Insight on Cartoonists: Barry Hunau

An interview with Barry Hunau, editorial cartoonist

When I get “hate mail,” it’s invariably from my long-suffering wife objecting, once again, to the clutter of things with which I fill my day and the house. But when the inordinately gifted editorial cartoonist, Barry Hunau, whose work appears regularly in J (the Bay Area’s premier Jewish newspaper) as well as the Jerusalem Post and Jewish News Weekly, gets his share, he thinks it’s “the most satisfying experience (of his career).”

Barry HunauWhy? “Because it lets me know my cartoons made an impact and caused somebody to think.”

And think they do. As he explains it, “Since my work deals with issues pertaining to Israel and the Middle East, I have received many angry letters from Palestinians and from the local far left. None have actually threatened my life (no Fatwas), but I’ve made some people pretty angry.”

That’s Barry’s serious side, which was not too discernible in every answer he offered: for example, when I asked him what his former schoolmates or teachers might say if they could see him now, he said, “I think they’d probably say, ‘I knew that schmuck would wind up like this!”

Or his answer as to what books he’d take on a space ship to the moon: “The Moon? I’m afraid to even fly to Vegas.”

What about the best advice he’d leave behind for the next generation? One word: “Floss!”

Normally, during the course of an interview I like to find out into whose skin these artists would like to ‘jump’ if they couldn’t be themselves. Barry’s answer came quickly. “Well, without hesitation, I would jump Catherine Zeta-Jones. But,” he added, “I’m not quite sure that’s what this question is asking.” (It’s not, but just for the record, Barry, I feel the same way about her as you do, ever since her star-turn in Chicago.)

Barry’s cartooning was “highly encouraged by friend and teachers. But my family thought that this was an awful way to make a living and discouraged me from choosing it as a career.”

Barry HunauYet he took it up (fortunately for his readers). He maintains a realistic financial appraisal of the path he’s taken and concedes there have been some pretty low points (“I’m not sure I can go much lower ,”), but since he is not financially dependent on his cartoons (“I’m lucky”), he can concentrate on having his work more widely distributed and making a buck at the same time. He says he’d love to have a, “heart to heart with Herblock and ask how the hell he made so much money cartooning,” so it’s clear he’d like to be more amply rewarded for his art and more appreciated by more readers.

Expanding on monetary issues, Hunau says that he’s, “not sure” he’d recommend a career in editorial cartooning for a young person. “Print newspapers,” he flatly states, “are on their way out. The Internet has limited opportunities for paid work. It’s not the way to go for most aspiring artists. No one seems to want to pay for content. I would,” he concluded, “suggest they find a different day job.”

Getting back to the lighter side of his work, Barry tells us he’s, “always loved Jeff McNally’s cartoons.” (McNally who died in 2000 was the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner who created the beloved comic, “Shoe” and numerous editorial cartoons too). He also loves Tom Toles’ work, though he doesn’t think he can, “draw worth a damn. But his cartoons always make a strong and thoughtful point.”

The subject of graphic novels came up. Barry is, “not sure they’re going to be the cartoonist’s salvation. So few people do them well. Other than Maus (by Art Spiegelman), there are very few I’ve actually enjoyed.”

All artists sometimes hit dry spells, when the wellsprings of inspiration run low. Not so for Barry Hunau. He refreshes himself from the daily newspaper. “There is no shortage of material for mockery,” he tells us.

One cartoon of his that he really likes was a response to the United Nations’ “inspections” of Iranian nuclear activities. It shows the inspectors at a nuclear plant that is actually a Laundromat the Iranians are presenting for appraisal.

There is a bread company in New York named Levy’s; their ads showed people of different ethnicities with smiles on their faces, eating the rye bread and reminding us all that “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s.”

Well, Barry Hunau is published in Jewish newspapers, but you don’t haves to be Jewish to enjoy the wit and the wisdom of this Bay Area artist/cartoonist whose work is rewarding to all who have come to anticipate and appreciate him.

Stanford Chandler
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