Q&A with POLYP
The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel
What / who inspired you to become a political artist?
I’ve always had an interest in comic books and drawing, but I guess what made me want to take a political direction was Carl Sagan’s TV series ‘Cosmos’. The episode about nuclear war made me feel I had to engage with the issue. This was during the worst of the cold war… the Thatcher / Reagan era.
Another big influence was Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’. Looking back at the insane injustices of the witch-hunts made me wonder what crime our culture will be judged for in the future, and the answer seemed obvious: that we put profit before the death by poverty and hunger of millions of children.
Straight away… I gave up wanting to draw conventional sci-fi superhero style comic books very early on when I realised I just don’t draw that well or realistically, and by then I’d lost interest in the genre in favour of politics. But I also build props and giant puppets for street stunts with campaign groups like Friends of the Earth, which I really love doing. I guess they’re an artistic medium in their own right- almost like big 3D cartoons? Lately, inspired by my girlfriend, I’ve been experimenting with formal painting, dealing with science and astronomy themes, which is a bit of a lifetime ambition, though still in progress right now.
Who is your favourite political cartoonist and why?
Every political cartoonist in the UK is influenced by Steve Bell, so I tend to hold him in high regard, but if I had to name the world’s best political cartoonist it’d have to be Matt Boors in the US. The fact that I agree with his politics is of course a big factor there. But I also like his clean, crisp no-nonsense style of drawing. Some seem to feel it’s a virtue to make your cartoons so raw and wild that they’re quite hard to look at or read, which of course is just dumb. The idea is to communicate, not confuse.
What reactions/feelings do you hope your cartoons will evoke in readers?
I hope they open some people’s eyes about the injustices we’re surrounded by, and the corporate assault on democracy, but that’s probably an unrealistically big ask… that they might change people’s minds. Although I know a lot of young people get to see them through their use in academic textbooks, so that’s a possibility. For those who are already political, I hope they embolden and entertain. In a sense, they’re a form of therapy for people’s anger and frustration- as a cartoonist you’re trying to encapsulate and distill the essence of what makes people angry, and re-express it in a way that makes them go “Yes! THAT’S what I’ve been trying to say about this all along!”
What is the highlight of your career so far?
Wow, that’s a tough question! Fan mail from younger people who respond to what I’m saying is always a real pleasure. A class in Brazil once did a school project based on my cartoons. They redrew them big size! There was something really charming and inspiring about that. But the biggest hit is always when a client says yes to a large hefty project like a new book- it’s quite a giddy high.
Your latest graphic novel ‘The Co-operative Revolution’ suggests that altruism and mutual support spontaneously evolve in nature. Doesn’t this fly in the face of the concept of Selfish Genes?
One of the issues we try to tackle in the book is how profoundly misunderstood and underestimated co-operation within nature is. In the second edition of ‘The Selfish Gene’ Dawkins himself talks about how the concept of genetic ‘selfishisness’ has been distorted and misinterpreted. His book openly acknowledges that co-operation is a common, ubiquitous and successful evolutionary strategy, and simply seeks to explain how that’s possible, given that nature is amoral. It doesn’t anywhere say selfish behavoiur is therefore fixed or inevitable in people- quite the opposite.
We point out in the graphic novel that every cell in our bodies, and those of almost all life on the planet are endosymbiotic co-operatives- separate organisms with their own DNA, working together as a single unit. And of course the historical section narrates the story of the human co-operative movement itself, also underestimated for it’s influence and ubiquitousness.
You’ve visiting Australia right now, do you have a favourite little spot?
Well, I’m here because I’m about to marry an Australian, so I’m tempted to make a joke about that question… but I’ll restrain myself!
I really, really like Sydney. It’s all quite exotic to my North of England eyes, and seems very cool. I can’t get over the community spirit of people around the Redfern area leaving ‘gifts’ in the street for others to just take- unwanted furniture etc etc. I’m sat on a chair and at a desk we picked up down the road just after I arrived! We have a scheme like that in the big housing Co-operative block of flats in Manchester where I live, but here in Sydney half the city seems to be doing it. It’s great! And it’s so ecological…
Also, I’ve just come back from staying (and painting) in Big Bush Nature Reserve near Temora, and that was pretty amazing. No matter how big a cliché it is, there’s something very WOW for me about seeing kangaroos in the wild. They’re hilarious! And they look a bit like dinosaurs from a distance.
Polyp is in Australia touring! Join Polyp and friends at Abbeys Bookshop – 131 York St Sydney NSW 2000 – on Thursday 4 July @ 6pm for the book launch of The Co-operative Revolution
Polyp’s excellent www where you can find an archive of his incredible work.
You can contact Polyp at firstname.lastname@example.org
From the man himself:
I’m happy to give interviews or talk politics at meetings / conferences, although bear in mind I live in Manchester UK.
And in case you’re wondering why ‘Polyp’?.. Well, I first got fond of the word after seeing it in an 1890 children’s book called The Sea and it’s Wonders . It just stuck in my head. Years later, as a student, I wanted a memorable pen name to use drawing cartoons for the Union paper- up popped ‘Polyp’. I’d just finished drawing the second of a set of Reagan cartoons when I found the fantastic headline below…
Polyps build coral reefs AND they’re an irritating growth up Reagan’s arse?!
What more could you want from a pen name..?
Find the book here, and buy at your local bookshop.