Cartoonist Neil Kerber has started a model agency with a difference. No more divas or no-shows, and they’ll always look fabulous… because all the models are cartoons.
Working as a cartoonist for the last 20 years, Kerber’s work appears daily in UK national press, with regular fixtures in Private Eye, the Daily Mirror, and various other publications over the years. The London-based cartoonist was a doodler from a young age, being persuaded at 20 by a family friend “that it’s possible to do something you really enjoy, and that work can actually be fun,” says Kerber”. Soon after this he pitched his ideas to the Sunday People and his cartoons were picked up for weekly slot.
He references Jim Henson, Dr. Seuss and Ronald Searle as key early influences, and says that Gary Larson (creator of The Far Side) was undoubtedly his biggest inspiration when he was starting out. “His daily cartoons used to make me belly laugh, a rare achievement,” he says.
A day in the life of the cartoonist in his office, a few doors down from his home, involves coming up with ideas for cartoons, working on characters, and meeting up with his Daily Mirror cartoon partner, chatting to the paper about stories and working up ideas for the following day’s cartoon.
Much of Kerber’s time is now spent expanding his newest venture, Cartoon Model Management, developing characters and models, emailing PR companies, completing commissions and so on. The CMM project developed after Kerber sketched a cartoon supermodel several years ago. “I thought that if I drew her wearing the latest trends, giving the drawings a slightly funny twist, she could feasibly appear in the pages of fashion magazines, or on billboards, just like a real supermodel,” he says. “I’ve been creating a cartoon strip in Private Eye for 20 years called Supermodels and I have some understanding of how the industry works, albeit limited.”
And the character of Polly Bean was born – a stick-thin figure that Kerber sketched into several campaigns featuring well-known fashion brands, sending the ‘shots’ to various prestigious London model agencies. Accompanying them was a letter from Polly herself, explaining how she was dissatisfied with her current management and was looking for new representation.
The very next day Kerber received a call from Premier, one of the world’s top agencies, who have handled big names including Naomi Campbell and Christie Turlington. After a few meetings Polly was signed, appearing on the model board next to the human faces at the agency. “The trick was to not mention she was a cartoon, and hopefully build up her fame, eventually hiring her out at supermodel rates,” he says.
Polly has since been signed up for regular appearances in Vogue, hired by brands including Harvey Nichols, DKNY and Evian, and written about in various major magazines.
She recently left Premier, remaining with three other agencies internationally, and a few months later Kerber created a model boyfriend for her called Ollie, and together they were the first models on the Cartoon Model Management books. They were closely followed by Lolly the curvy plus size beauty, Herbie Power, “the world’s most successful person ever”, and a dog called Harvey Licks.
All have already found success, some being commissioned for major brands, with Polly even find a fan in Donna Karen, who recently sang her praises to Vogue. “Polly is my kind of gal,” Karen said. “Funny, creative, passionate, obsessive and definitely a bit naughty; you have to love her. It doesn’t matter how amazing the dress may be, she’s always the star.”
Herbie and Harvey
Instead of photoshoots the shots are drawn, which comes with its own unique advantages. “The clothes and products (and settings) always look amazing. Clients will always find CMM models a lot easier to work with than human models: less temperamental, turning up on time and not drinking or taking drugs, or having eating disorders,” says Kerber. “And there are no extra costs involving stylists, hairdressers, make-up artists, photographers, flight tickets or hotel rooms.” There is also the opportunity for CMM to create a bespoke model to suit the client’s needs.
The unusual idea continues to build on its success, with CMM just announcing that Ollie will be featuring in a 5 page summer fashion spread in the May issue of GQ. “It’s very exciting and will hopefully push Ollie into the world of menswear in a big way, says Kerber. “For a male model, you can’t get much bigger than this.”