May is not Australasian, and only stayed in Australia for less than 3 years
, from late 1885 until Oct 1888, but in that short time developed his drawing
technique which helped shape the "Australasian style' which was later
to sweep London.
His is a curious story, and his beginnings have a bearing on his later style.
He was born in Leeds in 1864, one of a large family whose father died when Phil was 9.
His father's death left the family in pitiful straits, and he attended school irregularly. He was sent out to work from the age of 12.
First he was an errand boy in a solicitor's office, then a 'help' in an architect's office until he spilt ink over a plan and ran away.
He had a few more odd jobs until he found himself helping mix the paints for the scene-painter at the Grand Theatre of Leeds.
He had always enjoyed sketching and began drawing portraits and caricatures of the actors for a few shillings a time. He was soon drawing the posters for the theatre.
Then in 1882, at 18, he decided to try London.
For over a year he struggled, eating biscuits he begged from pubs, often sleeping at night under a market-cart in Covent Garden.
Then his life changed, when he was commissioned to do a few drawings for the 1884 Xmas issue of St Stephen's Review, after the previous artist had failed. He did odd jobs for the Review for the next few months, which barely kept the wolves from the door.
But his work was noticed by W H Traill, the managing director of The Bulletin, who had come to London in search of a new artist. May accepted the 20 pounds a week that Traill offered and dispite poor health travelled to Australia in Dec 1885, at the age of 21.
Over the next 3 years he had about 900 published by the Bulletin, a weekly paper. That's around 6 per issue.
He did very few political cartoons, his strengths were in caricatures and in affectionate observations of people in the streets, recalling his childhood days, with their cheerful, cheeky street urchins.
He was without formal art training, and apparently had the unnerving technique of starting a drawing without roughs, with, say, the ear, then go to a sleeve, then put in an eye, down to trousers or shoes , back to the face etc. But this would, intentionally or not, lead to that 'loose' feel that his drawings portrayed, in contrast to the formal techniques of his English contemporaries. This relaxed and spacious style was an inspiration to other cartoonists in Australia, such as his contemporary Livingstne Hopkins, the Lindsays, and later David Low.
He returned to London taking his approach with him, and had instant success in England, being employed by most of the major magazines, and publishing numerous collections. By the time of his death in 1903 at age 39, he was probably the most popular and imitated cartoonist and illustrator in England.