When Mr Bingo flippantly announced on his twitter feed that he’d send an abusive message and drawing via the medium of vintage postcard for just £10, he was bombarded with requests. ‘Hate Mail‘ was born, a fluent stream of sharp, witty, and often silly abuse was sent to the recipient (and no doubt, the postman’s) amusement.
We caught up with the ‘Justin Bieber of drawing’ himself at his studio to chat about the launch of his book ‘Hate Mail‘.
What lead you to become an illustrator?
I think it was just something that I felt that I had to do, I felt like it was the only thing I could do. I always liked drawing, studied Graphic Design at University, specialised in Illustration, mainly because I couldn’t work out how to do Graphic Design, so I kind of defaulted to Illustration, ended up really getting into it and turning it into a career.
Right now you seem to really have a distinctive style and a voice of your own – how did you get to this stage?
A combination of being influenced by other illustrators such as Paul Davis, Andrew Rae and The Peep Show Collective, and comedy that I like, like Chris Morris, Monty Python and various other things and being influenced by them all, but finding my own thing. Which has taken years to work out, but I’d say the main thing that goes on in my illustrations that makes them mine is the personality and the humour, not really the style – you can sort of see that it looks like my work but it’s more of a feeling or a vibe, hopefully, when people see my work it makes them smirk or laugh or think – he’s fucking done that again hasn’t he…
You’ve worked with some really big names, such as The New York Times, the Guardian, Orange and Microsoft, etc… How does your having such a strong and distinctive voice work with bigger clients? Do you find that they come to you because of your alternative approach?
I think at first you need to make your voice known, and it takes clients a while to work out who you are, and what you could be good to do for them, and when you’ve gotten to a certain level I guess where you’ve become known for doing a certain thing and having such a strong voice – that’s the point that I’m at now, which is great, where clients will come to me. And that’s great cause I’m much more in charge than I was when I started out so I get to pull the strings a lot more and make more decisions, cause they know that this is the thing that I do. The best clients will come to you and say ‘do what you do, and we won’t try to change it too much, or influence or steer it too much’ – they’ll always get the best job out of you that way… Unless they’ve chosen the wrong person to begin with, which happens a lot as well! I have to be careful to say no to a lot of jobs, otherwise I know it’s going to end up being wrong.
Is there anyone who you would turn down?
There’s not many people I wouldn’t work for to be honest, I consider myself a fairly decent person in society, but I wouldn’t go so far as not working for banks or something like that – and if I did I’d want to rinse them for as much money as possible, I’d make sure that happens! [he laughs]
Maybe I wouldn’t work for cigarette advertising… If there was a company that was really known for fucking over a third world company I guess I would have to say no. The problem is I’m not really that much aware of current affairs and the news to know who’s been naughty and bad! I’m kind of wrapped up in a world of my own – I might end up working for a bad company by mistake! I think the main reason I turn down work isn’t for moral reasons, it’s because I don’t think I’m going to enjoy it.
We love your new project, Hate Mail. How did you come up with the idea?
It’s really simple – I was in my old studio one night, I was drunk, I went on twitter and said ‘the first person to reply to this tweet, I’ll send them an offensive message on a the back of a post card’. And straight away there was loads and loads of responses, a guy called Jonathan Hopkins won (it said fuck you Jonathan and fuck your shit legs) – sent him a post card, lots of people talked about it, so I thought I might as well do something with this, opened it as a service which was so cheap – £5, you send your name and address and I send you some hate mail.
It literally started as a joke, I didn’t ever think it was going to become the thing that it has. I thought, this is funny, and if anyone wants to pay to be insulted that’s fucking brilliant and that’s why I did it – to amuse myself.
Do you ever get any Hate Mail yourself? And if so, what is the best one you’ve received?
Yes I have. I’ve received a few things, one of them was from Oliver Jeffers, who was an integral part of me turning this into a book actually – he’s a famous children’s book illustrator who lives in Brooklyn and I was showing him some pictures on my phone in a pub, where all good thins happen, and he said – ‘this should be a book’ and put me in touch with people who ended up turning it into a book! Oliver Jeffers sent me some love mail, he did an illustration of some puppies in a basket and said ‘why do you have no love for anything?’ or something, that was funny.
I had something from some girls in Israel that said ‘go global you wanker’ on the back of an s-club 7 post-card, because I only offered the service in the UK, because I was lazy [he laughs]. The best thing I’ve received was a Swiss roll, with the word ‘fucker’ written on it, in a tube.
What was the process like speaking with Penguin about getting it published? Some of that work is pretty close to the bone… Was it a difficult sell, or was it easy?
It’s really really amazing, it’s like the last thing I ever expected to happen you know, I would have thought if anyone would have made this into a book it wouldn’t have been Penguin it would have been a small, indie / edgy publishing company with no resources or money who’d have thought ‘fuck it, let’s just put this out’, but to have Penguin who are one of the biggest publishers in the world to actually back this, believe in it and make it, to put it out on their label without worrying about it ruining their reputation – I guess this work has a lot more commercial appeal than I realised when I first started doing this. I consider this an art book, but for Penguin it’s a ‘humour’ title, they see it as a book that everyone can appreciate, which is I guess what I always want for all of my work really, I don’t want to just appeal to the small art crowed, I want to appeal to everyone. It’s much nicer.
So yeah, Penguin wanted to meet me, I went along with my agent, Paul, and met them, chatted to them about it, they seemed really positive. Then I sent all the people in the meeting hate mail, so I said ‘meeting you was a waste of time’,‘93% of the staff at Penguin think you’re a twat’. ‘Your crisps were insulting’ cause they had some crisps in a bowl on the table… I thought, if they get this, then they get the book, it was a risk that had to be taken. And then they came back a few weeks later and we had a book deal, so it was amazing. Apparently things don’t normally work that quickly, so they must have seen something in it worth going ahead with. It’s really hard to tell how easy it was, I think I’m quite a hard working person, I guess I don’t show that with my nonchalant tweets and stuff, but there’s a lot of work behind the scenes to make things happen.
So what inspires your hatred? What’s been your inspiration for the hate mail?
Most of it’s just trying to be funny, lots of people think that I’m really dark, I don’t mean dark skinned [he laughs], people think I’ve got this ‘hatred’… I don’t have this hatred inside me that I need to express and get out. Really it’s just for fun, you know, it’s fucking funny to send a stranger a post card with “if you were a supermarket you’d be a Lidl”. It’s basically like any other illustration job where you’ve got to come up with creative ideas – it’s just another problem solving exercise. So you’re sitting there, you’ve got a blank post card in front of you, and you think ‘what can I say to someone that’s gonna’ really hurt them. Or how can you really put someone down. I think about it all the time, so I guess I became addicted to these things and so even when I’m not doing them I’m thinking about it and constantly emailing myself ideas for hate mail. The next person might get that one, and a lot of them are made them up on the spot. They can go from the simple, just the word ‘prick’ written in massive letters, cause I think, that’s funny because of how it looks, to something more complicated like ‘you are another generic drone wandering around waiting for the weekend’. And that’s more of a heart-felt one where I suppose that is more of my ‘inner thoughts’ where I walk around looking at people and thinking, ‘yeah you’re pathetic’. Some of that comes out in it…
If you could send some hate mail to anybody, who would it be, and what would you say?
[Pauses for a while, and says with a smile] Has to be, a guy called Martin Olley, who wrote a letter to a magazine in 2003 saying that he hated my work, so I’ve kind of had it in for him ever since, in a jokey way. I’ve put him in loads of bits of work and also like to slip the odd ‘FUCK MARTIN OLLEY’ slide into a talk. I don’t tell people what it means, I just leave it on the screen for a few seconds, just long enough to make feel awkward and slightly uncomfortable.
The response to your hate mail has been incredible, what do you think it is about hate mail that people find so appealing?
I guess the main thing is that it’s just funny, it’s different, and not many people do stuff like this. Life is quite boring for many people, I think, this book and this project is very silly, and people really need silliness in their lives. It’s like escapism, you know. I guess reading my book is like watching Hollyoaks Omnibus or X-Factor, you know, it’s just a stupid escape from the trappings of modern sad life.
You’re one of the more prolific and entertaining illustrators out there on twitter. What is it about twitter that you enjoy the most?
The thing I love about twitter is that perfect connection with people and strangers that you didn’t really have before, or would have had to made a lot of effort before to keep up. It’s so direct, people can just contact you so quickly, it’s so easy and so fluid as well. It’s really good for me, it’s perfect.
Like Hate Mail, that was born from a tweet?
Exactly, I couldn’t do any of this stuff without twitter, you know. Twitter’s created it, it sells it, cause it tells people there’s a book, it then tells people there’s a launch at Camden Brewery… Everything starts on twitter now basically, I need it to survive basically, and do the things I do.
Is there anything out there that you haven’t done yet that you’d love to do?
Um… I don’t know, I feel really lucky at the moment, I feel like I’m at the peak of my career or something. I’ve got a book published by Penguin, I’ve got my own beer with Camden Brewery… Everything seems to be going ok, I’m expecting to get run over now. I don’t really know, I just tend to take care of what’s going on each day, I couldn’t really give you an answer to that… I know that’s a bit annoying, but I almost feel like I’ve got everything at the moment, and I’m sure that in six months time I’ll be hungry for something else, and I’ll forget about this position I’m in now and I’ll be looking for the next thing…
I think the main thing I want to do, is to move away from being a commercial illustrator and move slightly more towards becoming an artist, which seems to be what’s happened naturally. By mistake. I find the best way to live is to not plan anything, because stuff just sort of happens, I feel like stuff is just meant to happen, if you just do what you want ‘follow your heart’ [Bingo says with a grin and a comedy voice] you know, if you just do what you really enjoy, things end up turning out, and people end up coming to you, and opportunities turn up. I don’t think there’s any end goal for me, just to be able to do the stuff I’m doing now, forever, and if it pays for me to live then that’s really cool.
So when can we get the book?
I’m doing a big book launch on October 25th at Camden Brewery, and it’s an open invite for anyone and everyone. So I want people to come along, bring their friends, family, whatever, and Byron Hamburgers are going to be there, my hate beer is going to be there. There’ll be a big stack of books where people can buy a book and get it signed with an individual insult. You can take the beer away as well. If you like the sound of that come along on October 25th!
*** Camden Hate Ale ***
Can you tell us about your beer?
Camden Brewery were really interested in the book and were fans of my work, and said why don’t we sponsor your book launch, and do a beer with you? And I was like, that sounds amazing! I like their beers, and them as a company, a small newish, micro-brewery who are doing well, have a nice simple philosophy – no bull shit just this is what we are… So they said you can do your own beer, and I said I’ll only do my own beer with you if I can have complete control over the bottle-label and I can do whatever I like – they said ‘yep, we like your work, we respect it, so you do whatever you want and we’re not going to put any rules on it. So I was like great! I came up with a few ideas at first which I thought were a bit weak, we had a bit of a back-and-forth, and then suddenly it struck me one day that what we needed was something that what we needed was something completely like hate mail, because that’s the reason for the beer. So I thought the beer needs to be like a hate mail directed to Camden Brewery, on their own bottle, and then it ties in with the book and it’s like this perfect thing. So I sent them this email one night saying, I think this would be a good idea, it just depends if you’ve got the balls to do it or not, and sent them this rough of ‘Camden is full of cunts’.
I kind of expected them to come back and say ‘no, this is too stupid, at the end of the day we’re paying for this to be made, and you’re taking the piss too much’ and to my surprise they said ‘yep, let’s do it. This is perfect, this is exactly what is should be.’ And since then I have so much respect for them to do that. It shows how much they get it as a company, how much conviction they’ve got to push these ideas forward.
So I then spent quite a few days working on the bottle, I took their original bottle design and then re-drew everything by hand, changed every single word and logo and bit of type, expect their own logo, everything else is completely changed. It reminded me of when I used to be at school, or when I was like twelve, you used to get a letter sent to your parents and you’d change all the words… So like, instead of ‘you’re invited to a parents evening’ it would say ‘you’re invited to a cock evening’ or something like that. So it was just completely taking over the bottle and de-facing it. I basically hi-jacked the bottle of beer.
I think it’s great, and it ties in with the launch as a funny, collectors item as well.