Farewell James Kemsley

Ginger Meggs cartoonist James Kemsley dies, age 59
© AP

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - Cartoonist James Kemsley, who penned the Ginger Meggs comic strip for more than 20 years, died after a two-year battle with motor neuron disease, friends said Tuesday. He was 59.

Kemsley, who died at his home in the eastern town of Bowral on Monday, was the fourth cartoonist to draw the comic strip about the precocious red-haired boy named Ginger.

He took over production of the comic in 1984, and was widely credited with transforming the Sunday strip to a daily format and expanding readership to more than 120 newspapers around the world, including the United States, Brazil, India and Thailand, among others.

Australian Cartoonists' Association President Peter Broelman said Kemsley loved cartooning and was working on Ginger Meggs right until the end. "He was working on Meggs that morning," Broelman said. "He couldn't draw as such but he was certainly writing ideas and ... involved in the production of Meggs."

Kemsley is survived by his wife Helen and three sons Jed, Hywel and Sebastian.

I'm shocked beyond words today and totally gutted. I first met James back in 2004 when I interviewed him for my web-site. I've yet to finish transcribing the interview but I expect that I'll do so rapidly and have it out there as a tribute. I then met him in person at a Meggs XI cricket match up at Tanunda a few weeks later - he was the nicest person you could hope to meet, taking time out to talk and introduce other artists and celebrities on hand. I'll dig the photos out one day.

My best encounters with James came when the Sunday Mail here decided to drop Ginger Meggs from their line-up, in favour of American created strips to promote Foxtel. James phoned me and outlined his plan to get Meggs back in the paper. I went to work. I first got a petition up and with the help of a friend we managed to get some serious air-time on ABC 5AN on a Wednesday morning. After 30 minutes I'd outlined the history of Meggs and made the case as to why the Sunday Mail needed more Australian content. James was doing the same in a phone interview on a rival station. After the interviews I made contact with James and we began to plan the next step.

Two hours later James was on the phone again - we'd won. The Sunday Mail had backed down and signed James to a new contract. He was a happy man, cheering and full of praise. I was as happy as could be when he sent me that above sketch and many is the time I've told people just what my part in Ginger Megg's history is.

Last year the Sydney Morning Herald also dropped Meggs, resulting in me doing phone interviews on radio stations in NSW. The result was that a rival newspaper picked up the strip - again James was full of praise for my small efforts.

I'd spoken to James on the phone and we'd emailed each other over the resulting years. He was very interested in an article I'd been writing about Terowie and General Douglas MacArthur, to the point where we once had a three hour conversation on significant war sites on the east coast of Australia. When we had our problems with the hotels here and got our heads on the TV I wasn't surprised to find an email from James cheering me on, he was that kind of a guy. We were always promising to catch up but we never lined up our plans. I'll always regret that now. James was a class act and a cartoonist without peer. I'm honoured to have had him as a pal, even for a short time. Plus he was a damn nice guy and I'll miss him a lot. We all will.


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