Hamlet, our wise-cracking, porcine ‘resting’ actor, has hit 30 years old. Creator Harry Venning explains how the pig came to life after a traumatic touring experience and picks his 30 favourite cartoons from across the decades
Hamlet came into existence in June 1988, around the same time I gave up on acting, or acting gave up on me, depending on how you look at it.
I had just finished a year’s contract with a small-scale touring company bringing live theatre to village halls, schools, community centres and, for a memorable two months, care homes. At the beginning it was great fun being part of a troupe of travelling mummers. Hey Diddley Dee, and all that. But a year was too long to spend in the company of the same six people. Tempers flared, friendships curdled, backs were stabbed, alliances rose and fell, unkind words were exchanged. A penny whistle was brandished as a threatening weapon. Touring turned toxic.
By the time our minivan pulled up outside the company base for the final time, and unloaded its cargo of props, performers and poison, all bonhomie had long since evaporated. The troupe went their separate ways except for myself and my fellow company member John Davitt.
John and I returned to London and would meet up in dark pubs during the daytime.
Fuelled by alcohol and self-pity, we railed against an unfair world that failed to recognise our talents, yet employed and lauded mediocrities in our place. Football was occasionally discussed, but mostly we would just complain, whine and bitch about acting and other actors. Which is where I had the idea for Hamlet.
At first, I drew the out-of-work actors as humans, but they (we) just weren’t sympathetic enough. Nobody likes a whinger, two even less so. So I transformed John and myself into a pig and a duck, came up with four initial strips and sent them off to The Stage. The rest, as they say, is history.
Thirty years on and showbusiness has been far kinder to me as a cartoonist than it ever would have been had I persisted with the acting.
When it comes to satire, acting is the gift that just keeps giving. Hamlet has taken my place in the acting world and he is welcome to it, but the itch to perform still irritates occasionally.
John Davitt, aka Brutus the Duck, still makes his living as an actor.