Internet comment sections have been a great boon to the insult economy, offering a very public, very anonymous platform for individuals to deride and disparage as creatively and prolifically as they can muster. But just like so many digital alternatives in the Internet age, an anonymous virtual insult is never quite as invigorating as the real thing, no matter whether you’re on the sending or receiving end. London-based illustrator Mr. Bingo thought much the same, and as his series of delightfully illustrated postcard insults have shown, all the bits of bile on the net can’t beat a single, tangible put-down, rendered lovingly by hand.
The story behind the project, recently collected in a little book called Hate Mail, is captured in this short video by the video magazine Crane TV. Sitting in his studio, Mr. Bingo explains how one drunk night last year he asked if any of his Twitter followers were interested in a personalized insult, to be transmitted via postcard. An individual named Jonathan Hopkins was the first to respond, the artist explains, so he dashed off a ditty to Mr. Hopkins that read "Fuck you Jonathan; fuck you and fuck your shit legs." In the clip, Mr. Bingo explains this very matter-of-factly, as if it all makes perfect sense.
But clearly something about the project resonated with fans—over 50 responded in the affirmative to his initial inquiry—and the new book shows just how creatively Mr. Bingo rose to the occasion. Covering the backs of an assortment of vintage postcards, the artist shows impressive versatility.
Some of the notes, like Jonathan’s, are straightforward insults, supplemented by an illustration ("Dear Mark, fuck you and fuck your cat," accompanied by a nice little drawing of same). Others show a simple insult rendered in bold, stylized text, sort of a perverse take on those inspirational, type-centric design posters you see around so frequently ("You disappoint me on every level," in big, block letters). At least one is a sort of infographic—a series of colorful concentric circles representing various levels of appreciation, moving from "family" at the center, through "acquaintances" somewhere in the middle, and ending with "you," the recipient, in the colorless expanse of dislike, even beyond the ring occupied by "strangers."
Throughout the course of the project, Mr. Bingo sent some 400 postcards. He thinks part of the appeal comes from the element of surprise. "Unlike any other product that you can buy on the Internet, you don’t actually know what you’re going to get until it arrives," the artist says.
But it also has to do with the physicality of the product in an increasingly digital world. "An insult in an email or a tweet can be funny for a minute but then it’s gone, forgotten in the huge digital tide of information that comes and goes each day," Bingo explains. A message on a postcard is a real physical thing and can be treasured and kept forever." And as it happened, some fans felt compelled to send the artist some hate mail himself (his address is listed on his site).
"The weirdest thing I got was a chocolate swiss roll with FUCKER written on it in icing," he says." I didn’t eat it."