Polyp, since I first saw your work years ago, I have been a huge admirer. Somehow you manage to sum up an idea, a situation, or an issue so neatly that I just cry out ‘that’s spot on’. How do you get your ideas and is the creation of each cartoon a lengthy process?
Thanks for that! That pretty much sums up how I want people to react to them! It really starts with something very simple - anger! It’s what drives me to want to comment about what’s going on around me - particularly if I feel it’s something no-one else seems to want to talk about. Sometimes an idea will sit on the back burner for a long time before it’s ready to get drawn - others are instant. Getting the dialogue right is important and can take a long time - many cartoonists, particularly earnest political ones, don’t seem to have an ear for language, which makes their work seem very flat and didactic... the important thing for me is to try and boil issue X, Y or Z down to it’s moral essence.
You say you’ve been drawing since the 1980s and you first had cartoons published by the Leeds Student Newspaper. Can you tell us how and why you became a political cartoonist? Do you have any of your early cartoons you can show us?
Here’s one the first political cartoons I ever did, from Leeds Student - the second of three in a Reagan set...shortly afterwards he got diagnosed with Polyp’s up his arse - that sure made the name stick! I still have the ‘Reagan well despite second Polyp’ newspaper cutting..
Jumping to the present, I hear you have a new book coming out. I wonder if you could tell us a bit about it and whether we could have a sneak preview of any of the contents?
It’s called SPEECHLESS / SIN PALABRAS / SANS MOTS. WORLD HISTORY - WITHOUT WORDS. Oddly enough, it’s actually two books, both telling the same ‘story’ in very different ways, and with very different endings... or perhaps you’d want to call them ‘futures’? The most striking thing about them is neither contains a single word of written dialogue, whilst trying to describe quite complex ideas about how the global political system arose and operates.
Both of the ‘Earths’ in the two books are themselves miniature models of ours - the main book (it had the ‘working title’ of ‘If The World Was 100 People’ - inspired by that viral email, see www.miniature-earth.com) shows a spherical, semi realistic Earth... the reader gets to watch the characters interact from prehistory to the present day - and maybe, depending on the reaction of the viewer, on into the future... The small book (‘One Tree Island’) is a much more allegorical affair, with a tiny island floating in space, inhabited by just 10 very strange looking semi human creatures. I wouldn’t call them alien, as I think the reader will probably find their behaviour very familiar..?
So far both seem to give the test readers quite a roller coaster emotion reaction - from laughter to anger and disgust. Good! Perhaps most interestingly, the plot of one book affects the plot of the other - they’re a bit like a set of mirrors reflecting each other, and hopefully make for a quite trippy read in some ways. Or at least I still find it all a bit trippy - but maybe that’s just the solvent in the pens..?
Me and the publishers (New Internationalist and Friends of the Earth International) are hoping the whole language free approach will give it a real international appeal... the characters in the main book speak a kind of graphic ‘Esperanto’ that we hope anyone in the world will be able to understand... and of course one of the key assumptions is that the kind of behaviours we describe in the book are so outrageous and blatant that anyone can recognise what’s being described - without words.
The book is coming out this summer, and you’ll be able to buy it from www.newint.org and www.foei.org or order it from shops etc. I hope you like it! (Polyp now has his own website: www.speechlessthebook.org)
You create props and costumes as well as cartoons, can you tell us about a prop you made that you were really proud of and who was it for?
A ‘Rich World vs. Poor World’ game of table football for Christian Aid’s youth section, with a sloping pitch, moving goalposts, etc., etc. I particularly like the fact that the concept arose out of a carnival themed exhibition I did here in Manchester - it just went POP! and there was the (almost) finished idea. You can often tell an idea is a winner if after the initial inspiration the idea just grows and grows and generates it’s own extra features... the book has been very much like that, which gives me hope it’ll do really well... sometimes it felt like it was writing itself.
What advice can you give to a radical cartoonist who would like to get published?
Don’t be better than me or I’ll send some big blokes round to break your fingers for you! Or on a less threatening note... When I started out I did a lot of stupid things like writing and drawing entire comic books and then sending the complete things to publishers. One did get accepted in the end, and became a special issue of the New Internationalist, but it’s a dumb, time wasting thing to do... creating sample pages and sending them off with a synopsis is much more sensible. You’re also going to have to develop a rubber heart to take all the hard knock rejections you’re probably going to get... doing stuff for free for a while gets you noticed and gives you the credibility of being in ‘print’. A part time job can be a good bridge to tide you along while you’re building up the career into a full time one. Once you’re there, if you’re a lazy git like me, you’re in hog heaven, provided you don’t wanna be rich... you can go out and get pissed most nights of the week and doss around in bed for half the day... unless you’re working on a book!
And of course the web is a really interesting place- as long as you can optimise your site for search engines - give the images long names with terms you think people will search for eg. polyp_political_cartoon_aid_trade.jpg
How long have you had your website up for and how important is the web for the work that you do?
Not long - 6 months? It generates a lot of work and publicity, so it’s pathetic that it took me so long to be online! I mean, where would you go looking for cartoons? On the web! And to be honest, it’s really nice getting mail from people - you don’t ever really get much feedback from readers through other sources, and it can sometimes feels like the work just vanishes into the ether once it’s drawn - unlike standup comedy, where you instantly know what people think of your stuff... particularly if it’s crap!
This interview originally appeared in issue 15 of Now or Never!