DL:RP Series: Cartoonist Emma Hunsinger

Dig into another fantastic DL:RP edition today, featuring WFU ‘13 Emma Hunsinger. The cartoonist grew up dreaming of publishing her original work in the New Yorker… and made it happen years later! Enjoy this WFU Magazine feature by Cherin C. Poovey.


So You Want to be in the New Yorker?

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WFU Magazine, June 14 2018, Cherin C. Poovey

Photography credit: Perri Hoffman

In 2015 Robert Mankoff, longtime cartoon editor for The New Yorker, told TIME magazine there were seven simple steps to getting a cartoon in the savvy, sophisticated publication. They included getting a day job, having an unmistakable voice and looking at the world as if you were an alien. Above all, he said, cartoonists who aim to publish in The New Yorker should aspire to have a distinctive style. “It’s not the ink,” he said, “it’s the think.”

With his own pen and idiosyncratic approach, Mankoff, who retired last year, drew one of the magazine’s iconic cartoons: a businessman on the phone consulting his appointment book. “No, Thursday’s out,” reads the caption. “How about never — is never good for you?”

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In the life plan of artist Emma Hunsinger (’13), Mankoff’s “never” was no good at all. As early as grade school she knew she wanted to sell cartoons to The New Yorker and make a living off her work. In 2017, after years of drawing and redrawing, pitching and rejection, the self-proclaimed perpetual doodler’s perseverance paid off when her cartoon, “American Girl,” was published in the Nov. 27 issue. Drawn in Hunsinger’s characteristic linear style, the cartoon depicts a weaponized American Girl doll, dressed in frock and Mary Janes, being confronted by police officers reporting a “417K” — police code for “person with a knife.”

A knife-wielding doll being confronted by the law? Perhaps not everyone’s recipe for a spontaneous belly laugh, but the artist is fine with that. “With any given cartoon there will be a split on people who like it or get it versus people who think it’s silly or could be better,” Emma said. “It’s very subjective how funny it is. I guess I was just thinking about how everyone thinks dolls are really creepy.”

Image credit: Emma Hunsinger/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

Image credit: Emma Hunsinger/The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

Emma came to Wake Forest from New Canaan, Connecticut, a free spirit whose fascination had always been cartoons. Her father, who is in the publishing business, regularly brought home magazines to show her examples. In middle school she pored over a book and CD collection of every New Yorker cartoon from the 1920s to the 2000s. “I read it cover to cover, and I loved them.”

She cartooned for her high school newspaper and arrived at college unsure whether to major in studio art. “I kind of waffled a bit because you could choose drawing, printmaking, photography, video … but there was no specific cartooning focus. I sold myself short thinking I wasn’t good enough to be a fine artist so I shouldn’t major in studio art,” she said. “By my sophomore year I wanted to get better at it. You don’t go to college to stay good at what you’re really good at, so I double-majored in studio art, with a focus on drawing, and in communication.”

After graduation Emma, who lives in Brooklyn, submitted her resume to Condé Nast, publisher of The New Yorker, and she interviewed at Teen Vogue and Bon Appetit. She was hired by The New Yorker as a sales assistant who answered phones, managed emails and fetched coffee. “It was great because you have to be scrappy to be an assistant in New York,” she said.

The position paid off as she began meeting people on the editorial side and got a glimpse of what went on. She started submitting cartoon drafts, and one of her efforts — a flow chart titled “Can I Wear This T-shirt to Work?” was subsequently published online. “I read they get 500 or 1,000 submissions a week and they only buy 12-15 cartoons a week,” Emma said. “It’s an extremely competitive publication.”

In 2016, she left the sales assistant job and started work as a line cook, making pizzas to pay the bills while she devoted herself to her cartoons. “American Girl” was her second sale to The New Yorker and the first to be published in print.

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Emma’s dry wit, along with her intellectual curiosity and knack for constantly questioning, is perfectly suited for The New Yorker, said her Wake Forest mentor, Teaching Professor of Art Leigh Ann

Hallberg (P ’12). “I think in the ‘American Girl’ cartoon she is questioning the cultural assumption that the doll is, well, the epitome of niceness. She just goes, ‘Really?’”

Leigh Ann was Emma’s champion when it came to esteem and self-confidence, encouraging her not to take herself too seriously and to hang on to that sense of playfulness that everyone loved. At the same time, the teacher helped her student perfect drawing technique, question what she was doing and try other things. “She encouraged me to keep making art and keep making silly art,” Emma said. “It helped so much to learn about art history and how people have used art as communication.”

“Everyone loves Emma,” said Leigh Ann. “She’s just one of those people that when they pop into your head, you just smile.” Unlike most students, Emma took her class notes in pictures, not words. As a freshman, “she was beautiful and wild — not lost —never lost,” said her mentor. “She had all kinds of energy and enthusiasm but, like many students, was searching for direction. We just kind of instantaneously loved her; she was very talented.”

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Katie Wolf (’13), Emma’s friend and classmate who is assistant director of the University’s Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery, recalled a day when it was pouring rain and she noticed a drenched student, weighed down by a backpack, chugging across Davis Field. She drove closer and discovered it was Emma, then stopped to offer her a ride.

“We were talking about this series of drawings she did called ‘The Angsty Animal Teenager Series’ that I just loved,” said Katie. “The person with bird legs, the kid in the corner with eczema, the jackass guy … I saw it as her sort of poking fun at traditional bullying tactics.” The next day, Emma gave Katie the drawings and said, “Thank you for taking me home; I want you to have these.” “They are some of my favorite possessions,” Katie said.

While Emma spent much of her time in Scales Fine Arts Center, she worked at WAKE Radio and was a member of the Lilting Banshees comedy troupe, calling it the perfect mental gym in which to exercise her comedy muscles. She immersed herself in volunteer work, including Campus Kitchen every Friday.

The student humanitarian trips to Vietnam her junior and senior years broadened her world view and influenced her art. “Just to be exposed to what’s on the opposite side of the Earth was so powerful and gave me a sense of scale about how big I am and what matters,” Emma said. “It really made my brain bigger in a way that’s helpful to a cartoonist. If you want to be funny and smart you’ve got to know a lot and experience a lot. That was huge for me.”

Describing her work as delightful, innocuous and silly, Emma appears to have what editor Mankoff was looking for: a distinctive style and the think, not just the ink. “That’s the work I want to be making,” she said.

Still in her 20s and published in The New Yorker, Emma has already accomplished the cartoonist’s equivalent of pushing a piano through a transom. But don’t be surprised if there’s another piano on the drawing board. Never will never be good for her.

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Spotlight Interview: Emma Hungsinger

Emma Hungsinger: Artist

New York City

Freelance Cartoonist
WFU Class of 2013
Double Major :Studio Art & Communication

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Emma Hunsinger is a dynamo: ambitious, wickedly funny, and mega talented in the artistic department. While at Wake, Hunsinger was a member of the Lilting Banshees and a selected member of the 2013 Student Union Art Acquisition trip. We caught up with her recently to learn what it's like to be a freelance cartoonist in NYC. The resulting conversation is as informative as it is hilarious.

DeacLink: What are you up to these days, Emma?

Emma Hunsinger: Currently, I’m a freelance cartoonist making work such as gag cartoons, comics, and cards. At the moment, I have been mainly working on online comics to pitch to different websites.


DL: How did your path unfold since WFU?

EH: After I graduated I moved back home for 6 months just job hunting. I was working in retail when I was offered a position at The New Yorker in the business department. After working there for 2 years and holding 3 positions, I left to pursue art. Which brings me to wear I am now: freelancing in art & doing some small self publishing. To subsidize my art, I also work as a cook at a local restaurant. 

DL: What was the main draw at the New Yorker, and how was your experience there?

EH: My primary goal after leaving college was not to pursue art, rather it was to become financially independent. It was important for me to get experience living on my own and get a taste of what my life budget would be like. The position I was offered at the New Yorker was an assistant position to ad sales-people. The job was entry level and I learned a lot of about office life & business decorum which is great knowledge to have when it comes to selling yourself. I was promoted 2 times while at the company, and decided it was time to leave when I felt like I had gone as far as I wanted to go in the advertising world and had a good sense of what it took to live in the city and accumulated some savings. While at the New Yorker I had met some people in the cartoons department and had gone in for some critiques and felt I had a plan to improve my art.

DL:  How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

EH: I knew I wanted to something creative after school, but when I graduated I was mostly focused on earning a living. Thus, I ended up taking an office job after school as in assistant. However, the encouragement and attention I got at Wake from my professors definitely helped me understand what skills I should nurture for a creative career post-grad. 

DL: What do you think Wake arts could have done to have better prepared students for life after graduation?

EH: I think more information on a freelancer's lifestyle would’ve helped me a lot before graduation. I didn’t really learn about how to balance work and art outside of a traditional “career” setting. Learning about the sort of entrepreneurial side of being an artist would have emboldened me to try my hand at an art career right after I got out of school. 

DL:  Prior to going freelance, how were you locating and applying to job opportunities?

EH: With the New Yorker job, it went like this: In June 2013 my dad set me up with an HR person in Conde Nast, and for the following 6 months I interviewed for 2 positions at CN (for one job they picked someone who had interned there over me and the second I didn’t have the right experience). Then in February 2014 I interviewed for the position at The New Yorker and was offered the position. 

I know you hate hearing it, but the best way to get the job you want is meeting people who can get you closer to it. I have ZERO success with applying to stuff online. Sometime Craigslist works, but you're not going to get your dream job on Craigslist. 

DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

EH: Being patient! When I left my office job I expected to be making a living off of art right away, but the truth is it doesn’t happen so fast for anyone. It has been almost a year since I left my job and I still spend most of my time practicing instead of creating finalized artworks. 

DL: How did you like living and working in NYC? Do you find it conducive to your larger goals?

EH: I think this answer is … Too depressing…

DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in NYC? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move there?

EH: I’m more in the indie comics/media scene than the fine art scene to be honest. The indie comics people are amazing: people are very supportive of each other. I think the community is mostly on social media but also at events like TCAF, MOCCA, CAKE, MICE, SPX, and CAB (all are independent comics festivals). Editors of publications are usually very receptive and giving if they’re interested in your work which is great.

I cannot speak to the fine arts scene but I do know it involves a lot of looking cool & hot on Thursday in Chelsea. 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

EH: Read and look at as much work but other artist as you can. Always keep tabs of what kind of thing inspires you. For example, one of the things that gets me most excited to work on something is watching cartoons like Adventure Time or Clarence. If you have a favorite artist, learn as much as you can about their process; a good way to figure this info out is by following the artist on social media. Piggy-backing off of that, don’t be freaked out by how other people do things; just focus on what is the best way for you to do it. It always helps me to see what materials another artist uses and how they get textures that I like. Practice as much as you can! 

DL: What and where is next for you? 

EH: As for now, I think I’ll keep going at in the Big Apple. That is, of course, if the apocalypse doesn’t hit. 

If the end of the world IS nigh, then my plan is to briefly move back to my hometown, learn from the pastor’s wife how to keep bees, then move into the woods in upstate NY and keep many, many bees. My plan is two pronged: in a post-apocalyptic world in which current currency has no meaning and the economy has failed and all trade along with it, the world will be devoid of sweetness except for my bee’s honey. I will cheer the depressed world with the gift my beloved bees create. The second prong is I will love my bees so much and make them so happy that they will repopulate the Earth and solve our current bee crisis.