WHEN Southland cartoonist Shaun Yeo landed his first full-time gig at 27 years old, he felt like he had been born again, he says.
“I never wanted to do the Southland thing, I didn’t want to be an apprentice or an electrician.”
As a young boy, he came across New Zealander Murray Ball’s comic strip, Footrot Flats, and “fell in love with the art” of illustration.
“I just thought well, that’s what I’m going to do, and I’ve pretty much pursued it ever since.”
Despite being driven, turning cartoons into a sustainable career was harder than he expected, he said.
At 17 years old, the Southland Boys’ High School pupil attended a careers event.
It was there an opportunity presented itself when he came across a Southland Times stall.
“I rocked on up there, well actually, a mate did because I was too scared, and he showed them my drawings.”
Leaving an impression on the publication, he was hired as a part-time contributor and worked in the role for 10 years.
“I thought ‘oh well, I’m away, this is what I’m doing’. It didn’t quite work out that way, I was getting regular work but not enough to pay the bills, you know.”
To cover the costs of living, he worked at a supermarket at the same time, he said.
“I got a bit disillusioned at points, but I never stopped drawing, that was my dream.”
In 2001, he was employed full-time at The Southland Times and became a “Jack of all trades”.
“It was a big moment in my life when I got the job at the Times
“I was constantly getting practice and it opened up my creative world, I loved the challenge of doing different things.”
From then on, he became well-known for his political cartoons, caricatures, children’s illustrations, and had since had drawings go viral online worldwide.
After a company restructure at The Southland Times, Yeo decided to go solo a year-and-a-half ago.
Despite being worried about how viable self-employment would be, he could not walk away from his passion, he said.
“To family and friends, and even colleagues, it was a no-brainer, but there was worry.”
Now, “generally working on something all of the time”, he was grateful for the opportunities social media had given him as an artist, he said.
“There’s no way I could’ve become a freelancer without technology.
“People are so much more broad-minded, I can do work for people who live on the other side of the world or from home.”
From Southlanders to a textile company in Texas, he had since built a strong clientele globally.
“It’s either a feast or famine, but the surprising element working with the general public is getting to do a nice thing for people.
“I did a drawing for this guy’s father’s 60th and he was just over the moon.”
In his down-time, he gravitated towards doing more children’s books because of their “magic”, he said.
“To think kids are in bed reading my work, or I can walk into the shops and see my book there – it’s a really cool process.”
The key to his success was being able to distinguish himself from the Yeo Cartoons brand, he said.
“I don’t think I would’ve been able to push through all the work if I hadn’t seen it as a brand and not me.”