An interview with Jeremy Banx, cartoonist for the Financial Times
In Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, Tale of Two Cities, he tells us it was both “the best of times and the worst of times.” Well, that was then. But I can tell you that insofar as London’s Financial Times is concerned, it is simply the best of times, attributable in part to the right-on work of Editorial Cartoonist Jeremy Banx.
In our Transatlantic/Continental correspondence, Jeremy shared so many memories with us: the first cartoons he came in contact with, “were in old copies of Punch at the barber’s where my dad used to take me to have my hair cut – I was about 4 or 5, and my favorite cartoonists were Larry, Thelwell and Martin Honeysett” (when we looked them up we discovered them archived in cartoon museums and available on eBay). Jeremy continues, “At that age I just liked the direct visual appeal of the gags and fluid immediacy of the drawing” (he must have known even then he would be an artist himself).
Then later, he said, “I discovered ‘Tintin’ and ‘Asterix.’ Rene Goscinny, who created Asterix and Lucky Luke too is a towering genius to me, and I still love reading his work. I adore the way he builds situations into ever greater degrees of absurdity but always keeps things perfectly logical as for as his characters are concerned.
“A lot of my early influences were from British television series such as ‘Dad’s Army,’ ‘Hancock’ and ‘Steptoe and Son.’” (We remember Steptoe became “Sanford and Son” with Redd Foxx as second-hand dealer Sanford.) “I also loved the cinema, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd and the Marx brothers.”
“I have very happy memories of going to the cinema with my mother. We were always late so we’d watch the film from halfway in and then wait for it start again to see the beginning. You could do that in those days because films were on a loop.”
Recalling his first attempts at cartooning, Jeremy Banx told us that his mother “always liked my drawings as a child, but my father was concerned that I’d never earn a living drawing. My saddest memory is his dying when I was 13, long before he had the chance to see me working professionally.”
As he was reminiscing about his family, he also recalled, “An art teacher called M. Iselin at the Lycee in London (a French school because my mum and dad liked the idea of it). I owe him a great deal. He really encouraged me and gave me confidence. The rest of the teaching staff thought I was mad and destined for sure and rapid failure.”
Jeremy must have smiled when he added, “Former teachers would be dumbstruck and would probably go into denial. I’m in touch with quite a few of my schoolmates on Facebook, and they’re very supportive of my work. They laugh at my cartoons, which is nice.”
Jeremy Banx draws upon his subconscious for inspiration and admits that, “The difficult bit is gaining access to it. Feeling unhappy can help produce ideas in a funny sort of way.” He added that he likes “the sad pieces. I like it when someone says, ‘I didn’t want to laugh at that, but I couldn’t help it. You made me do it.’”
Assessing cartooning today, his advice to beginning artists is to “want to do it. If they haven’t got that will, then they won’t go far. I just say to work hard and don’t forget to take time off to have fun.”
In looking back to earlier Masters, Banx would like to reach out to Picasso, but concedes he’d “probably be too nervous to say anything to him. But failing that, I’d like hooking up with Stanley Kubrick and I’d ask him a lot of stuff about 2001:A Space Odyssey in a monumentally geeky way.”
Insofar as to whom he’d like to be, if not himself, Jeremy Banx surprised us with one of his cinematic favorites, Buster Keaton. “I have a fantasy of being a gag man working in silent films. Ideally for Buster Keaton, but anyone at that time would do.”
Much has been said about the Internet, and Jeremy’s thoughts as an artist are worth noting. He thinks it offers a whole new world for cartoonists and has an e-book out now. He hopes to bring out many more and is launching an e-mag called The Reaper, A Magazine about Death. He doesn’t much like graphic novels, though he always enjoyed comic books.
Living as he does in England, he tells aspiring artists, “In the UK there are far less opportunities for selling cartoons than there were when I first started out. Newspapers and magazines just don’t use them like they used to. And advertising work has mostly dried up. I’m fortunate because I have my regular spot in The Financial Times, and I get commissions too, but it’s tough for people just beginning. Maybe the Internet is the way to go – I’ve seen some funny stuff on Youtube that my kids have pointed out to me.”
It’s always fun to learn what an artist would take on a long long flight, and Jeremy didn’t disappoint. He’d pack a cartoonist’s delight: Larry’s Man in Apron, B. Kliban’s Never Eat Anything Bigger than your Head, the Best of Honeysett and (hold on to your hats!) any Andy Capp Annual from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. All in all, quite a group.
And what would Jeremy do for the assembled throng at his bedside when his drawing pad has run out of pages? “I’d probably just hum some extracts from Puccini and gently fade away.”
Financial institutions may come and go, but the Jeremy Banx of London will always be a repository of wit and interest.