From starting off as a photo-journalist to becoming a collector of art, French cartoonist Stephane Peray has lived life to the fullest. Words by Voicu Mihnea Simandan, photos by Nick McGrath.
“I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was a young kid,” says Bangkok-based French cartoonist Stephane Peray. “I was a photo reporter in Asia and one day in 1993 some journalist friends of mine launched a new monthly magazine in Phnom Penh and I asked if I could draw political cartoons for them.”
And so Stephane, or Stephff, as he is known to his almost five thousand Facebook friends and others who read his cartoons, started a career as a cartoonist for Le Mekong, a now-defunct French-language magazine about Cambodia.
By 1997 he realised he could make a living as a cartoonist. “I sold my photographic equipment at that time as a symbol of reaching the point of no return,” he says. “Then, in 1998, I got my first contract as an international daily cartoonist with another new newspaper launched in Dubai called The Gulf Today.”
Stephff, 48, who has been living in Thailand for the past twenty-three years, believes a good cartoonist has to possess more than an ability to draw. “Drawing skills can always improve over time, but the sense of satire must be an inner ability,” he says. “Good cartoonists need to see the ridiculous side of everything and then transpose it to the medium of their choice.”
Just like writers who read many books in order to write the next bestseller, it’s important for cartoonists to look at the work of other cartoonists. “You need an open mind to be a successful cartoonist,” says Stephff.
Regular followers of his editorial cartoons in The Nation or on Facebook will know that Stephff focuses not just on Thai life and politics, but on world affairs in general. “My main interest is the biggest news of the day in the world,” he says. “Actually, it’s not really my main interest, it’s more about choosing a variation of topics that won’t make readers bored.”
Placing a great importance on feedback from his fans, Stephff believes that social media sites such as Facebook not only allow him to sell his work but also “measure what is really funny for the readers.”
But social media is much more that a yardstick of what works. According to Stephff, with some notable exceptions, editors rarely choose the funniest cartoons but rather the most politically correct ones. This is why social media has become such an important tool for all artists. “You can measure the gap between what you can publish in mainstream media and what can be really funny – but politically incorrect or even in bad taste – for young readers who never buy newspapers anyway,” he says.
Apart from being a talented cartoonist, Stephane Peray is also a collector of art. He has been collecting tribal art for twelve years now. His collection has grown to such an extent that he needs to sell some off in order to collect more. So, in June 2012, he opened Stephff’s Tribal Art, a primitive art gallery where he sells tribal art from places as diverse as Mali, Borneo and Papua New Guinea along side his own contemporary art and cartoons.
“It’s not an easy business as it’s a very small niche and [there are] only a few crazy people around the world who indulge in it,” he says.
As for 2013, Stephff plans to compile his more popular cartoons into a book. Something he claims is more in response to his fans’ requests than for personal gain.
“I’m collecting my cartoons in a book more because my readers and editor are frustrated that I haven’t come up with one than for my personal satisfaction,” he says. “Many fans have asked me so many times so I must make them happy.”
Stephff’s Tribal Art Gallery, Supreme Ville, 38/56 Yenakat Rd. Open from 1pm to 7pm, seven days a week. You can follow Stephff’s daily updates at www.facebook.com/stephff.tribalart or call him at 02 671 3535 to make an appointment.