Being a daily published Cartoonist is extremely competitive, how did you get your first break?
I had just finished a BSc at Tas Uni (University of Tasmania) and decided to give cartooning a year to see if I could make it work, so was taking on any illustration jobs I could find. I was sending off batches of gag cartoons to The New Yorker and The Bulletin, with 100% more luck in The Bulletin than The New Yorker. Although I did get a batch back with a coffee ring on one cartoon, and a note saying they were 'promising'. I’d also set up a little self-syndication business of a weekly Far Side type panel to the smaller regional papers which was doing okay. I was also doing quick portrait sketches at Salamanca Market (in Hobart, Tasmania) for ten dollars a throw, and I was just generally telling everyone I was a cartoonist.
One day after a hockey match the editor in chief of the Mercury, who was a bit of a hockey fan, wandered over and said he’d heard I was a cartoonist, and would I like to fill in on the paper when the normal guy went on holidays. I said yes, though honestly I hadn’t really thought of being a political cartoonist until then. Anyway, I sketched out some truly awful political cartoon ideas and took them in to the editor, and luckily a couple of them made him laugh. Things went well from there.
My stint at The Australian came from a mate overhearing a phone call where they also needed a fill in guy, so I called them up and got on the ferry and drove to Sydney the next day as you do (I think the cheapest flight was about $1000). The interview was in the pub down the road from the paper, and as I had a slightly better portfolio to show at that stage I got that gig too and things sort of progressed from there.
It turned out to be quite lucky that I drove, as I ended up sleeping in my car for a couple of weeks until my first cheque came through. Being a freelancer is always a fairly day-to-day proposition, especially when you’re starting out, and the ferry trip had entirely maxed out my credit card.
It’s hard to find a cartoonist who can bang out something semi-convincing on a regular basis, so if you can meet deadlines and occasionally provoke a wry smile you could do okay back in the day.