SCMP cartoonist Harry celebrates 20 years in Hong Kong with a look back at his favourite work

Satirical sketcher says he always comes down on the side of the underdog

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 10:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 6:18pm

When Harry Harrison arrived in Hong Kong, he was a 32-year-old freelance artist intent on cementing a career in illustration. Now, as he celebrates two decades in the city, the South China Morning Post's satirical cartoonist is, perhaps more importantly, seen by his children's friends as having a "cool" job.

Harrison, 52, drew his first cover cartoon for Post Magazine a week after the handover in 1997. It featured Hong Kong's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, wringing the new SAR flag through a mangle with the caption, Wringing in the changes.

His job hasn't changed much since the handover, he said, as politicians and public figures have provided ample material for his sketches. A handful of regular characters have become a comforting sight to Post readers over the years; two elderly men in a teashop discussing Hong Kong affairs have become the most recognisable.

Both are based on real characters - Mr Wang, a night-watchman from Harrison's first studio building, and Mr Lee, who regularly took the ferry to Lamma Island to practise speaking English with foreigners. "These are your average men on the streets of Hong Kong," Harrison said. "Salt-of-the-earth characters who aren't very political but are quite keen observers to what's going on."

Watch: Harry on his inspiration

His desire to reflect the political astuteness of ordinary Hongkongers makes his cartoons resonate with readers. "It's only my opinion. I'm not saying I'm the arbiter of what's right and wrong. It's just what I think. I have a strong sense of what's right and wrong myself so when you see it being messed with publicly, you like to point it out," he said. "I always come down on the side of the underdog. Hopefully some people think the same as me and find it funny. For other people, I hope it just makes them angry."

Harrison said his sense of humour was forged during a nomadic childhood with stints in Libya, Singapore and England thanks to his father's job with the British Air Force. "Every time you go to a new school, you have to make your way through the bullies and everyone that comes after you. Humour was how I got by. It stopped me from getting beaten up."

That and his love of illustration made him the cartoonist he is today, he says: "I was always into drawing in general. I just picked up a pencil one day and started. Some kids play football, I'd push a pen around."

Now, living on Lamma with his wife Helena and working from a studio in Central, Harrison submits around four cartoon ideas to the Post each evening, taking his inspiration from stories due to appear in the following day's newspaper. During the day he's busy on other freelance projects.

Despite his being a somewhat niche vocation, Harrison advises anyone with a hankering to become a political cartoonist not to be put off. "Go work in a bank if you want to make real money. If you love drawing and you love designing then it's a no-brainer. If you do something you love then you never work a day in your life."