Peter Berner PHOTO: Chris Peken

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BY JAMIE APPS

Already an established stand-up comedian, cartoonist and TV and radio personality, the understatedly remarkable Peter Berner has added yet another job title to his resume, becoming an officially a published author with the release of his Book of He––just in time for the holidays.

Berner, who has made his name over the years working on television shows such as The Einstein Factor and performing live stand-up, explained how all of those years have somewhat built to this moment.

“It’s been a lifetime to this point, there is an autobiographical thread running through it. It wouldn’t have been a book I could have written in my twenties, the ideas wouldn’t have been solid,” explained Berner. “I’ve been a stand-up comic for nearly thirty years now and part of that process is learning how to refine a joke and finding what’s funny, and luckily the two have met at the same time, resulting in a book that I’m really quiet chuffed with.”

The creation of the Book of He was somewhat fateful from the outset. Peter originally began putting “pen and ink to paper just doodling away” before the seeds of the book started to sprout. Around three or four months later, Finch Publishing approached Peter to gauge his interest in writing a book for them, and he took to say “well actually I’ve thought about drawing one”.

For Finch Publishing this was an entirely foreign concept and they were immediately intrigued, their previous back-catalogue features predominantly non-fiction parenting, sociological, cultural oriented books or memoirs. “We could see this was going to be a bit of an unusual book for us because it would have no text, but much like when we got into publishing memoirs we found it exhilarating and a breath of fresh air,” said Finch Publishing owner, Rex Finch.

It was the underlying autobiographical thread that made the book such a fit for the publishers. “Peter is a very creative talent in the sense that once he gets into a character he sees dimensions we never saw, and that was part of the appeal,” explained Finch. “Peter embodies the character of the book himself, in that the character of ‘He’ represents this under-confident, hesitant, almost lonely state that everybody gets into at different times in their life, but he’s also very unconventional. We all get stuck in jobs we don’t like, we all get embarrassed by situations we don’t want to be in, and his character reflects that.”

Once Peter was given the green light for the book, he immediately went to work producing the eighty cartoons needed. He elaborated: “It’s funny, like most artists, once you get someone who believes in you, because self belief is a tough thing to come by, you can move quickly.”

Berner explained that having an impartial outside critique was also extremely beneficial to the creative process: “I would deliver a whole stack of drawings to Samantha Miles, the editor, and she would pull out the half dozen or so that weren’t cutting it and I accepted that a majority of the time, there was a couple I fought for because I really liked the idea.”

The main focus for Samantha was to ensure that the completed book had an overarching narrative and cohesion to the story. “Peter did a lot of cartoons and together we put them into an order which we thought formed a natural narrative arch rather than an ad-hoc nature to each separate cartoon,” reflected Miles. “That’s really no different to editing a fiction or non-fiction, because you’re always concerned about plot and narrative.”

Peter’s creative process for the cartoons was quite unique in its own right. “Nine times out of ten I will sit down with a blank sheet of paper, a bottle of ink and a pen and start making marks or drawings. It’s invariably the drawing that suggests the joke to be honest, I very rarely illustrate a gag, I rejoice in what accidentally appears,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll make a drawing and it will sit in a pile. Then when I look back through at a later date the joke makes itself known. It’s a really odd process which I try not to analyse, I try to believe in it and let it happen.”

Writing a book has been a goal of Berner’s for some time now, as he said: “I’ve always liked the idea of having something a little bit permanent out there. Much of my stand-up goes unrecorded and therefore it is of the moment and lost to the ether.”

Not to mention that having written a book, Peter can now exhale himself into some esteemed company. “Shakespeare’s written books, I’ve written a book, so I can go hang out with Shakespeare now,” Berner decreed jovially.

To celebrate the launch earlier this week Peter gathered some friends around for a drink, but he joked that had he been more truthful to the book he probably should have “sat in the pub by myself looking out the window wondering why no-one invited me.”

The Book of He is available in all good book stores for $14.99 (hardback) or as an e-book for $7.99

Info:finch.com.au/books/book-of-he-the