T-shirt design that I made for myself. 25 t-shirts printed. 2017

We have already mentioned Hunt Emerson in one of our Memorabilia. Now he's the subject of an interview for his years spent drawing superbly for Melody Maker. Our special thanks to him for his patience and kindness in recalling what is only a small part of his artistic activity.

Can you tell us how you started drawing and what your inspirations were?

I have drawn since I could hold a pencil. I have a memory of drawing a marching band on the bedroom wall, and getting into trouble for it, at the age of 3. Like all British children I read the comics of the time – The Beano, The Dandy, Topper, Beezer, Eagle, Victor, Hotspur – there were so many of them, and all British cartoonists of my generation were influenced by them.

But for me the biggest influence on how I wanted to draw was the early MAD comics, by Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Jack Davis and William Elder. I loved those books, even though I didn’t really understand many of the references to American culture. I loved the detail, and that they were so funny.

I drew cartoons all my life, but I didn’t think of it as anything other than a pastime, until I saw underground comix from London, New York and San Francisco in 1972, when I decided I was going to get serious about drawing comics.

How long have you've been working for Melody Maker?

I worked for Melody Maker in the late 1970s, around 1976/78. I don’t remember the exact dates, but it was around the time of the beginning of Punk.

Were you free to draw whatever you wanted, or did you have commissions? If so, could you let us know how it worked?

I was commissioned. For a lot of the time I was providing illustrations to a column written by journalist Allan Jones. He would be sent on assignments to interview artists, his style of writing was usually quite sarcastic and critical, and I was supposed to supply vicious caricatures. Sometimes they were vicious, sometimes not so. They were always drawn quickly, against deadlines, and weren’t always as good as they might have been.

I also was asked from time to time to do cartoons for features written by MMs other journalists, mainly Chris Welch and Michael Watts; and for Christmas issues, such as the cover.

Melody Maker was not the only journal I worked for. There were many – computer magazines, motor-bike magazines, car mags, sex mags, and drawing comics. Everything was drawn too fast to be very good!

You mentioned that you had to draw very quickly for all the magazines. So you certainly weren't satisfied with what you drew. Did you enjoy doing it all the same, or did you seek the pleasure of drawing in other ways?

In my answers to your previous questions I think I sound like I’m complaining, and being a miserable bleeder, but it’s not really so. Sure, the drawings were rushed because everything was rushed at the time. I was trying to make a living as a cartoonist, and it wasn’t easy! I took on lots of work – probably too much - and managed to draw some of my own comic books at the same time. Nothing was ever drawn as well as it should have been, and I knew that, but there was no time to re-draw illustrations. It’s still the case now that I’m very rarely completely happy with my drawings. Sometimes. But I always know what could have been drawn better.

It’s slightly strange to me that you are paying such attention and treating as “important”, work that was, for me, fast and forgettable. The most important thing was paying the rent. Sometimes I see one of those old drawings and it’s like I’ve never seen it before.

But I always loved what I was doing. It was always better to keep on running than to give up and find an easier job. In any case I was and am completely unqualified to do anything else.

We interviewed William Stout, who told us that he didn't make much money from his record covers. Were you able to make a living from your art in those days ?

I admire William Stout a great deal.

From working at Birmingham Arts Lab for about six years, I went freelance as a cartoonist around 1981. I took any jobs that were offered, and fortunately my work was popular for a while! I took regular work with Galaxy Publications, drawing Firkin the Cat for nearly 40 years, along with a great deal of other comics pages for them. I have written and drawn a page for Fortean Times magazine since around 1988, and I’ve worked for The Beano children’s comic since 2005 or something – all dates are approximate…. And I’ve continued to take on almost anything that is offered, though not so much is offered these days…. Sob sob!....

But the answer is yes, I’ve been lucky enough to make my living as a cartoonist. It’s sometimes been rough, never lavish, but I’m happy.

I was fascinated by the cover of Melody maker that you produced in December 77. All the most important punks were on it. Could you tell us about its creation?

They asked me to do a cover. They wanted a lot of characters in it, and they needed it fast. I would have liked to draw it again, better, but there wasn’t time.

I tried to get in as many of the punk artists as I could, without knowing much about them. I wasn’t a big fan of punk. I liked the Sex Pistols, Ian Dury, and the Ramones because they were funny, but most of the rest was too noisy and disruptive for me. Too angry, too much speed. As a cartoonist, I needed a relaxing atmosphere to work in because I was spending long hours drawing, and punk was too speedy and angry. My preferred soundtrack was dub reggae, folk music and renaissance music, and 1960s music, from when I was a teenager.

A year later I was a Rude Boy. I was involved in the Ska scene in Birmingham and Coventry, and I worked with The Beat, designing their graphics. That was my style of music!

My original cartoon for MM 1977

Do you perhaps still have some pencils from that drawing that could show us in pictures how you work?

None at all. I drew the pencil lines straight onto the drawing board, inked on top of them, then went over it with an eraser.

Did you do a lot of drawings of the punk and new wave bands of the time?

I did a few, but not many that I recall. Apart from MM, I did some colour prints for a company who published posters and prints. A lot of cartoonists did them. I did the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Elvis Costello, The Who, The Stones… The Ramones was my favourite. I drew them for MM in 1977, and I re-used the same graphic idea several times since then, including the colour print.

Did you keep them, or were they the property of the newspaper when they printed them?

This all happened a long time before computers and the internet, and when I finished a cartoon I had to send it by train to London overnight to whichever journal it was for, sometimes going to the railway station at 4am. After that I often didn’t see the drawings again. Sometimes they were returned by the magazine – Melody Maker were quite good in that respect – but I never received all of them. I think I still have some of the MM drawings here. Some have been sold. I’m almost certain that I do have the MM Xmas cover somewhere. But locating these cartoons will be very time consuming!

Were you in contact with other artists at the time? Was there a group of artists who exchanged ideas or was it each one for himself? To my knowledge, there weren't many artists specializing in music. Were you the only one?

At the time I worked for Melody Maker I hadn’t met many other cartoonists. We were all just beginning to be aware that we existed. Comics artists were scattered all over the UK, and when we did meet up, on rare occasions at Conventions, we would find that we were all very different people, with only two things uniting us – comics and beer. There wasn’t much exchange of ideas, but a lot of very silly drawings were made.

I wouldn’t say I “specialized” in music. Getting the regular gig at Melody Maker was a real boost, but I wasn’t the only one. I never had to do a comic strip for the music press, but there were many. Sounds, in particular, had Alan Moore writing and drawing a weekly strip, they also ran a strip by the great Savage Pencil, and I believe Bryan Talbot had a comic in Sounds for a while. NME had The Lone Groover by Tony somebody or other. Melody Maker never had a regular strip, but they had me doing caricatures.

Did you meet any of the artists you drew? Perhaps you also went to concerts to draw live caricatures, as Robert Crumb likes to do?

I don’t think I ever met any of the artists. It wasn’t that sort of scene. I wasn’t in London, and didn’t go to many gigs. Doing all the drawings took up pretty well all my time. Cartoonists are usually very reclusive.

The only time Melody Maker gave me tickets to see anything was for Cher and Greg Allman in Birmingham, when the promoters were desperate to get anybody to come at all! They were awful.

I’ve never drawn at live gigs. The closest to that is Cartoon Festivals in Europe, where you draw people in pubs and tents, 10 minutes per drawing. Anyone who sits down. That’s hard work for four hours! I like doing it, but it’s not part of real life.

You're not a big fan of punk music, but have you ever been to a concert? If so, what are your memories of them?

I’ve seen a few punk bands over the years, but the only ones I like are funny. There was a Birmingham band called the Noseflutes

My time was a little later, with ska and 2-Tone, when I was involved with The Beat. I went to a lot of gigs round then – all very exciting, and I had my own band for a year, The Tadpoles. But I’ve never been keen on rock clubs and all that. I only go when I have to, and I stand at the back. I want to go home and draw.

Do you have sketchbooks that you take with you when you travel, or do you do everything at home?

No, I’m ashamed to say I don’t. I always tell students they should keep a sketchbook, and I don’t do it myself. I am now trying to keep a sketchbook with me and do some drawings, but it’s nothing to get excited about. I’m not very spontaneous these days. Getting old, man!

What advice would you give to beginners who want to become professional designers?

Learn to draw. Learn to LOVE drawing, because you will spend a lot of time doing it. And take some business studies courses.

What do you enjoy drawing the most?

I like drawing old sailing ships. My version of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was a real pleasure to do. I like making model kits of ships too, though I don’t get much time for that now.

Which drawing are you most proud of ?

Come on! Impossible!

If you had the chance to start your professional career all over again, would you do it all over again?

Haha… the tricky question! To which the answer is “it all depends….”

I think I’d like to have been an archaeologist, but if I was an archaeologist I’d probably be wishing I’d smoked more grass and been an underground cartoonist.

You're a big fan of The Beat and ska, can you tell us about it?

It’s a long story now, but I became part of the 1980s Ska and 2-Tone pop music thing. I did graphic design work for The Beat, who were a key band in the Ska music craze of the time. Great band! They still are a great band in several versions, with a great repertoire of songs. I had a wild time for a couple of years trying to keep up with the music business and be a comics artist at the same time, but it didn’t work. I made some images with The Beat that have become modern icons in a sense – The Beat Girl in particular – she is tattooed onto countless bodies now, and painted onto Vespa scooters and bar room décor. That’s a gas!

Being part of that scene was all an extension of “what we did in our downtime” in Birmingham. There was a vibrant music scene going on that I only occasionally saw. Being a cartoonist means saying ‘ No' many times – 'I’m sorry but I have to draw'. But the times I did go out were thrilling and bizarre. A band called the Noseflutes, who’s singer had his head inside a suitcase…. A group of very young guys who made an awful noise with guitars and cassette tape players, projected slides of body lice and wounds, and as a climax to the show, vomited on the floor….. early gigs by Duran Duran….. and The Beat! Who were the best of the lot. New Year’s Eve gig in Coventry, with the Beat supporting The Specials - one of the best gigs of my life….

Thank you Hunt 
(August 2023 interview) 
Colour print 1979