Outside Edge

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The Independent Culture
THE ARTIST steps up to receive his prize and Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery, hands him a cheque. 'Well done, Robin Banks.' No, this is not the Turner but the Turnip Prize, as portrayed in a recently published comic book that aims to expose the 'sordid' reality behind contemporary art. How to Be Famous in the Art Business - The Artist is the brainchild of art world enfant terrible Mike von Joel, who has teamed up with cartoonist Joe Berger to create such characters as Banks, the critic Donald Creep and the dealer Tim Saylor.

'It illustrates that in the art business today there's a formula to becoming a celebrity. It's a DIY manual,' says Joel, who is well qualified to advise on the subject. Trained as an artist, he founded Art Line, the so-called 'Private Eye of art', in 1980 and revels in his reputation. 'Caricature and satire is a great British tradition going back to Rowlandson and Gillray. My idea is to spread ideas and attitudes. We don't make a penny profit. The book costs pounds 2 and that's exactly what it costs us to print. We're already running at a loss from the ones we've given away.'

Joel plans to issue five further titles in the series: The Collector, The Critic, The Curator, The Dealer and The Painting. The aptly named hero of The Artist is based on an actual painter / critic 'who shall remain nameless. He's a genial dope.' Each frame of the story depicting Banks's rise, via Turner Prize, Hayward retrospective and Venice Biennale, is accompanied by two quatrains of verse, inspired, Joel claims, by the Rupert the Bear strip. So, as Banks sweats over his derivative canvases, we read: 'They're not exactly copied well, / But close enough to make 'em sell.' And sell they do when 'talked up' by obsequious critic Donald Creep, master of pseudo-jargon. 'Creep turns out gibberish,' says Joel. 'I just sat down and wrote it off my head but it looks authentic.' Joel believes that art criticism today has sunk to an all-time low, and critics are among Joel's prime targets. The book's private view centrespread contains several recognisable caricatures, including 'that nun'. Most recognisable, though, is dealer Tim Taylor, husband of Lady Helen Windsor. But like Serota, who wrote a note to Joel saying 'thank you' for Banks, 'Tim thinks it's great fun.'

Nevertheless, Joel's plans to 'get a lot more sarcastic' in future could land him with a lawsuit. He is sanguine. 'No one's going to say, 'That grotesque person in your cartoon is me.' ' Although he's taking a risk, it's worth it. 'The art world is long overdue a dose of salts and this book is going to give it.'

Available ( pounds 2) from Ian Shipley, 70 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2, or by post ( pounds 2.50) from PSI at the same address