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From the Listener archive: Arts & Books

May 15-21 2004 Vol 193 No 3340


Goodbye to the jungle

by Julie Hill

The King of Rock and Roll and dimwit Axl Rose clone Dean are blazing a trail across the US of A in a pink Cadillac, heading for Vegas for the King’s Comeback from the Dead special, laying waste to everything in their path. Hot on their tail are the fuzz, the FBI and psychotic hillbillies the Dum Dum brothers. They pull up to a burger joint.

Cartoonists Martin Emond and Simon Morse were like opposite sides of the same coin. The pair shared studios, their careers frequently converged and – to be frank – they were bogans. “Yeah, we’re from south Auckland, that says it all,” says Morse. “But we both saw it from an ironic point of view, like I’ll listen to Iron Maiden but I kind of enjoy it secretly. Like Marty and his Guns N’ Roses. With us, it’s ironic because it’s in our blood.”

Emond was found hanged in his studio recently. After two years in Hollywood, he had just landed a deal for an animated film version of his comic character Switch Blade. He was besotted with his fiancee Liesje and had been working with typical fervour. But he was miserable. “We all knew he was the most miserable he’s ever been and we were all trying to get him home,” says Morse. “‘Just come home, man, don’t worry about anything, just come home.’ But he’s a very stubborn boy.”

Morse and Emond first crossed paths when they were 10, when Morse’s itinerant childhood brought him to a Manurewa classroom for six weeks, its walls adorned with spectacularly well-executed drawings of Gene Simmons from Kiss. The artist, however, was best mates with the school bully and new kid Morse was a prime target. Seven years later, Morse spotted Emond again, on a bus, a folder crammed with replicas of Simon Bisley comics. Morse discovered White Trash, Emond’s jubilant vision of an “apocalypse wow!”, in 1993.

Elvis is preparing to mount a pair of mini-arsenals of shotguns, automatics and missiles to the hood of his -Cadillac. Dean has been sampling some of the funny coloured pills in the King’s glovebox and finds himself drifting, wasted, into the burger bar. Only it’s not a burger bar. Inside, the Reverend Ullysses Hellfire is on the rampage against the devil’s own music, rock and roll.

Emond, says Morse, was “born for drawing” and took his place on the world stage with little fanfare. When American heavy metal legend and comics publisher Glen Danzig visited New Zealand in 1992, Emond showed his sketchbook to the concert promoter and, a year later, he was drawing for Danzig’s cult comic Verotik. In the years to follow, he drew for Marvel, DC and Heavy Metal, among others; designed album covers for Shihad, Danzig, Head Like a Hole; co-ran the clothing label Illicit; gained a cult following in Japan for his Rolling Redknuckles strip and painted prolifically. Most of this he achieved without leaving the country. People came to him.

All the while, however, Emond wrestled with depression. He confided to friends that he had been in pain for a long time. “He’s never been happy in his skin or on this plane of existence,” says Morse. “No matter how much success he’d get, it didn’t matter, it didn’t mean anything to him.”

The subject matter of much of his graphic work, especially Verotik, was dark, intense – even pornographic, according to New Zealand Customs, who regularly confiscated his original artwork on its way back into the country. Emond’s designs for Illicit brought him accessibility to a wider audience and showed his lighter side. In return, he gained an “orphan family” like that of his alter ego Switch Blade. Illicit was “Marty’s soul”, says owner Steve Hodge. “We all became extremely close. Marty needed a family-type structure to work with. He would quite often turn down work if he didn’t like someone


Emond had secrets, says Morse, and a few of these unravelled in the weeks after his death. One was that he had always lied about his age. “He was a Gemini and he always said he was born in June 1970 whereas in fact it was June ’69. He always looked younger than he was and he was embarrassed about that, I think. In the eulogy I kept it as 1970, because that’s the way he would have wanted it.” There were other secrets too, but those were very personal; “very understandable”.

Artist Jason Secto’s fondest memories of Emond include watching him driving over their kung fu instructor in a Mini (at the instructor’s behest) and watching Emond’s band Flame Job, a hilarious parody of rock, punk and heavy metal. Wearing nothing but a pair of white boxers, having seemingly morphed into one of his own comic creations, the tattooed and muscular Emond cut an impressive figure. “Whenever I went to a Flame Job gig, I’d come away and I’d be totally fired,” says Secto. “I could work all night buzzing from the experience.”

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