Steve Bell


Written by Kieron Monks
26 Tuesday 26th January 2010

Steve Bell is probably Britain's most recognisable political cartoonist. Over a 28 year career at the Guardian he has terrorized the rich and powerful, often depicting them as animals and monsters. Anyone familiar with his George W Bush chimpanzee or his William Hague baby couldn't help but feel a slight pang of sympathy for the much-reviled leaders. Mixing surreal visuals with hilarious dialogue, Bell's cartoons have won him wide acclaim and a host of awards. His work is currently on display at the Political Cartoon gallery as part of Browned Off, a study of Gordon Brown. We caught up with him to talk about life, art and the problems we face.

Blair (©Steve Bell )

DP: So what are you working on at the moment? 

SB: Mainly the collapse of the economy. I suppose I'll come back to Obama eventually. 

DP: You have a fairly ferocious style; do you have any restrictions on your material? 

SB: None at all. The Guardian is great to work for because they trust you. Unless you write something chronically libelous, it's no problem. Having been doing this since 1981 I must know the rules pretty well. When I do get in trouble it tends to be on matters of taste. We do have the ‘shit guidelines'. You're not supposed to draw too much shit. Whenever I do three or four days in a row the editor phones me up and says, "That's probably enough shit".

Boris Johnson (©Steve Bell )
  DP: What about all the politicians you abuse? Do they never get upset? 

SB: Politicians are normally very thick skinned; they don't like you to know if they're bothered. I do hope they get offended, after all I'm trying to get under they're skins. But a lot of the time I think they're flattered by the attention. John Prescott got a bit annoyed. I had been drawing him as a bulldog for many years and he called me to say, "I'm not a fookin dog am I?!"  

Prescott (©Steve Bell)

DP: Who are your favourite targets to make fun of? 

SB: George Bush for one. In a way it's a shame to see him go. I won't be able to do him anymore, as there's nothing deader than an ex-president. Gordon Brown was fun to play with, as well as John Prescott of course. I spend a lot of time at party conferences and meetings watching these guys. To be a cartoonist you need to be very close to your subjects.

Bush(©Steve Bell)
  DP: You recently drew pictures of the Gaza conflict. How do you make a tragic issue humourous? 

SB: Well the Gaza pictures weren't meant to be funny, but I think its important not to ignore such major issues. One of my favourite cartoonists is Art Spiegelman, who based Maus in the middle of the holocaust. Comic doesn't mean trivial. Comedy and tragedy go together quite naturally.   

DP: Do you feel freedom of speech is under threat in this country? 

SB: Definitely! The BBC are a case in point. Their coverage of the war in Gaza has been embarrassingly prudish. We need to see the consequences of what we're doing. It's totally at odds with Arab coverage, which really shows you the damage of bombing a built up area, crushed babies and everything. That's a lot of what motivates me. I want to try and show things that aren't mediated. It's even worse in America where they have a syndication system that vetoes a lot of controversial content. It makes everything pretty bland.

Mugabe (©Steve Bell)
  DP: As an ex-teacher, what would you say about our education system? 

SB: Well I should say I was one of the worst teachers ever. I didn't last very long. But I do feel this country has some very deep rooted problems. For one, education is very skewed toward the elite. Children at fee-paying schools have a huge advantage. We also have a terrible habit of blaming teachers for our problems rather than addressing the system itself. The Labour party is pretty schizoid on this. They've made a lot of bum moves - getting rid of grants, introducing top up fees. We need universal policies that avoid elitism. 

DP: Well, good speaking to you Steve. Plans for the future? 

SB: Not plans exactly. But I will try and stay interesting.

See more of Steve Bell's cartoons on the Guardian website. All pictures ©Steve Bell

Michael Howard(©Steve Bell)

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  • Guest: de_proefmuur
    Thu 24 - Feb - 2011, 22:32
    Maggie's farm the last round up I'm reading now Crasy stuff!