The one and only Mr Bingo is an artist, illustrator and the king of hand-drawn comedy. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t accustomed to the darker side of life. Of course not, he just finds the comical aspects there, too
Mr Bingo has elevated sparkling, biting and delightfully cheeky humor to his very own art form – on paper and on stage. He renders Queen Elizabeth II in fine red lines wearing suspenders, draws colorful penis and vulva plants, he invented a legendary Advent calendar where you scratch people’s clothes off and leave them naked, and is holding conference speeches that you don’t want to ever end. His fan base is huge, with many of his drawings selling out in minutes. His new works, however, are much more personal, darker, and deeper – but have by no means lost their humor. And as Mr Bingo keeps jumping up from his seat to pick out drawings to show, we talk to him about good punchlines and existential thoughts, about the joys of meeting complete strangers – and his trying to work less.
You worked as a very successful illustrator for The New Yorker, The Guardian or The New York Times. But in 2015 you deleted your website and made a vow to never work for clients or companies again. What happened? Mr Bingo: I was a commercial illustrator for about 13 years, and I loved it. But at the same time, I found a fan base on social media, which I never expected. It was something that kind of happened by mistake but made me understand that there were people outside the commercial business who are really interested in my work. So in 2015 I ran a Kickstarter campaign for a book and it was overfunded by 100.000 pounds. And when I realized that the public would spend 135.000 pounds in 28 days on me coming up with silly ideas for art projects, I decided to stop working for clients. Even though it was a great job, I also began to get bored doing the same thing over and over again. So I tried to make a living out of the lovely audience I got and opened an online shop. That’s how I have been earning my living for the last six years.
Was the Kickstarter campaign for your famous Hate Mail book?
Yes, it was. I started Hate Mail in 2012 and like most things I do, it began as a joke. I was a little bit drunk and asked people on Twitter if they wanted to pay me five pounds to send an offensive postcard to them. And it turned out that people really wanted to do that. Hundreds responded in the first minutes, and I had to close the offer after a few days. I opened it again for a couple of times in the next years – each time for 100 hate mails and they were sold out in minutes. Altogether, I’ve done over 1300 postcards and the best ones are in the book.
That’s quite a lot of hate.
Yes, and when the hate starts to feel like work, it’s not right anymore. So I stopped. But there was a lot of disappointment. (laughs)
Also legendary about the Hate Mail Kickstarter campaign is that you provided donors with a wide variety of personal meetings.
Yes, I offered a lot of weird rewards: to go out on a date with me, that I could come into your house and wash your dishes or you could get drunk on a train with me.
So you don’t seem to be afraid of contact?
I must say that I’m quite the opposite.
I’m getting anxious when I’m on my own doing nothing.
I live alone and when I’m sitting in my flat on my sofa and there is nothing going on, that’s when I feel my most anxious and afraid. But when I am meeting total strangers, I’m just busy and living in the moment and I’m not afraid at all. I love people and I love meeting people.
And the thing I learned with these Kickstarter rewards is that people are really nice. No one was weird, no one did strange things, I never felt threatened. We hear a lot of bad stuff about people in the news, but most people have a good soul. So I’m even less afraid of meeting with strangers. Quite the opposite, I’m very happy to meet anyone. Of course, anything can happen, and a lot of people would say I’m safer because I’m a white man. And that’s true.