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Off the record with Jeremy Banx

08 Jul 2015


To help London Business School (LBS) celebrate its 50th anniversary, FT cartoonist, Jeremy Banx created 10 illustrations depicting prominent school moments across the decades. Now LBS talks to the man behind the illustrations

Banx illustration

My daily routine is varied…

I live in Greenwich with my wife Elaine and four children: Grace, Paloma, Ava and Lulu. My wife is studying to be a psychotherapist and has to go to Hampshire every day, so she gets up at 05.00. I’m up by 06.30, the kids are out of the house by 08.00 and at that point I go to the gym – I don’t get out of the house otherwise.

I’m currently working on cartoons for a book called HM Prison Service: A Survival Guide by Carl Cattermole, an ex-offender who on finishing his stint in an English prison, decided to help those preparing for life inside. I’ll be creating drawings for the book’s publicity.

After reading a brief, or working on curated drawings, I look at the news online and listen to Radio Four if I’m drawing. If I’m coming up with ideas, I turn the radio off. I browse online for stories, come up with ideas about places I’d like to go and subject matters of interest to me. On a day where there’s lots of bad news, for example with Greece’s debt, it’s a bit tricky to draw inspiration. I don’t do ‘big political statements’, it’s not my style.

When I receive a brief… 
The first thing to do is read it. In the case of LBS, I read what I’d been given, and for HM Prison Service: A Survival Guide, I’ve read the book! If I have any questions, or I don’t understand something fully, then I go back to the client. I work collaboratively to decide on deadlines and how many drawings are needed to fulfil the brief. For LBS, I presented rough drawings to give options: after that, I draw them up. 

Why I don’t map out illustrations in my mind before putting pen to paper…
There is no thinking and then drawing. I think and draw together. I write lists of things, such as key words, and just put anything down in the first instance: there’s lots of rubbish and mistakes, but it’s about exploring to see the work’s possibilities. The fun of drawing and thinking as one is the uncertainty of where it will take you. 

I have never illustrated myself…
And I don’t know why! My twitter profile image (@Banxcartoons) tends to be one of my guys with a big nose, small moustache and glasses – and I do wear glasses but I don’t have a moustache. I would probably focus on my physical characteristics such as my little beard and glasses, but I haven’t got much hair – it’s more, ‘short back and sides’. 

Not everyone is Michelangelo …
But everyone can draw. People often say they can’t, because they get told at school that they can’t, but I’d say to them: ‘Don’t worry about other people’s judgement. There’s nothing wrong with drawing a stick man, but make the stick man your stick man’. That’s the key ingredient; make the work your own. 

Ideas are hard work. When I go into creative mode, I enter a different frame of mind: they are two worlds that otherwise don’t come together. If you ask people (not even just creative people): ‘How do you do what you do?’ They often say they don’t know. Drawing for me is the whole, which is far greater than the sum of its parts.

I like it when people laugh at things they shouldn’t laugh at…
Such as the gags that are a little sad. My humour can be described as sadness and futility with a tinge with morbidity. Comedy is often about pain: there always has to be pain and anxiety. Life can be tragic and comedy is a way to break that tension. Think of the best comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, they are often are tragic. When things are bad people want tragedy, but when things are really, really bad, people want comedy. 

I’ve got a little statue of Andy Capp…
From the British comic strip, on my desk in my office at home. My office is packed with books and knick-knacks; I think I take after my gran who was like that. I’m surrounded by things my children have made, so it’s a very crowded room. Some people are a little bit afraid to enter my work space, because of the chaos ¬– in fact, I tend to meet with clients in the living room, as there’s more room to sit. 

As much as I like my office, I can work anywhere, even on trains. I don’t have any quirky working habits, but I do have a slight superstition about throwing away rough copies before the job is finished, but that’s just practical, isn’t it? 

My favourite pieces of work…
Are a handful of Financial Times and Punch illustrations. Rather than worry about what people think of my work, I just try to do my best: I think that’s how you please people. 

I’m sometimes surprised when I put the gags I like best on Twitter and they don’t get retweeted as many times as the work I’ve created without thinking too much about what I’m doing. I think popularity on Twitter is down to the subject matter and rides on what’s trending at the time, so it’s hard to tell what’s going to be popular.

I hope I don’t have a career highlight…
Because that suggests I’m on my way out! But I enjoyed designing the Nice carnival floats: they were enormous, the size of houses, and made out of papier-mâché. It was a high point to work with people in France. 

I’m also launching an e-magazine called The Reaper (www.reaper.rip), where I’m ‘Head Gravedigger’, which I’m quite excited about. That’s a high point for me, looking to the future. 

My best ever piece of advice came from…
Someone at Punch. They told me to fill in the little black bits inside the mouths of my characters to make them look like they are talking. Now, that may sound silly, but it was a very practical piece of advice that has always stayed with me.

As for a life tip? I say, just keep at it. It’s all practice and no work is ever wasted, you always learn something.

Working with LBS? 
It was great fun and I enjoyed doing the work because it promoted ideas, which is what I’m all about.

Author: Anna Johnston

Checkout the 50th anniversary illustrations here.