Updated: Thursday, 19th April 2018 @ 7:17am

'Life is about laughing': Cartoonist Tony Husband talks Manchester exhibition, dementia book and Elbow

'Life is about laughing': Cartoonist Tony Husband talks Manchester exhibition, dementia book and Elbow

| By Simon Allin

Award-winning cartoonist Tony Husband talks to MM about his new exhibition in Manchester, his book on dementia and working with Elbow.

Hyde-based cartoonist Tony Husband is well known for his work in the national press, featuring in publications such as Private Eye, The Spectator, The Times and The Sunday Express.

At 65 he is busier than ever and is taking on new projects with the enthusiasm of a man whose creative spark remains undiminished.

An exhibition at the Artisan Kitchen and Bar in Spinningfields will showcase Tony’s cartoons on large canvases for the first time, with exhibits from his previous work displayed alongside some new designs.

While Tony’s talent has long been recognised on a national level – he has won over 15 major awards during his career – he is pleased that the exhibition is taking place in Manchester.

He told MM: “I know a lot of people in Manchester. It’s like a village, in a way, and the creative community all know and support each other.

“I love the social scene, I love the city and I’m proud of it, and it’s just nice to be a part of it.”

Tony was born in Blackpool and grew up in the North West. He did a number of jobs, including working in a jeweller’s shop, before becoming a full-time cartoonist in 1984.

He co-devised and edited the popular children’s comic, Oink!, which later gave rise to a spin-off TV series, Round the Bend.

“We just thought it’d be great to have our own comic and make it a bit anarchic, because it was that time in Manchester when the creativity was kicking off with ‘Madchester’ and so on,” Tony explained.

He says his northern background has had an influence on his work, which is known for its off-the-wall humour.

“A lot of great comedy comes from the north,” he said. “The north is well known for its sense of humour, and people are more open as well.

“It’s about looking at life and seeing where you can laugh at it, because it’s so bloody hard sometimes.”

One of Tony’s most recent works marks something of a departure from his previous output. It tackles a particularly difficult subject – his father Ron’s experience of living with Alzheimer’s disease.

The book’s title, Take Care, Son, refers to the last words Ron said to him before he passed away.

It begins with his father’s determination to lead an active lifestyle following the death of his wife, then chronicles the development of the disease from minor forgetfulness to the debilitating effects of its final stages.

Tony says he found the experience of writing the book difficult, but also cathartic.

“What happened was my dad had died and it was late on Sunday," he said. "I started thinking of my dad and talking to him in my head and kind of interviewed him in a way, and I decided to draw the interview.”

Friends encouraged him to develop his initial sketches, and the breakthrough came when he emailed it to his friend, Stephen Fry, who asked if he could tweet parts of it.

After seeing the tweets, a publisher got in touch asking him to turn his ideas into a book.

The book has slowly become a considerable success and now Tony gives talks about dementia up and down the country.

“Every time I do the talk I have to relive the whole story – but it’s worth it when people say it’s helped them,” he said. “I’m kind of proud that my dad’s gone global.

“It’s touched people, which is amazing.”

There are now plans to turn the book into an animation for the BBC, with Christopher Eccleston providing one of the voice-overs.

Manchester band Elbow are working on the soundtrack, along with American indie rockers Low.

“Collaboration is what we do up here,” he said. “It’s like a community where we all work together on different projects.

“Just watching Elbow working together for my film was so moving. I can see how they develop great music, as they were all pitching in with different ideas.

"Guy [Garvey] had read the book and already had some ideas before the meeting, so it was great.”

Tony’s work has become more varied over the years as he has taken on new projects.

“I’m good at reinventing myself because the newspapers don’t really need cartoons any more - they don’t have the money,” he explained.

For the past 15 years he has been touring alongside poet Ian McMillan with the live show A Cartoon History of Here.

The pair visit village halls across the UK, with Ian improvising poetry based on the audience’s input and Tony providing images to accompany the words.

“Ian does his bit and then I get on stage; we start a poem and people come up with ideas. It’s quite magical, really,” he said.

Inspiration comes to him easily – he has a thinking couch in his studio, which aids the creative process – and he feels as though he has been given a new lease of life, creatively.

“When my dad was at his worst I don’t know how I created anything, but now my mind’s free I’m doing loads of stuff – it’s pouring out of me like it’s been blocked up,” he said.

As well as working on another book with his son Paul, who has his own photography business in Manchester, he continues to draw cartoons, give talks on dementia and has several gigs lined up with Ian McMillan.

“I’m doing all sorts of things and don’t want to stop now,” he said. “You can only live in the moment, can’t you? There’s no point in worrying about what might happen.”

Cartoons on Canvas at Artisan will run at Artisan Kitchen and Bar, Avenue North, Spinningfields, from Wednesday November 11, 2015 to Wednesday February 10, 2016.