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Expat Interview – Steve Bright (Part 2)

On cartooning

Brighty cartoon of Ed Miliband
BE: As one of Britain’s top cartoonists, people probably see your work in print every day. Yet, I suspect that you don’t enjoy fame in the same way as people in other careers in the public eye. How do you feel about fame and your share of it?

Steve Bright: Fame has never been a driving force in my life, which is probably just as well. In the early years of my career, I worked for children’s comics mostly, and wasn’t even permitted to sign my work back then (they relented years later). But it’s not important to me that people know my name (although obviously, from a business point of view, it’s handy) or my face. If my work is recognised, that’s far more valuable, and people will then make the effort to find out my name and track me down if they want me to work for them. I’ve enjoyed the occasional bit of limelight over the years, with media attention being attracted to my work, resulting in minor TV and press appearances, but I don’t seek it out. The one exception to that would be when I applied (successfully) to go on Countdown, which was a favourite TV programme of mine at the time. I lasted for one show, and the day after it was aired, a small elderly chap in a cloth cap followed me round my local supermarket, thinking I couldn’t see him, and clearly trying to remember where he’d seen me. A fellow season ticket holder at St Johnstone FC, who sat three seats down from me at the home games, also spoke to me for the very first time that Saturday as we took our seats. “Saw you on on the box,“ he said. I smiled. “You were pish!“ he continued. Fame? Who needs it?

You were the original writer and developer of “Bananaman”, a parody of various super heroes, in 1980. Has Bananaman played a significant part in your life?

Well, he’s always a good talking point. I had no idea he would become as successful a character as he did when I wrote that first script as a 19-year-old, however. Bananaman was my first assignment as the junior part of the two-man team charged with creating Nutty comic back in the late ’70s. I was given the task by my boss, who wanted a super-hero for the comic, and having been a huge Marvel/DC Comics fan throughout my teenage years, I relished the challenge. I even sketched out how I saw the first scripted page looking and was delighted when the original artist, the late, great John K. Geering followed my layout and character sketches very closely, albeit drawn in his own wonderful style, bringing the whole concept home beautifully. I had a lot of fun writing the scripts over the next few years, as the character became the main focus of the comic, going from the back page to the front and centre spread. And when D.C. Thomson eventually decided to delve into the world of animation, I was pretty astounded that they chose to do Bananaman over their other main characters of the day, like Dennis the Menace or Desperate Dan.

Many people have presumed that I’ve made a mint out of Bananaman’s success, but the truth is I was an employee of the company at the time, and just doing my job, so not a penny more than the annual salary I was on back then. Eventually, the Nutty folded, and Bananaman moved on to The Dandy comic, and is now a favourite in The Beano. I was asked to take the character on for a few years in his Dandy days, drawing as well as writing the strip, which was hugely enjoyable.

Apparently D.C. Thomson and Elstree Studio Productions are making a Bananaman movie which is due to be released this year. Are you involved with this production?

Not in any way. I left comics behind a few years ago now, and as I explained above, I have no claim on the character beyond my paid part in his past. It’d be nice to get an official invitation to the film première of course, but I won‘t be camped out by the letterbox waiting for it to arrive.

How do you see your role as a cartoonist? Are you an entertainer, a message carrier, or an illustrator? All of them and more?

Oh, boy! I hate to burst the bubble of the question, but in truth, after doing this for over 30 years, the answer would be ‘breadwinner‘. It’s a job. Yes, it’s a great job that I enjoy enormously at times (though not all times), and I can think of few that I’d rather have, but it’s what I do to provide for my family and keep a roof over our heads. And although it’s very gratifying to know that others can be entertained by what I do, or even be moved by it, there has never been any higher vocational aspect to it as a career choice other than to make money from something I enjoy doing. I’ve never aspired to anything more, although it’s certainly pleasing when more comes from it. So the answer would be yes, all of them and more may play a part, but my essential role and focus is provider, like most people who do any kind of work. That is the importance of cartooning to me, and beyond that, I see it as relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

“Where do you get your ideas?” is probably the most reviled question to ask a cartoonist and is often met with a sarcastic answer. Short of bashing the questioner on the head, how would you respond to such an enquiry?

Nope – you pretty much got the answer right there, although of course I’d use a sponge hammer! I think it’s one of those questions that most people who ask it instantly regret. It’s usually a knee-jerk question born out of not knowing what else to say. But I’ve learned to be amused by it these days, and hopefully I’ve never actually betrayed any annoyance it may have elicited in me in the past. It’s always asked with genuine sincerity, and doesn’t deserve to be scoffed at. The lofty answer is “Life!“, which is also the truth, but I have been known to say, “Matt from the Telegraph“… which is not the truth… just wishful thinking.

What cartooning achievement are you most proud of?

Surviving! I’ve been a full-time professional freelance cartoonist now for nearly 32 consecutive years, and am still operating at the higher end of the scale. It‘s been a roller-coaster ride, but the fact I’m still on the tracks, and enjoying the job more than at any other stage in my career, means more to me than any awards or accolades could ever do. I get paid to draw silly pictures – I’m a very lucky guy!

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