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Expat Interview – Steve Bright (Part 4)


Steve Bright's cartoon of PIIGS to the slaughter
BE: Are you artistic in other ways? For example, do you play any musical instruments or write books? Photography?

Steve Bright: I am embarrassed to have to admit, in a profession that sees a very high percentage crossover with musical talent, that it has completely passed me by. I’ve been told, however, that I sing like an angel… or was it a dead person? Nope. I draw – that’s about it. Mustn’t be greedy. I played violin at primary school for a year, until my mother told me that either the violin went, or she did.

It’s been said (probably by you) that many cartoonists, whilst funny on paper, are miserable gits in real life. Are you a miserable git? What makes you smile or laugh when you’re not working?

There are cartoonists who certainly believe that being a miserable git is almost a prerequisite for the job, and that the more cynical and jaundiced your views on life, the better the ideas you’ll come up with. I think there’s an element of truth in that, although I have to say that my own experience of most cartoonists I’ve met in person (many!) contradicts those assertions. We enjoy getting together when we can, at cartoon festivals and organised events, and generally a very agreeable time is had by all. Although perhaps if you were to analyse it, much of the time might be spent being miserable gits in harmony with each other, I dunno. From my own perspective, I became a cartoonist aged 23, newly married, and with our first child on the way shortly afterwards. Life was as good as it ever had been, and I don’t recall having any time for being miserable. That said, as I’ve stated already, mine was not the most conventional route into the business. Cartoonists do laugh though – and a lot. And at everything. All part of the job, innit…

Do you laugh at your own jokes?

Only the funny ones.

I get the impression that cartooning is your hobby as well as your job. What else do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Surprise us!

I am vice-president of the West Midlands Naturist Society. That’s not actually true, but I bet it surprised you. Nah – rather boringly perhaps, you’re right; cartooning is also my hobby, although until relatively recently I never used to draw for my own amusement. I still don’t – everything I draw is hopefully for the amusement of others, but I do a lot more unpaid stuff than I used to, and I mostly draw what I want to draw in doing so. Which is nice.

Do you have a personal motto or mantra?

Nil carborundum illegitimi. It means, “Have a nice day!“

You published a book of cartoons last year, Just Us Then? Would you like to tell us about that and any other projects you have planned?

The book is a collaboration between me and professional magician John Holt. We met at a convention where we had both been booked to entertain the attendees, and got on well, discovering we lived not far apart. We kept in touch, and would meet up for the occasional coffee. I soon discovered his talent for entertaining people extended to writing jokes and stand-up comedy. And so we hit upon the idea of self-publishing a book together, just for fun, comprising of many of the unpublished gag cartoons I had been drawing, mixed up with John’s one-liner jokes. We managed to get it stitched together and launched just before Christmas, and are both rather proud of it. It doesn‘t make us any money, because we set the price as low as possible so that hopefully it would be affordable to all, and all of the money goes to cover the publisher’s costs and cut. But that’s fine – it was all about the fun of putting it together, and hopefully putting a few smiles on people’s faces.

That’s what’s always been important, and the true joy of what I do for a living. I’ve effectively been in the cartooning business since I was 18, but I’ve never been much of a businessman throughout that time. I’m now 56. My proudest achievements will never be measured in financial terms, but so long as I can adequately provide for my loved ones, that’s of little or no concern. My aim is to simply keep working, and provide through what I do best. And against all the odds, I’ve managed it, somehow, so far.

No significant future projects on the go at the moment, but something will come along shortly – it always does.

Steve, many thanks for taking the time to entertain British Expat readers with your thoughts about life as a cartoonist. It’s been a highly entertaining interview to write up and I’m sure our folks will have a good chuckle at some of your answers too. Best wishes with all your future projects!

You can see more of Brighty’s cartoons at his website. And if, like Steve, you’re a fan of Marvel or D.C. Comics, and you’re not averse to a clever bit of mindless zombie violence and swearing, then you’ll love Hairy Steve.


Buy the book!

Just Us Then?

Buy from Amazon UK
Buy from Amazon US

Steve Bright & John Holt
Paperback, 90 pages
2014, Createspace
ISBN 978-1505512304
RRP: £7.99

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10 Responses to “Expat Interview – Steve Bright (Part 4)”

  1. Dave

    Great interview, and some great cartoons too. Thanks, Steve!

    Although I’m not an avid fan of DC or Marvel, I’m familiar with the style, so I couldn’t wait to click through on the Hairy Steve link. It had me nearly crying with laughter time after time – one of the cleverest and most entertaining pastiches I’ve seen in a long time. Superb!

  2. Mike Kingdom-Hockings

    Great life story, Steve. Kay sent me a copy of ‘Just Us Then?’ to keep me out of mischief after I had my gall bladder removed last week. That elicited a range of responses from wry smiles to demented cackling, but then I switched into serious mode and worked through it again, trying to find the things that make the difference between my casual scribbles and professional work that is worthy of publication. (I’m talking about the drawings, not the captions, dialogue and contexts). You mention airbrush work, which I presume is done through a series of masks – slow and tedious for me, but no doubt loads of practice makes you slicker at it. You do not, however, mention the drawing itself. I can draw faces that look like faces – straight or caricature distortions – but making them look like a particular person is beyond me most of the time. I am sure that analysing faces and picking characteristics that identify them is a skill that I could learn if I did lots and lots of practice, but I’d be grateful for any hints about where to concentrate my efforts – I’m 76 now, so I probably have less than 15 years in which to make significant progress.

  3. Kay McMahon

    Hey, Mike! I’m glad you liked the book.

    Steve published a Christmas video last year which was entertaining, but I also found it highly educational. Have a look!

    This time last year, I could only gaze at it in wonder, but after a year of wrestling with PhotoShop, I’m starting to have a better idea of how he does it. Thanks for reminding me of it. I’ll need to watch it again a few times as it helps to see the master at work. 🙂

  4. Steve Brighty

    Dave, if you’re still looking in, thanks very much. I never did work for Marvel or DC (not to be confused with DC Thomson, who I’ve worked for extensively over the years) sadly, but it was great fun to try to put myself in those kind of shoes. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Mike, thank you also. I hope your recovery is going well. I think the key to successful caricaturing is working out what to ‘underplay’ in your drawing. It’s not all about exaggeration, as many people think. Knowing what to play down can make the parts you choose to exaggerate all the more effective – even the most unbalanced of drawings should still have balance. But I’m afraid I’m no teacher, and imparting advice is not my forte. The very best at this in regard to caricature, in my view, is the marvellous American cartoonist and caricaturist, Tom Richmond, whose work has lit up the likes of Mad Magazine for many, many years now. He has also written and illustrated the most definitive book on caricature I’ve ever seen, and I would thoroughly recommend you beg, borrow or steal a copy as soon as possible.

    It’s called ‘The Mad Art of Caricature’, and can be purchased from Amazon and other book sites. It’s not cheap, but purely for the entertainment value of Tom’s marvellous work alone, it’s worth every penny (cent), and a joy to behold. But it’s so much more than a showcase for his brilliant caricatures. In it, Tom goes into more depth about the art of caricature than most of us who have been doing it professionally for years even knew existed. There may be far more there than you actually need to know, but even the long-time pros can learn something from this book. I certainly have.

    On airbrush work… yes indeed, it was a very slow process, and often a very frustrating one in the bad old days of having to mask areas with film or setting fluids, and spray with temperamental airbrushes that needed constant cleaning and repairing. But the effects usually justified the effort, and made your work stand out from the rest. These days, however, using digital technology, you can achieve the same effects and much, much more in a matter of seconds with the likes of Photoshop, and the results can be spectacular if done well (and equally unspectacular if not). I can still occasionally look back wistfully at the methods of the ‘olden times’, but never for long. The new is much more exciting (it took me a while to be comfortable saying that).

    Good luck, Mike, and keep drawing! The main thing is to enjoy doing it, and don’t be worried about getting it wrong. It’s all learning and none of us is too long in the tooth for that. Corny, but true.

  5. Mike Kingdom-Hockings

    Thanks, Steve. I’m recovering well, and I’ve ordered ‘The Mad Art of Caricature’. I used to be a regular reader of Mad magazine when I was a little younger.

    I’ll bear in mind your hint about caricature needing you to play down the unimportant bits – does that mean that caricaturing people like Peter Sellars or even Alec Guinness is quite difficult (except when they are role-playing)?

    Even if I never put more than 1% of its contents to use, I’ll enjoy Tom’s book. I’m at the age when I read all kinds of unfamiliar things just to broaden my knowledge.

  6. Kay McMahon

    I second Steve’s recommendation of “The Mad Art of Caricature”. It’s very helpful. He suggested it to me some months ago and I was very impressed by it.

    Another piece of useful advice he gave me about drawing caricatures is that sometimes you think a face may be an absolute gift for a caricature, but it doesn’t work out that way. I found this out to my cost when I attempted to caricature Simon McBurney.

    I’m a big fan of his and I thought he would be a relatively easy subject. Not so. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get a likeness.

    On the other hand, I made a reasonable job (for a beginner) of Deborah Meaden and then Benedict Cumberbatch. I guess you don’t know until you try.

    Good luck!

  7. Steve Bright

    Mike, I’ve never caricatured either Sellers or Guinness, but as Kay points out, it’s one of the oddities of caricaturing that you never know how easy these things are going to be until you actually try, and that can be a big part of the fun when they work first time, or an immense frustration if they don’t. You’d think John Prescott would be a dream, and for other caricaturists it would appear to be so. But for me, I’ve never been happy with any attempt I’ve made at drawing him (and that’s quite a few over the years), and he’s given me some real headaches. Then you try what looks to be a fairly bland face (usually the young pretty/handsome ones, who have yet to acquire that ‘lived in’ look) and they work immediately. There is no accounting for it. Delightful when it works well, frustrating when it doesn’t, but always fun facing the challenge.

  8. Mike Kingdom-Hockings

    I’ve just received my copy of Tom Richmond’s book, and I can’t put it down. It’s an excellent anatomy tutor, as well as its more obvious uses. The accompanying text makes it much easier to follow than either Leonardo’s sketches or Grey’s. You’ve done me a great favour, Steve.

  9. Mike Kingdom-Hockings

    Thanks for the follow-up, Steve. Since reading ‘The Mad Art of Caricature’ I have looked at faces in a different way, and I even draw invented ones differently. For example, I always drew the lower edge of a top lip as a smooth curve, believing that the downward hook in the middle was uncommon, and often a cartoonists’ stylisation. Now I can detect it in real faces even when it is very subtle.

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