FLIP: What is this?
ALEX: The book is a satire on bankers and the Credit Crunch. It's a bit like "101 Uses for a Dead Cat" - only with bankers. It's aimed at anyone who's pissed off with the way that Wall St and the Square Mile have been saved from disaster by the generosity of the taxpayer, who now have little to show for the billions spent on the massive bailout other than record public debt, some very dubious assets in public ownership, and another round of record bonuses for the bankers who got us into the mess we're in. If we can't beat 'em (and we certainly aren't doing that), we might as well laugh at 'em.
FLIP: What was the genesis of this book? Were you approached or was this your idea?
ALEX: The book began as a pitch to my publisher - it just seemed like the perfect time to do it. Since the credit crunch began, bankers have morphed from supermen into public enemy number one - worse even than lawyers. I put the pitch together by drawing up about 20 cartoons and I sent them in to Jeremy Robson of JR Books, who has published several of my cartoon collections over the years, and he really liked the idea. That was it really. JR Books is a small publisher but they are willing to take chances on slightly off-beat books, which is rare. My only problem was lack of time - If I had more time I would have done a third book, titled "101 Uses for a greedy MP", since the other big public scandal here in Britain in 2009 was the exposure of the expenses claims of the Members of Parliament. But a third book was just too much of a reach.
FLIP: What do you have against bankers?
It's not at all personal - some of my best friends are bankers! They are mostly charming people who you would be happy to meet at a drinks party. Of course they have done very well over the past decade, so they have every reason to smile. But I really don't think they suffer from any peculiar moral deficiency; they aren't any greedier than anyone else (except maybe the ones at Goldman Sachs). They have just been allowed to get away with taking gigantic risks that no-one should have been allowed to take - unless of course the authorities were prepared to let them go bust, which, as it turned out, they weren't. Bankers have become the ultimate beneficiaries of public welfare - their profits were privatized in the form of huge bonuses, and the losses got socialized in the form of a gigantic public rescue package with no strings attached. And it's still going on now, but reform is farther away than ever because the public has mostly stopped paying attention - our attention span is so short.
FLIP: As opposed to your compilation books, these comics were all created for this book. How large of an undertaking was this?
ALEX: Quite big. Each book has over 100 drawings so it was a lot of work to complete both books in time. It was great fun doing them though. I nagged lots of my friends in banking for ideas - the collaboration was very entertaining. In the end I had two main co-conspirators, Sarah Crowther and Nick Reid, without whom this book would never have happened.
FLIP: What do you use to draw? Ink? Computer? Board?
ALEX: Everything is done by hand in India Ink on paper. The finished drawings are then scanned, cleaned up in Photoshop, and sent to the publisher on a cd, which is how they like them, because they can simply send all the digital files to the printer. It's all pretty simple and low tech.
FLIP: You left the law - was there fallout among your colleagues?
ALEX: Actually, all my law colleagues were very nice about it. I think they imagined that life in LA would be absurdly glamorous, so they were quite understanding about why I might want to go. They even left the door open for me, or at least ajar, by saying that they would consider letting me back in two years time it things didn't work out. In the end I didn't go back - but I was very grateful for the option to return. On the other hand I think some of them wondered why I would put all that investment into becoming a lawyer, and then throw it away. Which is not unreasonable, actually. Law is seriously hard work and it's especially unrewarding at the bottom of the food chain. Once you get through the early years the rewards can be huge. So my decision to leave was not one I took lightly.
FLIP: Is this book autobiographical?
ALEX: I wish. My departure from law was far from exciting. I didn't so much leave the law as sneak out the back door, hoping that they might let me back in if I changed my mind. I tried to make my exit as smooth and uncontentious as possible because I was trying to keep my options open. The book isn't like that at all - it's all about detonating your career in the most spectacular fashion. It's a fantasy really - and most lawyers fantasize, at least at some point in their careers, about leaving. Lawyers can be very well paid, but it's a grind, and not many actually love what they do. It's a strange profession - you spend years studying and working to get in, only to spend much of your career wondering how to get out.
FLIP: Do you need to be a lawyer to get this?
ALEX: No, but it probably helps. I have had some very nice reviews and press coverage - almost all of it in the legal press. I think it's pretty clearly aimed at lawyers - especially the ones who want to escape (and as I've already said, that's more of them than you might think).
FLIP: Between bankers and lawyers, which has a larger fraternity in Hell?
ALEX: I think the great saving grace of lawyers is that most of them know that they are not exactly adored by the public - they're used to it. As a result, lawyers are often quite good at laughing at themselves. They know they're not doing the Lord's Work. I'm not sure about the bankers. I think it's come as a bit of a shock to them to discover that the public blame them for the financial mess we're in, and most of them are very sensitive about it. Until recently they were Masters of the Universe. Now everywhere they go they get asked "how could this happen?" and "if you're all so clever why didn't you see this coming?", as well as other less polite questions. So my money is on the lawyers to be rescued in the end - after spending a good long time in Purgatory, of course.
FLIP: Ever plan a book about animation executives?
ALEX: I have a cartoon strip about the movie business that I have been working on for a while now. It's been sitting neglected on a shelf. I have tons of neglected projects. Your question reminds me to dust it off and finish it up.
Illustrations and photographs inthis article are the property of Alex Williams.
©.2009 Moore Studios, Inc.