Review by Frank Plowright
As reiterated in every review of his work on this site, Hunt Emerson is the UK’s greatest living cartoonist. It’s a source of great joy, therefore, that his longest running and most sustained work is now gathered in this magnificent collection.
British magazine Fortean Times has been taking an open-minded approach to inexplicable phenemona since 1973, and Hunt Emerson has been contributing strips since the early days. 244 of them are collected in Phenomenomix. To forestall mathematicians complaining that 244 pages only equates to just over twenty years of monthly strips, FT wasn’t always published monthly, contributions are a fluid concept, and Emerson’s strips cover many different themes. The Lives of the Great Occultists selection has already been published separately. Phenomenomix concentrates on one page extrapolations of odd phenomena, with the occasional extended diversion, such as into the biography of noted French eccentric Alexis-Vincent Berbiguier.
An appealing aspect of the collection is it not being presented chronologically, but sorted by the strip title, or more or less, as there are exceptions. This leads to bunching of bigfoots, for instance, but different bigfoots as drawn by Emerson over the years. While Emerson freuqently includes his own avatar, his lead investigator is the notably long-nosed Gully Bull, who chases around the world in search of strange phenomena, some of which Emerson downright fabricates. However, the genuine examples are so outrageous, it makes little difference.
While all Emerson’s work is good, the wonder of Phenomenomix is that it’s unadulterated, making it even better. On every other project Emerson’s at least slightly constricted by having to stick broadly to a plot or a life story, but with the Phenomenomix strips he picks his Fortean topic and follows wherever his prodigious imagination leads. This can be into puns and music hall jokes or flourishes of strangely affecting cosmic awareness, such as the Nullabor Plain strip seen on the sample art. Most strips, though, rely on Emerson’s fine sense of humour to get their points across.
The cartooning? You should know by now that the Slings and Arrows site would have Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square demolished and a monument to Emerson erected in its place. Every page is unfettered joy, the expressions gleeful, the situations suitably preposterous and the visual asides a delight. It’s peak Emerson.