Monday, December 11, 2006
On those days when you can't seem to write or draw for nuts, it's not a bad idea to revisit old friends and seek some reassurance.
I liked Bump. He wasn't my idea, but he was my visualisation of an idea put in front of me. Dennis Hooper, who at the time was the editor of a BBC kids comic, sent a note out to a number of illustrators asking them to draw him a baby elephant. The elephant was supposed to be clumsy, accident prone. He had a friend, smaller but wiser, called Birdie. The brief wasn't much more than that. I did a quick sketch, and came up with the above drawing: an elephant with a piece of sticking plaster on his forehead, and a bird.
Then, as can sometimes be the way with these things, that rough sketch took over my life. About five years of drawing very little else, as I recall. I did books, I did animation, and I did music.
The books came first - simple stories written by Dennis under the pseudonym Christopher James. Then came the idea of an animated TV seres. I'd been working with a company called CMTB in Bristol (big centre for animation, including Aardman, home of Wallace and Grommit). CMTB had produced 'Trap Door', a great claymation series with Willie Rushton doing the voiceover, and I recommended those guys to Dennis. (For those who are really into the Brit animation scene, there's a wonderful dedicated site, full of the most amazing history and detail: Toonhound)
So the BBC commissioned 26 animated episodes, for which I did all the artwork. God knows how many drawings in total. When the animation was finished, I was sent a pre final cut tape from CMTB. Right at the end was a little private joke for me, a two second clip put together by Steve Box - now Nick Parks' partner in Aardman. Steve's hand comes across the screen and neatly cuts off Birdie's head with a razor blade. The End. Well, it made me laugh...
It was a good time. I had fun, I got paid for it - but best of all I got the music. Things weren't so tightly sewn up in those days. I said I could do the music for the series and so they just sort of let me. I wrote the song, put down the tracks, got a mate of mine and his daughter to come into the recording studio and sing it for us, and that was it.
Bump never made any of us rich, but I think that owning the music has probably made me more in the long run than producing the artwork ever did. I continue to get little royalty payments coming in here and there. Both series still play on the satellite channels, and the Christmas episode turns up on terrestrial occasionally. What has been even more rewarding is the fact that the programmes were made when my own daughters were young. They were the right age for it at the time, and so now they still occasionally meet contemporaries who remember Bump. What, that was your dad....?
Kind of cool for me. Horribly embarrassing for them, poor darlings.