Earlier this year, we were delighted to review the excellent documentary Mr Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End. The documentary followed the career of the infamous political cartoonist known as Mr Fish, AKA. Dwayne Booth. So when we were asked whether we wanted to interview the film’s director, Pablo Bryant, we jumped at the chance. In our interview, we discuss how Bryant first came across Mr Fish’s work, who inspired him as a filmmaker and we may have Mr Fish join us unexpectedly.
Bianca Garner: Hi Pablo, thanks for joining us. Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us how you got involved in the documentary.
Pablo Bryant: I am a camera operator by trade, I’ve covered lives events, television projects and documentaries. It’s the documentaries that I really enjoy the most. I come from a documentary family actually, my mother and father made documentaries together while I was growing up. I think I had been looking for a film, and when I discovered Mr Fish’s work I was just sort of blindsided by it.
His work hit me so strong. His voice, the subject matters he was tackling, how he was approaching it, the sophistication, the humour, the brutality and uncompromising nature of his work, the uncensored and honest nature of it. It all represented a world I struggle with and to meet head-on, because it is often so complicated and dark.
“Mr Fish is showing us the world beyond our garden walls. We’re in our garden, and getting our news from the media, but Mr Fish is cutting through all of that and giving us something that is more real.”Pablo Bryant
There are so many things in modern life that are so overwhelming in their scope and their magnitude. And, it’s difficult trying to process all of that. So, when an artist is able to reflect that world back with the kind of sophistication that he does; and not do it in a heavy-handed way, I found his work just to be remarkable. I think we’re hungry for art that does that (at least I am). The media certainly aren’t reflecting all of that.
BG: And why do you think that the media isn’t touching upon those certain topics, especially the political topics?
PB: It’s not just the political but the human. I think people are able to seperate the policy from the actual cost. You can say we’re going to war, but the reality of the lives that are lost are not encompassed in that phrase. Mr Fish is showing us the world beyond our garden walls. We’re in our garden, and getting our news from the media, but Mr Fish is cutting through all of that and giving us something that is more real.
There’s a lot of answers to your question. The news is made up of a lot of big entities, who have their own kind of agendas and points of view, and I think in general they’re not as risky as Mr Fish. They don’t want to upset their investors and to ruffle any feathers. And, that’s something we discuss within the film. For that very reason, news media isn’t really set up to challenge certain topics in that way. The documentary looks at how there aren’t that many publications that are brave enough to tackle these subjects, but why Mr Fish is.
BG: I was really stunned by the impact of Mr Fish’s work. I found it very truthful and shocking. Do you have a favourite cartoon by Mr Fish which has impacted you in a certain way?
PB: His best work will make you laugh and cringe at the same time, which is a very unique experience because most people tend to go for the laugh. With Mr Fish’s work, you have the insight as well as the laugh. And, you’re not taken off the hook from what he’s trying to tackle by just being able to laugh about it. He’ll often talk about how a lot of his stuff isn’t necessarily laugh out loud funny, and you actually have to wrestle with it.
I don’t have a favourite, but there is one that comes to mind and is referenced in the film. It’s a boardroom meeting with a bunch of bald white guys, and one of them has his hand raised and he’s saying “I second Thompson’s motion to fuck everybody who isn’t us.” It’s funny because it’s true, look at how these big pharmaceutical companies operate. That reality that Mr Fish paints in that picture, is pretty layered in terms of how the world works.
If you sit for a while and chew on what’s being depicted, it gets deeper. He’s never portraying a superficial view of the world. I hesitate to call him a political cartoonist, he’s so much more nuanced and layered than most of the stuff you’ll see out there. He’s much more biting, dangerous and challenging.
BG: So, how did you reach out to Mr Fish and say “Hey I want to make a documentary about you.” I take it, that it wasn’t simply as easy as picking up the phone and dialling his number?
PB: I was like you, I literally had no idea who he was. I got his first book, and was really impacted by it. And I was like ”I have to make a film about this guy” even before I had actually met him. I started to do research on him, looking at his Facebook page, and his website, so I was able to track him and saw he was having a gallery show in Los Angeles. I didn’t even know if he was going to be there, but I went along and got to meet him.
Basically, I said within five minutes of meeting him, that I would like to make a film about him. Luckily, he agreed and he turned out to be a great on-camera character to film. He’s extremely witty and light-hearted. As dark as his material may be, he’s really in love with being alive. He was really natural when it came to filming, lots people can get nervous when they are being filmed.
BG: Your documentary goes into the current state of journalism, which was a very eye-opening experience. People like Mr Fish are really struggling to make ends meet.
PB: There’s a section where Mr Fish is sitting around with other cartoonists and they’re all in the same boat. None of them can really make a living out of it anymore. It’s a craft that is dying out. And it’s sort of being replaced by memes, which isn’t something that we didn’t get into in the film, but it’s sort of obvious thing that’s happening before our eyes. Memes are now getting passed around instead of cartoons. People used to bring in cartoons to the offices and stick up next to the water cooler and that would be how people who share and discuss certain subjects.
BG: Was there any particular documentaries or filmmakers that influenced you?
PB: Well, the most obvious influence is the film Crumb about cartoonist Robert Crumb. The film came out 20 or so years ago, I have always loved that film. My editor makes a point of watching Crumb every year, and when it came to editing Mr Fish, we sat down and watched Crumb to see how Terry Zwigoff filmed it, and why it works. Crumb is very uncensored, he’s not overtly political but some of his work can be. He’s an underground hero, a legend, and a counter culture artist. So, that film has always stuck with me.
” The reaction from audiences has been incredible. I can’t really describe the experience of watching this film with an audience. “
BG: What has been the reaction to the film, especially the reaction from Mr Fish himself?
PB: Luckily he likes the film, the only thing he had notes about was about the art we used in the film, “Ah, why are you using that piece?”. But he never tried to push anything on me in terms of the content of the film. The reaction from audiences has been incredible. I can’t really describe the experience of watching this film with an audience. The viewer goes on such a ride with Mr Fish and his work. People feel so inspired by him, I think we live in such a sell out culture, and there’s respect for him as he’s stayed true to himself.
BG: I had the same reaction and it was a real wake-up call. What’s next for you, will you be sticking with documentary?
Suddenly Pablo’s phone starts to ring
PB: Ah, that’s Mr Fish Now. Mr Fish says hi. Shall I put him on speaker?
BG: Oh wow, this is surreal. It’s like a conference call! I wish I had prepared some better questions! (Laughs). I don’t have anything challenging or profound to say. Just how are you and what are you doing after the documentary?
Mr Fish: Things have been going well. The documentary has got people to approach me and take note of my antics. It’s been a good time.
BG: So, when’s the sequel coming out?!
MF: Well probably when I do something really awful, like I kill someone or end up killing myself.
BG: Wow, this took a really dark turn.
PB: Well, we’ve talked about a drug problem he could suddenly develop, or some petty argument that he could get into with a cop that could land him into hospital. You never know what lies in store, but I am sure it won’t be boring.
Well, whatever happens next, make sure that you check out Mr Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End now out on ITunes. You can follow them on Twitter at @mrfishmovie and the link to the film’s website is here https://www.mrfishmovie.com. A massive thank you to Pablo and Mr Fish for their time and their work.