Five questions with cartoonist Rod Emmerson

By The Listener In Art

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If you’re an aspiring young cartoonist, consider entering the Listener/NZ Cartoon Archive Young Cartoonist Award.

Rod Emmerson is Editorial Cartoonist for the New Zealand Herald: a position he’s held since 2003. He’s been widely published internationally through the Associated Press and the New York Times Syndicate. Rod is known for his insight and cynical wit, and has picked up many awards during his 25 years as a cartoonist. The Listener put these five questions to him.

Cartoon courtesy Rod Emmerson/NZ Herald

Which cartoonists or other artists have influenced you the most?

As a mad-scribbling teenager, the first artist to have any influence on me was Mort Drucker from Mad magazine. I later met him at a cartoonist function in San Diego and thanked him over several drinks. Later artists in no order are Garry Trudeau, Michael Leunig, Bill Mitchell, Ralph Steadman, David Low, Ron Tandberg, Nicholas Garland, Michael Ramirez, Mike Peters and Gerald Scarfe.

Is there an ideal reaction you’d like your audience to have to your work?

Not particularly, apart from taking something away from it. Every cartoon is different to the next, and there are multitudes of points to be made. The greatest enjoyment I get from my work is seeing it up on a wall in a shop or on someone’s fridge.

Are there any people or subjects that you particularly enjoy drawing?

Editorial cartooning is visual social commentary, so the subject matter is the most important thing for me. 90% of the work is creating the idea. Drawing it is the easy bit. I’m passionate about what I do, and have been known to come off leave just to do something on a particular subject. Righting and highlighting the injustices of the way we live, the mistakes we make and the burdens we bring upon ourselves. My favorite is a government that changes the rules to benefit a minority at the expense of the majority.

Cartoon courtesy Rod Emmerson/NZ Herald

What was the first drawing you were paid for?

I drew Joh Bjelke-Petersen (I’m a Queenslander by birth) in a rickshaw, being pulled by a Japanese investor saying, “Take you for ride?”

What advice would you give to an aspiring cartoonist?

Despite the experts (and there are plenty), there is no college or school that will actually teach you to be a cartoonist. It’s a very personal journey and the world’s best cartoonists are self-taught. Keep drawing and forget about the money. If you are good, it will follow. Be passionate, know where to start, and when to stop. Don’t get on a hobby-horse subject that is only followed by nutcases. You will eventually become one yourself. Be loyal to no one, except your readers. Act global and think local. Most importantly, only take cartooning advice from people who are actually cartoonists, and who know what they are doing. The cartoon art world has a huge graveyard, so find out why they didn’t survive when others did. Despite the dreary naysayers, it is not a dying art, and it is not a bleak environment in NZ. There are plenty of people out there chipping away. Want help? Just ask me.

 

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