Barney Farmer and Lee Healey are a writer-artist duo who regularly contribute to both Viz and Private Eye. Perhaps best known for the ‘Drunken Bakers’ series, their strip ‘Tomb Degrader’ was more recently included in Dirty Rotten Comics 4. This week, we caught up with Barney to gab about his partnership with Lee, the creative process, and their plans for the future.
What got you started drawing and writing comics?
In the late 80s early 90s a mate called Dave Iddon, who is a great illustrator, was putting out little handmade mags and books which he gave away in pubs and such, totally inspired by Viz, and he liked my sense of humour. Had never drawn or written anything at that time – bog walls and bus shelters aside – but I had a stab, purely for a laugh. At first I drew but was God-awful, so started using clip-art and cutting up old Whizzer & Chips strips and such. Dave got work with several of the Viz rip-off mags around at that time, showed the various editors my efforts and they published a few bits. Eventually they tired of my chopped-up travesties but liked my ideas and so introduced me to various cartoonists who I could work with. Did stuff with four or five people, to no particular avail, before one of them thought my ideas might work well with Lee Healey. Clicked almost straight away, really. Lee’s realist style and expressive faces not only made the stuff I was doing far better, it also opened my eyes to different sorts of things I could write.
How long have you been working together?
We started working together about 1997 or ’98, for the most terrible – by reputation – of all the Viz rip-offs, Zit. And it WAS terrible, to begin with, bloody terrible, aping Viz only with none of the wit, craft or intelligence. But by the end aforementioned Dave was more or less editing it, and had decided to abandon trying to copy Viz – recognising it for a bloody fool’s errand if ever there was – and it became closer in spirit to freak comics of an earlier era. Quite druggy, for the most part, and stupid-radical. We did a Spot the Osama Bin Laden puzzle about a year before 9/11. But in truth, all I really remember of that era is being perpetually wrecked, one way or another, from early until late, often in some nearby woods.
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?
Lee and I have a working relationship which most people consider quite odd, but which works perfectly for us. We seldom meet in person, rarely speak on the phone, and generally communicate via short terse incomprehensible emails. We are very different people in almost every way imaginable, but get on well and in terms of the work are almost of one mind.
I never talk to Lee while writing, and the first he usually sees is a finished, accepted strip. Having worked for Viz since 2003 the Messrs Dury and Thorp are now so familiar with Lee’s style they are able to make their decision on the basis of my rough versions – which have got better over time but still frequently have the potential to make skilled artists vomit – and that’s good, because Healey must have wasted half-inch of arm carefully etching out more utter and subsequently rejected bollocks than any man alive.
So the first Lee sees is a strip he knows is published, but from then on it’s his. My roughs include rough framing, figures, expressions etc, but these are always refined and augmented by Lee. He will also add a myriad of visual subtlety, trickery and sight gags, all of which is fine by me. He sends me the blank artwork when I add – and almost always tweak – the words. Often, things he has drawn, most often a facial expression or stance, will prompt me to change the words to fit.
Moving away from the shorter strips you do at the minute, have you considered longer form stories?
Not really. We did once put the first three dozen or so drunken bakers strips in a little binder and gave it to Alan Moore, and he said it read as if it had been written to be read that way, but this was probably an accident – although Freud would obviously say bollocks it was. I enjoy the discipline of having a maximum 19 frames per page to get from A to B. When I start writing a drunken bakers, say, it will often come out 50 or 60% over-length, and beating it down and down, binning all the superfluous shit, is a generally enjoyable way to pass the time.
What else are you working on at the minute? Are there any plans to release a collection of your comics?
We do our tiny bit for Private Eye, which is great, but often quite dry, at my end, as the stuff has to be researched in some depth. I now know, for example, the maximum density of chickens per square foot of shed for both broiler and egg production (they’re different).
Have read and loved both Viz and the Eye since my teens – so 30 or so years apiece – so to contribute to both is a source of some delight. A collection of the Viz strips might be nice one day, but at same time am not hugely arsed. I still think the best way to read them is in their allocated corner of Viz, a publication I would probably describe as the Piss Taker of Record. Just don’t call them a National Treasure, they’d probably knock you out.
A big thanks to Barney for taking the time to answer our questions. Barney can be found on Twitter @barneyfarmer. You can find more of Lee’s work on his personal website, and he is also active on Twitter @healeycartoons. The Drunken Bakers, Hen Cabin et al. can be regularly found on the pages of Viz. We urge you to subscribe.