Steve Bell was born in 1951 in Walthamstow in East London. He grew up in Slough, realizing early on in his school days that he enjoyed art but not rugby. He also learned that staying at home reading PG Wodehouse had much more going for it than anything Slough Grammar had to offer.
Wrenched from the civilized environs of the south by the dictates of his father’s career, Steve decided to give an art foundation year a go at Middlesbrough College of Art during which time he perfected his northern accent. Fearing mockery from the indigenous population he fled south to Canterbury where he continued to dabble in arty fartiness. However this proved to be a false start and his talent may have been forever lost to the planet as he boomeranged back to the north tempted by the famous ‘colouring-in department’ of Leeds University.
The two main achievements of this period were that he grew his hair such that he could tuck it away under his arm pits and he also formed a relationship which has endured to the present day, ie: he developed a passion for egg on toast. Armed with a degree in fine art Steve looked about for the next dragon to slay. Teaching beckoned with the promise of long holidays and short days. He became an art teacher in Birmingham but soon realized that he was deficient in two of the basic essentials; he couldn’t tuck his shirt in and found it hard not to tell uppity students to piss off. Although this could have been viewed as a poor life choice it in fact provided the impetus to stop messing about and get on with some serious (though funny) drawing. With all the advantages of a kept man with a wife and the married person’s tax allowance, Steve struck out as a freelance cartoonist in 1977.
In his early career he drew comic pages for children’s comics, including Whoopee, Cheeky and Jackpot and has produced illustrations and comic strips for many different magazines including Social Work Today, Punch, Private Eye, New Society, the Radio Times, the New Statesman, the Spectator and the Journalist. The list goes on and on.
His original strip cartoon Maggie’s Farm appeared in Time Out and City Limits magazines from 1979 until 1987 and, since 1981 he has written and drawn the daily If… strip in the Guardian. In addition, ince 1990 he has produced four large free-standing cartoons a week on the leader pages, which now appear in full colour. He created the memorable image of John Major with his underpants worn outside his trousers, of Tony Blair with Margaret Thatcher’s rogue eyeball, and of George W Bush as a chimpanzee. His work has been published all over the world and he has won numerous awards, including the What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year in 1993, the XXI Premio Satira Politica (Grafica estera) Forte Dei Marmi, Italy 1993, the Political Cartoon Society Cartoon of the Year Award in 2001 and 2008 and Cartoonist of the Year in 2005 and 2007, the British Press Awards Cartoonist of the Year in 2002, the Cartoon Arts Trust Award eight times, the Channel 4 Political Humour Award in 2005 and the Political Studies Association Best Political Satire Award in 2005. He has also received honorary degrees from the Universities of Sussex, Teesside, Loughborough, Leeds and Brighton.
With Bob Godfrey he has made a number of animated cartoons for TV, including a cartoon biography, Margaret Thatcher – Where Am I Now? broadcast on Channel 4. He has had twenty eight books published, including a cartoon autobiography of George Bush called Apes of Wrath, an anthology If… Marches On and, most recently a Tony Blair self-help guide titled My Vision For a New You, published by Methuen. A collection of the past four years’ If… strips, If... Bursts Out was published by Random House in Autumn 2010.
His work has been exhibited all over the world, including at the Kunstverein in Hannover and the Kunsthalle in Duesseldorf in 2005, Lighting Lamps, organized by the British Council in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan and Egypt between 2007 an 2009, at the Ewert Karlsson Political Cartoon Museum in Norkoping in Sweden in September 2009, and at the Nasher Art Gallery at Duke University, Durham North Carolina in February 2010. He has had retrospective exhibitions of his artwork at Sussex University in 1996, at the Barbican Centre in London in 1999, at the Buckenham Gallery in Southwold in 2000, at the Sir John Soanes Museum in 2001, at the Hay Festival in 2002 and 2003, at the Newsroom in Clerkenwell in 2004, at Leeds University Gallery in 2006, Norwich Arts Centre in 2007, at the Lightbox Gallery in Woking, Surrey in 2008, the Bear Steps Gallery in Shrewsbury in April 2009, the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hannover in February 2011 and at the Cartoon Museum in London, which opened to the public in February 2006, where he is also a trustee.
He is married with four grown up children and lives in Brighton on the south coast of England and this is where we get on to the really important bits…