disabled people are able to identify.”

“In particular people with hidden impairments, such as someone with a mental health issue, often have a unique set of barriers to face. The biggest of these are ignorance and prejudice which can be portrayed in a cartoon more openly than most other formats. Also, the absurdity of some of these barriers imposed by society can more easily be ridiculed in a cartoon, rendering them impotent and allowing the disabled person more able to identify and then challenge them.”

disability cartoon

‘Danger live specimen’ – how often do we feel we’re on display, as disabled people

“For example, the oft heard comments “well, you don’t look disabled” portrayed in a cartoon with the response “Well, I was going to reply – You don’t look ignorant, but … “The non-disabled character portrayed in a way that makes them the butt of the joke! Often a cartoon is more accessible than the written word can be.”

Dave has learned how to focus his message within a cartoon, allowing characters to engage in dialogue that not only explains the background to a specific issue, but also identifies the irony or double standard that can exist. One of the biggest campaigns he supported through the provision of pro bono artwork and cartoons has been the exploitation of disabled people through cuts to benefits. Dave was a founder member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and designed their logo and subsequent logos of the groups around the country that came into being as a result. An important part of this was the Trades Union Disability Alliance (TUDA) and the Black Triangle Campaign in Scotland who Dave also provided cartoons and illustrations for free of charge.

Benefits cartoon

Back to the dark ages

“By focussing on facts that, for example, 70% of disabled claimants who had their benefits stopped by the DWP, had them reinstated after appeal, raised awareness that the company that the DWP were using to undertake these assessments (called ATOS) were not only unfit to carry out the assessments but, it is alleged, were actively encouraged by the DWP to fail as many disabled claimants as they could.”

“Many of my ATOS focussed cartoons contained information about the corruption that existed, for example ATOS not having to pay back their commission for undertaking assessments that failed. This continued when other American companies were brought in to replace ATOS, but who continued with the same immoral practices. I also focussed my attention on Iain Duncan Smith and later Esther McVey as their part in this scandal unfolded.”

“I think it’s important to say that many of the cartoons I produce are not commissioned, but are the result of my seeing a situation, usually political, that needs responding to. These cartoons are often shared around social media and placed on my blog, before being picked up by groups and organisations with a request to use it on their own sites, etc.”

“Other cartoons are commissioned by online magazines, group newsletters etc., who need to make a point about a certain issue that effects their readership. Some of the cartoons that I have created can be adjusted to incorporate a specific reference or group name so that more than one group could use the same cartoon, but with a reference to their own particular group name included.

“In this way I have provided a great deal of my work free of charge to groups and organisations of disabled people, especially those with little or no funding. I have subsidised this by producing work for those larger organisations who have been able to obtain funding for specific projects, such as producing a training manual or building a website that requires illustrations or cartoons.”

“I also get approached by groups from different countries who have seen my work on the internet. These cartoons often need altering, to incorporate their countries specific understanding of disability. To date I’ve supplied work to groups of disabled people in most European countries as well as the US and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Afghanistan, China, Japan and many more.”

“Disabled Equality Trainers often commission me to produce training visuals for them as well as artwork for various group magazines, newsletters, e-zines, web sites and blogs. Occasionally I will receive artwork from a disabled artist asking for a critique of their work. I’ve never considered setting up a formal mentoring session with another artist, which is why this project with DAO has caught my interest.”

Although DAO is offering paid commissions for pitches that we will be looking for as a result of this opportunity there is a need to explain that not all work as a disabled cartoonist will be generated by a commission with the expectation of payment.

A large part of representing the disabled community and providing a voice through the medium of cartoons means that many of the cartoons created will be generated in response to a current political situation. By posting these cartoons on Social Media, it creates a forum for debate and raises awareness of an issue that would have otherwise been missed. Creating a response in this way raises awareness and adds to the debate generated by other disabled people.

“Although many disabled people know of the Social Model understanding of disability, they often lack the experience to fully understand the implications of just what it means for them, and other disabled people in their everyday life. For example, they may be able to create a cartoon that highlights a specific issue but lack experience to show how this could impact upon wider issues for disabled people. For example, a cartoon that highlights the result of, for example, benefit cuts can also be spun to incorporate the political reasons behind the cuts and the corruption that this entails.”

“I wish to share the breadth of my experience in a mentoring capacity. The Social Model understanding will play a big part in the mentoring process and how that can be incorporated into artwork. As part of this I will be producing a resource that explains the Social Model understanding that the artists will have access to. There will also be a ‘guide to disability cartooning’ resource which will be made available to those who wish it.”

Dave is looking for up to three cartoonists who have shown some commitment and who have some experience with using cartooning as a medium. They will have the opportunity to explore political cartooning with him and those issues – and particularly hidden impairment issues – relevant to the disabled people’s movement.

He is offering weekly sessions by Skype for three months, tailoring down to one session a month for an additional six months. After this, he would be available as needed for the remainder of the year.

DAO is looking for disabled cartoonists to apply to take part in this mentoring opportunity. We will be looking for pitches from the mentees in accordance with our commissioning policy:

Please email Colin Hambrook at and Dave Lupton with ‘Cartoon Mentoring opportunity’ in the subject line, containing:
1. Five to ten examples of your cartoons and/ or links to where we can see your work.
2. A statement of 300 words letting us know about your experience of cartooning to date.
3. A statement of 300 words why you would like to take up this opportunity.
3. Your preferred accessible form of communication.

Please send no later than Friday 15th November 2019