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Top cartoonist Hunt Emerson's work exhibited in Kendal

Author: 
John Freeman

Birmingham-based cartoonist Hunt Emerson has drawn cartoons and comic strips since the early 1970s and his work is the focus of an exhibition in Kendal right now until the beginning of November, as part of this year's Lakes International Comic Art Festival. I caught up with him to chat about his career and work.

Hunt has published around 30 comic books and albums, mainly with Knockabout Comics, including Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Casanova's Last Stand and Dante’s Inferno. His latest books are Calculus Cat, a hilarious collection of stories about The Cat That Hates Television, Hot Jazz, a collection of jazz-flavoured comics featuring Max Zillion and his saxophone Alto Ego, and Bloke’s Progress, a graphic novel based on the unlikely subject of Victorian art critic and philosopher John Ruskin, whoof course had many local connections.

In 2000 Hunt was chosen for inclusion in the exhibition The 75 Grand Masters of European Comic Art by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and the CNBDI, Angouleme.

Alongside his comics work, Hunt has wide experience in hosting cartoon and comics workshops. His work has been seen in countless magazines, ranging from Radio Times to Fortean Times; from The Wall Street Journal to The Beano. He is also a qualified t’ai chi instructor. 

Hunt, what are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?

Hunt Emerson: I’ve been commissioned by a new outfit in the US called Ahoy Comics, who are planning a series of titles for the autumn. One of them is called Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror, and I’ve been asked to do six two-page comics based very loosely on Poe’s story “The Black Cat”. Very loosely! They are slightly in the way of MAD’s “Spy versus Spy”, in that they are wordless battles between the Cat and our alcoholic hero. I’ve drawn two so far. Other than that I’m keeping up with my regular gigs (Beano, Fiesta and Fortean Times), and spending a lot of time on domestic matters.

Which comic project you've worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?

Hunt: I was asked to be a consultant on a new comics project in Kenya [published by Well Told Story], and spent three days in Nairobi in 2009, then five days in 2010, helping a group of cartoonists and writers to start a comic aimed at Kenyan youth, to help them develop their lives. The comic is called Shujaaz, which means “Heroes” in Swahili.

It’s too complicated to describe here, involving comics, radio, and, crucially, mobile phone usage in Africa, but, briefly, it helps young people find work, organise themselves socially and politically, make and grow things, start local enterprises – generally to survive in a very difficult world. And it works! It’s a comic that actually makes a positive difference to the lives of its readers.

Shujaaz is produced monthly, and is given free in the national newspaper and by Safaricom, the telecom company. The amount of interaction between the comic and its readers, through SMS and social media, is phenomenal. They distribute one million copies each month, and each copy is probably read by seven people. Shujaaz has been nominated for three years running for an International Emmy Award, and has won the award on two of those occasions. The franchise has been successfully launched now in Tanzania.

I can’t read Shujaaz, as it’s all in Sheng, the Kenyan street language, and I’m not featured in the comic in any way, but I was an important part of their start-up, and I’m very proud of that.

Where can you see it? Pretty well impossible unless you’re in Kenya, but Google it and see what’s there – they have YouTube and social media of course.

hunt-emerson-bloke's-progress.jpg

Bloke's Progress by Hunt Emerson
Bloke's Progress by Hunt Emerson

How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)

Hunt: I’m usually up at 6.30 or 7.00 am. Breakfast, take my partner Jane to her work, deal with emails and admin, probably do some food shopping, deal with “other stuff” (there’s always “other stuff” - e.g. recently I’ve been mounting the exhibition for LICAF, buying, taxing and insuring a car, dealing with a lot of household repairs, answering questionnaires...), collect Jane around 4.00pm, then we cook and eat, chat for an hour, and then I go to my studio to start work. By this time it’s usually around 8.00pm.

If I’m lucky I might get an hour or so working in the afternoon, but most work is happening at night just now, and I usually finish at 1.30 to 2.00am. It’s not a very good way to work, and I wish I could change things, but… it’s tricky...

What's the best thing about being a comics creator?

Hunt: I love writing and drawing, when I can get the time to do it properly.

And the worst?

Hunt: Backache, constant nagging deadlines. No prospect of retirement.

What most distracts you from getting your work done?

Hunt: The rest of Life.

Do you think it's easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?

Hunt: It’s easier to publish, but probably harder to Get Published. But I don’t keep up with the rest of the comics world very much. My focus is on getting through my day.

You're guest at this year's Festival. Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven't, what are you expecting?

Hunt: I know and love the Lakes. I’d love to live up there - but that’s not a prospect.

Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?

Hunt: I’ve been fortunate to get to know both of my big heroes - Gilbert Shelton and Sergio Aragones. So, as a fantasy wish… how about the late Reg Smythe, creator of Andy Capp? We’re from the same part of the world, and I think he would have been a very unpretentious, modest bloke.

How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?

Hunt: It’s time away from the desk and it gives us the opportunity to meet each other. On the other hand, it’s time away from the desk!

What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?

Hunt: Read widely, not just comics. Don’t try and draw like your heroes. And remember - the writer is the important person in a comic.

What's your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?

Hunt: I’m afraid I see and read so few comics these days that I can’t answer that. Because it comes through the door I read the Beano every week, and it’s very funny just now - largely due to the writer (and artist) Nigel Auchterlounie, who is frequently hilarious.

Hunt, thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you in Kendal!

• A free exhibition of art by Hunt Emerson is on show now at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal until 2nd November 2018 as part of the Festival's activities

• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival will be back in Kendal 12th – 14th October 2018. Tickets for the Festival are on sale now from: www.comicartfestival.com 

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