We catch up with cartoonist Peter Plant in his studio for an exclusive and impromptu chitchat.
Dude: Peter, who was your greatest influence in becoming a world-famous cartoonist?
Peter: My dad. One day I went to him and asked where I came from. He handed me a felt-tip and told me to go and draw something. The rest is history.
Dude: Anyone else?
Peter: George Feyer, an almost forgotten Canadian cartoonist who could draw as fast as you could talk, Artie Shaw, a bandleader who achieved perfection in his music and had Ava Gardner before Frank Sinatra, and David Ogilvy, the original adman who taught me everything there is to know about copywriting.
Dude: Where did you go to school?
Peter: We lived in central Toronto. I went to the local high school where the tough kids would regularly beat the crap out of me until they saw I could draw funny cartoons of them, stopped beating the crap out of me and made me hang out with them. To impress the girls I formed and played drums in a seven-piece dance band called The Crazy 8 which played high school proms and other local gigs. Inspired by Artie Shaw’s version of Moonglow we made it our theme song. I don’t remember too many girls getting hysterical over us though. Maybe we should’ve been a rock and roll band and called ourselves The Dynamos or something. After high school I headed off to university in Winnipeg to take Architecture except when I found out Architecture didn’t mean just drawing pictures of exotic houses with a lot of greenery around them I lost interest and started hanging out at a trendy off campus coffee house where I drank coffee, listened to folk singers and worked up comedy routines for open mike night. Needless to say I flunked out of university big time which probably wasn’t a great loss to the world of architecture.
Dude: Where did you go from there?
Peter: I got a job in an advertising agency writing copy for brochures and leaflets on an old Smith Corona which, in case you don’t know, is a typewriter.
The work was pretty boring until one day they shoved a bottle of roll-on deodorant in front of me and told me to write a 30-second TV commercial for it. Would you like to see it? [He taps his ipad and they watch Peter’s commercial.
Dude: [He laughs.] Very good.
Peter: Then they tossed a chocolate bar on my desk and told me to write one for that. [He taps the ipad again and they watch another commercial.
Dude: [laughs] I like it.
Peter: It came this close [He holds his thumb and forefinger a millimetre apart.] to winning a Binky! Then I wrote this one. [He taps the ipad and they watch another commercial.
Dude: [laughs] So you were now a fully fledged copywriter.
Peter: I guess I would’ve been if I hadn’t got fired.
Dude: You got fired?
Peter: Yeah. To make some extra money I’d got a job as a DJ in a discotheque which kept me up till 3am. And because I had also taken up with the go-go girl it meant I was getting to work at the agency in the morning later and later until one day I strolled in at noon and found a note in my typewriter from Fred, my boss, which said “If you aren’t looking for a job you should be because you’re fired. Best wishes, Fred.” Fred had a twisted sense of humour.
Dude: What did you do then?
Peter: I said sayonara to the discotheque, the go-go girl and Toronto and took off for London, England where amid red buses, black taxis, pubs, bobbies, bowler hats, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben I met two ditzy girls who were looking for someone to share their flat and moved in with them. After agreeing to disagree with a slightly miffed cat I settled down to cartooning the life around me and when I began to miss the buzz and excitement of the advertising business, grabbed my portfolio, walked into an ad agency and soon found myself sitting at a typewriter whacking out copy for a women’s depilatory cream ad. It would not be long, however, until my new job got a lot more exciting!
Dude: Tell me about that, Peter.
Peter: The next day I was sitting at my desk doodling when suddenly into the room burst a guy in a suit introducing himself as Ron the account director on Wilkinson Sword, one of the agency’s biggest clients, looking desperate. He told me Wilkinson Sword’s advertising manager was displeased with the TV commercial they had created for their new disposable razor and was threatening to fire the agency. Could I, he wondered, come up with a fresh idea by Monday morning. As he left I grabbed my guitar and started singing some disposable-razor-kind-of-lyrics that had popped into my head. I recorded a demo and drew a storyboard and by the time I finished my presentation to Wilkinson Sword on the Monday their ad manager was beaming and the account was saved. Ron the account director slapped me on the back and we all went to lunch. Here’s the finished commercial. [He taps the ipad.]
Dude: What was happening with the cartoons?
Peter: I’d started working on a strip about, guess what ha ha, two ditzy girls and a cat who share a flat with a struggling cartoonist. I called it Knickers because you had to fight your way through a jungle of ladies’ lingerie hanging in the bathroom every time you wanted to have a shower. Unfortunately editors thought the title was too risqué so I changed it to Panties but they didn’t like that either ha ha again. You can read the entire suspense-filled, sexually-explicit story of how the strip, eventually called Roz, became successful on my website.
Dude: Do you ever worry about running out of ideas?
Peter: No, because Gogi, the Goddess of Great Ideas (Get it?), is always by my side. Like the rainy night we were walking home from the pub and a guy coming the other way flashed us just as a car went through a puddle drenching him from head to toe giving me the idea for the cartoon character Flash Filstrup. And the morning she drew my attention to two pigeons sitting on top of the 07.22 to London as it pulled out of our local station and I got the idea for a strip about a pair of ornithological commuters. And the night we turned on the TV and watched a woman drop a cat into a wheelie bin on the ten o’clock news which gave me my first gag for the book 101 Ways To Get Rid of a Cat. And the afternoon at Wimbledon we saw my girlfriend falling butt over brolly for a swarthy, good-looking tennis player right in front of us and I got the idea for the song Game, Set and Match.
Dude: As a world-famous cartoonist what are you most proud of?
Peter: Probably getting my first cartoon published. It [see right] appeared in the first and only issue of a Canadian men’s magazine called Success. I got paid ten dollars and figured I could now call myself a cartoonist. Also there was the fan letter I received from Nelson Mandela and the day I was summoned to the palace by Her Majesty the Queen to have tea and do her portrait.
Dude: Wow! Really?
Peter: Actually no, I’m kidding. But the part about getting the cartoon published is true.
Dude: One final question, Peter.
Dude: What’s a Binky?