How did you begin your career as a cartoonist?
I grew up in a tiny country town called Karratha in the remote northwest of Western Australia. There was never much to do, so all I did my entire childhood was draw. I didn’t play sports or music – I was a weird, quiet kid who carried a clipboard full of paper with me everywhere I went and drew everything I saw.
Making strangers laugh became a lifelong addiction that began when my History teacher asked me to draw a caricature of the school gardener for a retirement present. He paid me $20.
He created a monster.
I started freelancing as a caricaturist straight out of high school, while working a hefty slew of dreadful jobs. Eventually, I got a job working 20-hour shifts for a newspaper doing everything from proofreading, subbing, laying out ads, writing stories, editing photos, to creating maps and graphics – oh, and the daily editorial cartoon (if I was still awake). I used to go to sleep at 7 a.m. with newsprint burned into my retinas. I did learn a lot about the newspaper industry, though.
I was a big Ginger Meggs fan growing up – he was always hugely popular in Australia – and at 19, I met one of my idols and my subsequent cartooning mentor, James Kemsley. He was president of the Australian Cartoonists Association, so we worked together on the club magazine, Inkspot, for many years and always caught up each year in person at the Stanley Awards (our Australian Reubens). Over the years, we became friends and he taught me a lot about being a cartoonist.
Three days before Kemsley died of Motor neurone disease, he asked me to take over from him as the writer and artist for Ginger Meggs.
Ginger Meggs had three other artists before Kemsley, including the creator, Jimmy Bancks. He created the strip in 1921 and made it an Australian icon. The prime minister of Australia called Ginger “Australia’s Peter Pan.” He said, “Most of us can recognize in him our own youth, but unlike him, we had to grow up.”
In World War II, Australian pilots would draw Ginger Meggs on the side of their planes and anyone with red hair was nicknamed ‘Ginge’ or ‘Meggsie.’
Ginger went on to get his own Australian dollar coin, postage stamps and various other honors. Plants are named after him. There are Australian parks created in his name – he even got his own feature film in 1982.
After Bancks died in 1952, Ron Vivian took over writing and drawing the strip until he died in 1973. Lloyd Piper then continued the strip from ’73 until his sudden death in 1983, whereupon James Kemsley took the mantle for 23 years.
It’s a huge honor to continue the legacy of an Australian icon into the next generation.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievements or accomplishments?
Well, I put on pants this morning. That’s something.
If I were to nail it down, the thing I’m most proud of, being elected president of the Australian Cartoonists Association when I was 26 was a great honour. It was a great chance to work hard at furthering cartooning as a diverse, evolving industry. The ACA has been running since 1924, making it the oldest cartooning organization in the world. I’ve served on the board for 10 years and still serve as the deputy president. I’m excited to join the board of the National Cartoonists Society this year.
I think the most important thing cartoonists can do these days is help each other out and give each other a leg up wherever they can. I was very lucky to have had Kemsley send the elevator back down when I was starting out, and I’ve always lived by that same ethos. Wherever I can, I love introducing audiences to new comics – especially by young Australian creators. The front page of gingermeggs.com always features new and fun Australian web cartoonists who I think fans will enjoy.
There are lots of new international readers discovering Ginger Meggs every day, and I’m always pleased to hear from them. I was happy to hear the Comic Strip Critic enjoys the strip!
I was asked to host the 2013 Reuben Awards in Pittsburgh, which was another huge achievement for a doofus like me. I had some big shoes to fill following Tom Gammill (he has a strip called The Doozies here on GoComics. I don’t know if you’d have heard of it; he NEVER promotes it anywhere …)
Tell us about your studio/workspace.
I now live and work from New York with my wife, Sophie. My workspace is a shared studio in an old building on Madison Ave. (Settle down, it’s not as fancy as it sounds.) I had worked from home for 10 years previously, which took a lot of discipline (but not a lot of pants). It’s good to have an “office” to go to for work, because I can close the door at the end of the day and stop work. I think that’s important for a freelancer, otherwise I’d just work all day and night and never see my wife. Or sunlight.
I liked to change my work routine up a lot when I worked from home. The only two things I didn’t change were working at a standing desk and doing Transcendental Meditation twice a day. Everything else was flexible. I’m back to a sitting desk now, and meditating in an open-plan office looks a bit creepy, so now I have to adapt those two things, too.
What inspires you?
One of the things that inspires me most is seeing other artists working in person. I attend the Reubens every year (and had attended the Australian version, the “Stanleys,” every year since I was 19). Nothing re-energizes your inspiration and enthusiasm for cartooning like being around other cartoonists – seeing them work and joke around with each other.
What was your favorite childhood comic? What comics do you read today?
My influences growing up were Bob Camp/Jon Kricfalusi (Ren & Stimpy), Bill Watterson, and Todd MacFarlane’s drawings of Spider-Man. I was a big fan of Ginger Meggs, which I read every day in my local newspaper, and in all the collections.
I was completely enamored of MAD. Mort Drucker, Jack Davis and Sergio Aragonés are in my pantheon of cartooning gods. I’ve had the great honor of meeting all three, who seemed to be completely immune to the old saying “never meet your heroes; they always disappoint.”
At the moment, I really love reading WuMo, Zen Pencils and the work of Edward Steed in The New Yorker.
Do you have any upcoming projects or appearances?
2015 is a big year for Ginger Meggs. After 94 years and four generations, he takes another leap forward in trying to capture the next generation of readers.
I’ve been agonizing over how best to capture the attention of the iGeneration for the last seven years. Ginger Meggs has a Facebook page and profile, Twitter, Weibo, Tumblr and Pinterest accounts, an ebook, a blog, and of course a wonderful loyal readership here at GoComics – but something was still bugging me about watching my 18-month-old nephew and wondering how on earth he’d be discovering and reading comics in his lifetime.
I noticed one day he was playing with his mum’s iPhone and he knew intuitively to scroll down on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to see pictures and videos. Something clicked in my brain and I thought, “What if the Ginger Meggs comic strips scrolled down, panel by panel, like Instagram?”
I studied the GoComics app and experimented with a few different formats. I figured the best way for as many people to access it is if they don’t need to download anything new to view it, and something that worked on all mobile operating systems. For that reason, I made it a mobile-designed website, accessible from any browser, just for the iGeneration, and predictably named it iMeggsie.com (golf clap).
That’s not to say that it hasn’t been done before – the Internet is a big place full of clever folks. It probably has already been done. Let me know if you’ve seen it anywhere else! I’d love to see how they did it.
The great thing is it only runs old archived strips that already ran a while back, so it doesn’t compete with my newspaper clients or GoComics, who always run the latest strips. The purpose of iMeggsie is to attract new fans, and direct them to where the new strips are, so there’s a link up at the top of iMeggsie redirecting them straight to Ginger Meggs on GoComics.
I only launched it on January 1, so it’s too early to get any idea of whether it’s a good idea yet, but I figured it was worth trying something rather than sitting around doing the same old thing.
Upcoming appearances? Well, anyone who’s planning on coming to the 2015 Reuben Awards in Washington DC (and I hope you all are) will get to see me hosting the awards night again. But don’t let that put you off – it should be a great weekend. I promise.
Read Ginger Meggs here, follow along on Facebook or Twitter, or visit the comic’s website.