The Cartoonists Part Four

The several page article 'The Cartoonists' appeared in the weekly New Zealand Heritage magazine published in the early 1970's and eventually collected as a set of Encyclopedias.

Read The Cartoonists Part One

Read The Cartoonists Part Two

Read The Cartoonists Part Three

In the conservative newspapers for which they worked Minhinnick fitted naturally, whereas Low was a radical, an oddity who made his own rules. Minhinnick dryly pointed the political difference. "It is often written of a cartoonist that he 'crystallises and reflects the opinions of the common man'. If Low ever did that it was by coincidence. What Low crystallised and reflected were the opinions of David Low, and if the common man or anyone else didn't like it, they could do the other thing."

Gordon Minhinnick

Minhinnick considered Low's cari­catures as being not merely recog­nisable but ludicrously unmistakable —the very essence of the person. Yet he discerned in Low the quintessen­tial imp who would not have cared overmuch had he been wrong, and he quotes Low as saying that the first essential of caricature is that it should be a lark.  Low would have liked that. He wrote in his own introduction to H. R. Westwood's Modern Caricatures: "Satirists who approve beauty and goodness by idealising the persons and policies of their friends do so, of course, at the expense of the satirical essence of their art, and become accordingly dull. Satire can-not live with hero worship, and poetry is no part of the caricaturist's function. However the ethics of satire may be tortured in argument, it is difficult to hold that the satirist has any moral obligation to his fellows but to throw bricks at them."

Nevile Lodge with self portrait at his drawing board

Where then are New Zealand's brick throwers? Minhinnick was one, though he seems to have mellowed with age. In the New Zealand Herald of July 15 1938 he depicted the Prime Minister, M. J. Savage, drinking a glass of State control, while Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler reach out for the bottle at his elbow. The caption is "The Spirit of his Ancestors". In that year, it is safe to assert, at least 60 per cent of Minhinnick's readers must have hated him for that.

By April 15 1969 Minhinnick was drawing — for example — Sir Edmund Hillary in an "Attempt on the North Face of Mt. Muldoon", and his brick is thrown accurately but with markedly less force. Nothing like George Finey's wicked caricature of Gordon Coates has lately been seen. It is as though New Zealand's cartoonists in the end are moulded by their audience—a people who expect cartoons to be funny rather than biting, who set limits well within those imposed by libel laws.

This 1971 Lodge cartoon is typical of the "average" New Zealanders he is most at ease in depicting, those whose primary interests are rugby, racing and beer.

Nevile Lodge (Evening Post) and Eric Heath (Dominion) consider that newspaper readers have become more rather than less sensitive since the flowering of New Zealand cartooning in the 1920s. "I am amazed at how outspoken those men were," Nevile Lodge has said. "We could not get away with it today. Their barbs seemed to be aimed at the character rather than at his ideas or policies."

The Cartoonists Part Three

The several page article 'The Cartoonists' appeared in the weekly New Zealand Heritage magazine published in the early 1970's and eventually collected as a set of Encyclopedias.

Read The Cartoonists Part One

read The Cartoonists Part Two

Nevile Lodge

Whatever he may have wished, Lodge actually produced an "average" New Zealander such as he counts himself to be—a character primarily interested in rugby, racing and beer. The social climber is as rarely evident as any individualist. As a result the reader finds in Lodge's cartoons more warmth and easy laughter than in anyone else's work. New Zealanders identify when Lodge comments on the day-to-day social events with which he deals best.

For example, in 1960 when fashion turned yet again to trousers for women, Lodge had a salesman calling at a suburban front door—"Good morning Sir or Madam." Again, in 1956 when individual citizens began playing with tape recorders, Lodge's rueful suburban man soliloquised—"My wife and I just had hard words —she threw our marriage tape at me."

Lodge's reaction to a 1957 suggestion that New Zealand borrow Swiss styles for its Mount Cook and Franz Josef hotels was to depict a guest returning to a hotel to report to his wife—"Well that's got rid of two pests. I just hit that bloke who yodels all the time behind the ear with a cuckoo clock." Also in 1957 when an Auckland trotting trainer was reported to have become a music teacher, Lodge's comment had all the casual philistinism of the middle New Zealander—"Look here, if you play that piece as fast as that again I'll have a swab taken."

Curiously enough, David Low, an expatriate for most of his life, seemed to be groping—towards the end of his career—for a similar protean man. The originals of his Colonel Blimp had largely disappeared from Britain years before Low—under criticism—dropped the Colonel from his cartoons. Replacement was a problem, and in the immediate post-war years when the United Nations was man-kind's not-yet-forlorn hope for a better future Low saw a possible new character in World Citizen, an international version of Minhinnick's John.

Predictably, World Citizen was dull. Not even David Low could make a consciously universal character interesting. The universality of men's predicament has always been better conveyed by such regional inventions as James Thurber's American male and female, and Jaroslav Hasek's good soldier Schweik.

"Premier Coates in a pensive Mood" by George Finey, published in the New Zealand's Artist' Annual, Christmas 1927. Such caricature has almost become unknown.


A lack of convenient stereotypes has given New Zealand cartoonists a reverence for caricature—the exaggerated depiction of personality which can say much on its own but which often says more when combined with the broader satirical idea of a cartoon. In David Low that reverence for what he regarded as a higher art amounted to an obsession. Long passages of his otherwise excellent writing are devoted to the distinction between caricature and cartoon. He thus places his readers in a similar position to that of the schoolboy who wrote a famous literary criticism—"This book tells me more about penguins than I really wanted to know."

The newspaper or magazine reader is similarly placed. He judges a humorous or satirical drawing by the spontaneity with which it sums up a situation already known to him and the sense of proportion it brings to that situation. To him caricature is valuable in making public figures readily identifiable, but it is far from being essential to the quick comprehension of a cartoon. Witness the number of successful cartoonists who get by with printed labels on their principal characters.

Low was right in one respect. The art of caricature is difficult and rare. Among its New Zealand practitioners can be counted George Finey, George Pram, J. C. Blomfield, Stuart Peterson (arguably), Low himself, Counihan of the New Zealand Observer, P. G. Reid, J. T. Allen (whose Face Values is noteworthy in that its caricatures of academics such as Hight, Tocker, Sinclaire, Winterbourn and Farr are better than those of politicians such as Semple and Savage), and of course Gordon Minhinnick.

Stuart Peterson

J. C. Blomfield

Of that list Low achieved the greatest renown abroad and Minhinnick the greatest at home. Understandably they had a proper regard for each other's work. Low wished Minhinnick to take his place on the Evening Standard when he left it. In an introduction to the Arts Council's 1968 exhibition of 90 Low cartoons, Minhinnick wrote: "To the informed layman the first impression gained from Low's cartoons is the excellence of his draughtsmanship. It is so unquestionable that it is likely to be taken for granted by the uninformed. This is a pity, because Low's brush line at times rivals that of the classical Japanese masters. There are no gimmicks, no short cuts, seemingly no concessions whatever to that bugbear of all newspaper men—the clock. Every line is an essence of lines, every form in its rightful place, every expression, every action, is the epitome of what he wished to suggest. Nothing is superfluous. Nothing is wasted. Technically, Low was a master crafts-man." Identical words could reasonably be written of Gordon Minhinnick himself.

Gordon Minhinnick (New Zealand Herald)

The Cartoonists Part 2

The several page article 'The Cartoonists' appeared in the weekly New Zealand Heritage magazine published in the early 1970's and eventually collected as a set of Encyclopedias.

Read The Cartoonists Part One

Les Gibbard

The easy, deceptively casual style of Les Gibbard's cartoons with their minimal captions seems to place much more than a century between him and the skilled academic artist Arthur Palethorpe, whose drawings in the New Zealand Punch, of Wellington, are among the first which can properly be called cartoons. Even in "colonial" clothing, Palethorpe's figures were formal and wooden, and some unconscionably long captions were needed to put across his jokes.

Palethorpe's wit is of interest, though, in that as long ago as 1879 it took a favoured New Zealand form—the pun.

"If I go spinning yarns among silks and satins I am sure to be worsted." Teacher: "What is wax?"

All: "A soft substance."

Teacher: "Is any wax not soft?"

Pupil (with modesty) : "Them as you gives us when we don't know our lessons M'm."

A wince to every page. Yet 70 years later the pun was still humouring New Zealanders. In the Otago Daily Times of August 20 1951, Keith Waite marked the wreck of the former inter-island ferry Wahine near Timor as she transported troops bound for Korea: a soldier leaning over the rail of the grounded ship says to another—"Yer can't really blame her—she's used ter running inter-islands!"

David Low (1891 - 1963), from a photograph by Karsh of Ottawa. Low was knighted the year before his death.

With few exceptions the cartoonists of the late 19th century were anonymous. Their work was inferior to Palethorpe's—which is to say, very inferior—except for J. H. Wallis (c. 1880) who could caricature a face but was inexcusably careless about the rest of the drawing. Although some of them tried to distinguish their characters as New Zealanders pictorially, they failed to do so in their captions. These showed all too clearly the Englishness of the journal from which they were pirated.

Woodcut cartoons from the Taranaki Punch - ARC2002-538 Taranaki Punch, Collection of Puke Ariki, New Plymouth, New Zealand.

The daily-paper cartoon had not then arrived, and cartoon humour appeared only in periodicals patterned on Punch and usually bearing its name. The New Zealand Punch was markedly the best of four which appeared for varying periods—usually short—in the four main cities. The Auckland Punch, for example, was abysmal, though one of its rough unsigned cartoons in the issue of August 19, 1865 shows that New Zealand egalitarianism is not a recent phenomenon.

Foreigners often remark on that attitude, with cause. New Zealanders have built a welfare state and a largely classless social order on the premise that Jack is as good as his master. In so doing they have robbed the cartoonist of some handy stereotypes. Low's trade-union draught-horse would be possible in New Zealand; never his Colonel Blimp.

"Very Well, Alone", probably Low's most famous cartoon, was published at the beginning of the Battle of Britain in 1940.

New Zealand's cartoonists have not wasted tears on the difficulty. They simply cultivated (in earlier years) the personal and individual art of caricature, and searched always for a Mister Average, a Common Kiwi, who would be the prototype of the overtaxed, downtrodden, put-upon, unassertive, wife-ridden ordinary man.

A. S. Paterson cartoon featuring Little Eric of Berhampore.

Sir Gordon Minhinnick's John Citizen

In Minhinnick's work this character appears as John Citizen, a mild fellow commonly seen as a bemused observer of events contrived by politicians and others for his discomfort. In A. S. Paterson he is Little Eric of Berhampore. In John McNamara he is a young Maori (occasionally labelled "NZ") at times sitting on the sidelines, at other times engaged in some activity related to the main theme but taking the form of a sub-cartoon. In Sid Scales he appears as a "typical" long-nosed, genial, carelessly groomed male who could reasonably be labelled Joe Blow.

Nevile Lodge, the Evening Post cartoonist, focuses similarly on a "middle" New Zealand couple, yet claims to have sought consciously for a "class" character to give edge to his work. "In drawing the domestic situation," he has said, "I use a middle-class sort of person—not because it's the way we all are, but because you get more pomposity among those living on the fringes of the filthy rich. I think it's better to make fun of somebody who thinks he's a little better than the average."

"Colonel Blimp", the figure invented by Low in the 1930's to satirise the British Establishment.

The Cartoonists Part One

The several page article 'The Cartoonists' appeared in the weekly New Zealand Heritage magazine published in the early 1970's and eventually collected as a set of Encyclopedias.

Sir Gordon Minhinnick wartime cartoon circa 1940's from The Evening Star

The Cartoonists Part One

Pen-and-ink commentators on national foibles have tended to avoid biting satire and to reflect the good-humoured, slow-to-anger temperament of their fellow countrymen.

With 20 sheep to every man, woman and child, New Zealand should have a surfeit of mutton and a scarcity of wit: pastoral peoples are supposed to resemble the goatherd of European literature in being earthy, inexpressive, dogged and slow. Yet for nearly a century New Zealand newspapers and periodicals have been able to find cartoonists of peculiar wit and artistry in spite of a steady loss through emigration.

The quality of the emigrant cartoonists is high, and the bigger audience they reach abroad makes it seem higher. Nobody is immune from judgments of power and scale, which make Britain's Guardian more important than the New Zealand Herald and London's Evening Standard of more consequence than Wellington's Evening Post. So it is that in the realm of humour and satire David Low is more of a name to be conjured with than Gordon Minhinnick, and Murray Ball than Nevile Lodge.

Two fallacies are widely held about New Zealand cartoonists. One is that those who have won high reputation abroad became good cartoonists only after leaving New Zealand. The other is that, Minhinnick possibly excepted, those who remain are not good enough to have won fame anywhere else.

The first fallacy is easily exposed. Low it is true matured partly in Australia and wholly thereafter in Britain. It could hardly have been otherwise with an artist who left New Zealand at the age of 20. But Low had been cartooning for eight years for the Spectator (New Zealand) and the Canterbury Times before he left and his art was sophisticated enough to make him welcome on the Sydney Bulletin at once.

The same is true of Low's contemporaries and his successors. George Finey, a contemporary, was a superb caricaturist before he left New Zealand, and although he never ventured beyond Australia he would have found few peers anywhere in the world. Stuart Peterson, another contemporary whose work appeared in the Free Lance and who later went to the Sydney Sun, was both subtle and unique in his style. His drawing of Johannes Andersen, the Turnbull Librarian of his day, shows how little he stood to gain (except money) from traveling abroad.

Keith Waite

As in the early years of the century, so in the later. Keith Waite and Neville Colvin, two cartoonists successful in London, developed their skills on the Otago Daily Times and the Evening Post respectively over several years. Murray Ball, whose palaeolithic hero Stanley enlivens the pages of Punch, was no less able and witty when his cartoons first appeared, years before, in the New Zealand Listener. Even Les Gibbard, who at 23 became a political cartoonist on the Guardian in 1968, had reached journeyman status under Minhinnick's tutelage on the New Zealand Herald.

Les Gibbard

Three years later, at 26, Gibbard was one of the top political cartoonists in Britain, his status confirmed by such papers as Copenhagen's Politiken, Le Monde of Paris, and the New York Times, all of which publish his work in their collections of comment from around the world.

"Our School Bored", by Arthur L. Palethorpe, published in New Zealand Punch of November 1 1879. A skilled academic artist, Palethorpe gave early expression to a favoured New Zealand form of wit, the pun. (Image credit: Alexander Turnbull)

David Low in The Daily News (Perth)

David Low's cartoons started featuring in The Perth Daily News in 1940:

Grinning gadfly in Britain's public life is David Low, political cartoonist for Lord Beaverbrook's London Evening Standard. Low's satiric, fascist-hating brush earns him the reputation of being the world's best cartoonist, £ 10,000 a year. Squat. bearded, beetle-browed David Low is a New Zealander, 49. He has been cartooning in London since World War 1.

Exclusive W.A. rights to Low's cartoons have been secured by The Daily News. They will appear often, and will be the talk of the town. Here (below) is the first: