You may have spotted Joe Magee’s illustrations in The Guardian or on the front covers of recent Bill Bailey DVDs, including the fantastically titled Dandelion Mind. Joe has been illustrating professionally for 25 years, often with a focus on digital work which incorporates photography, but has also branched out into film and animation, maintaining his […]

You may have spotted Joe Magee’s illustrations in The Guardian or on the front covers of recent Bill Bailey DVDs, including the fantastically titled Dandelion Mind. Joe has been illustrating professionally for 25 years, often with a focus on digital work which incorporates photography, but has also branched out into film and animation, maintaining his bold design aesthetic through commissioned and self-initiated work.

What was your route into graphic design and illustration?

I was smitten with art and the idea of being an artist from a very early age, and started drawing in every bit of spare time from about the age of eight. I had quite an idealised view of art, and still do – that art was a kind of gift to society. I saw my future vaguely as some kind of fine artist. I had quite a graphic sensibility and, after attending my first art school, I was shepherded in the direction of graphic design by a tutor, and went on to study graphic design at London College of Printing. When it came to leaving and trying to seek work I had no plan whatsoever and fell into ‘illustration’ as a means of making money. It always felt essential to me to be creative and to make images.

What is your working process and how does it differ between commissioned and self-initiated work?

Commissioned illustrations are a collaboration from the very outset, and that has clearly suited me. I work very well reactively. The situation would be that someone, probably a publication, would present me with a story or article, or just the idea of what that story is going to be. I will immediately start drawing, generating lots of ideas and trying to resolve the problem of what the image should be. I’ve worked for The Guardian for 25 years and supplied many political ‘Comment’ images. These have very short deadlines, normally just a few hours from concept to finished image.

Self-initiated work is normally a much slower process. To an extent I have become conditioned by deadlines. My brain often doesn’t really fire up properly until the eleventh hour. But my personal projects are vital for me. I feel the need to be able to push aesthetic boundaries and step over a threshold where individuals in organisations might not feel comfortable.

You got sacked by The Telegraph years ago for putting Braille messages into your editorial illustrations, including “Thatcher Fucked Us,” and “Empty the Whitehall Cesspit”. I’m surprised it took them so long to notice.

The Telegraph overreacted. I accepted that being sacked was legitimate, but their refusal to pay me for six images that had been published was heavy-handed, illegal and pushed my buttons. As a result, I decided to publicise the situation and will happily keep talking about it because that disequilibrium persists. I tried to recover the money, but they threatened to countersue me for libel. One of the images stated, “This publication supports body fascism.” I’m assuming it was that image. But nothing I said was libellous. It’s funny that they think I libelled them and that they published those alleged libels in their own paper.

You recently released ‘Information Wants To Be Free’ on your website for people to print themselves, coinciding with an article by Paul Mason entitled ‘The End of Capitalism Has Begun’. Do his ideas around post-capitalism strike a chord with you?

I found his ideas to be fascinating.  He espouses the idea that, as people are increasingly an ‘information factory’, generating untold swathes of information via social networks, information is actually a new source of free wealth, and that we, as educated, connected human beings, are potentially new agents of change. He is talking about an economic utopia that can and will be achieved peacefully. I found some of the ideas unfathomable and some of them pure idealism, but it felt good to just go with the optimism of his theory about how sharing is so beneficial.

What’s on your agenda for 2016?

I’m continuing to develop the moving image side of my practice and have made lots of short films. I’ve written a feature film script and this year I am looking to develop this and see if I can get it off the ground. I’m launching Flea, an alternative incarnation that will focus on producing short film content for social media. I’m working with an online publishing company to instigate a regular column of ‘moving illustrations’.

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Sam Walby