Lee Healey and Barney Farmer are a writer-artist team from the UK whose work regularly appears in Viz and Private Eye. Following our interview with Barney, we spoke with Lee about his side of the creative partnership, his journey into comics, and the pleasures of freelancing.
What got you started drawing and writing comics?
At the arse-end of my schooling, the careers advisor advised me that cartooning wasn’t a feasible career and I should consider going into banking or clerical work if I wished to be able to financially support myself. Sound advice indeed and only a complete fucking moron would ignore it. So I left school and became a cartoonist.
I was always drawing as a kid. Drawing cartoons and comics was my dream. And 40+ years later that dream has come a reality. Admittedly I’m broke, don’t own my own home, have no friends or social life, have been without sex for so long I can probably be legally re-classified as a virgin, and have cirrhosis of the liver…. but hey, I’m living the fucking dream!
I started out in animation, working as a junior at Bill Melendez studios in London (the guys who animated the Peanuts cartoons), but tbh, it bored the crap out of me. On the odd occasion I got to draw anything (99% of the job was to run around Soho dropping off and picking up film etc) it was just in-betweening, which was nothing more than ghosting someone else’s art and moving it a touch. I’m sure they were eventually glad to see the back of me though – as for a studio runner, I walked everywhere and spent more time in HMV than where I was supposed to be. Eventually I was given my notice. It was a big notice pinned to the studio door, it read: Fuck off Lee, you idle work-shy shit!
How long have you been working together, and how did your partnership come about?
It was in the early 90’s when I got my first comic strip published, when Viz were selling millions of copies, and all the shit rip-offs starting flooding the shelves. Luckily (for me) they had zero quality control and would publish anything. In the beginning I was writing my own utterly god-awful scripts, cleverly disguising the fact that there were zero jokes in them, by just writing lots of swear words. A few years down the line, and with only a small number of Viz rip-offs left, namely Smut & Zit, both of whom I was regularly working for, I was asked to draw up some Zit scripts written by Barney. As much as I fucking hate to admit this, I was a bit of a Farmer fan at the time, mostly because of his self-drawn ’The Saint’s Dad’ strip (I urge you to hunt it down), so I was happy to collaborate.
After the last of the Viz rip-offs folded, me & Barney went our separate ways (I continued freelancing and Barney went on to become an annoying purple dinosaur). Barney wanted to stay in touch but I cleverly avoided this by feigning death for several years. It was during a seance in 2002 that Barney suggested pitching some strip ideas to Viz. Using a medium to channel my reply I said “OK” and not forgetting to stay in character added “WooOOooo!”. And the rest, as they say, is history. Not interesting history like that geezer who got the arrow in his eye, or the assassination of KFC, but history nonetheless.
What’s your usual creative process? Do you typically come up with a strip together or are your roles as writer/artist more clearly defined?
As Barney has already stated in his interview, although I get a basic heads-up of what he’s working on, I don’t get to see what I’ll be drawing until it’s been officially accepted and approved. I suspect this is mostly because he knows I’ll whinge & whine about certain parts of the script (usually panels 1 to 19), if I see the script beforehand. For instance, a recent George Bestial strip had George parading on a donkey through a crowded beach over several panels. Christ, would I have whinged and whined about that! Well, actually, I still did, but it had already been approved, so my pleas of ‘can’t we make the weather a bit drizzly, like a real British summer, so the beach will be less busy?’ fell on deaf ears. He gives me total freedom on the artwork mind, and does allow me the odd Healey eccentricity here and there, like the occasional necrophilic mouse in the Drunken Bakers, or a Mail Online reader with his trousers round his ankles, or George Bestial standing over a stranded bottle-nosed whale with a lob-on etc. Stuff not in the original scripts but my input much appreciated by Barney I’m sure, despite his obvious jesting “what the fuck have you drawn that for, you stupid cockney bastard?!”. Lol. Bless him.
Moving away from the shorter strips you do at the minute, have you considered longer form stories?
I would love to draw something longer than a page. Maybe a page and half?
But yeah, I do sometimes feel a bit constricted with what I can fit into 19-20 tight panels, and particularly so with the wordier speech balloons, as I’m usually just limited to drawing a pair of talking heads. Which I feel is a bit of a cheat but sometimes unavoidable.
What else are you working on at the minute?
I freelance on the side, but less so these days as the regular work takes up most of my time. I’ll always find time to work on an outside commission if it really interests me though, or more honestly, if it pays well. But most of my freelance enquiries these days seem to come from people with £10 budgets, so I’m more often than not just hitting the delete button. If I’m feeling particularly narky though, I’ll honour some with a very colourful reply, usually with advice and instructions on what to do with their “limited budgets”. One joker asked me what he could get for £25, so I emailed him directions to Kings Cross and replied ‘syphilis’.
Thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience, and good night.