Mystery New Zealand Cartoonists #1 UPDATE: John Cecil Hill

Digging through boxes and folders of treasure that threaten to engulf my apartment, I've accumulated a few New Zealand cartoonists that I'm seeking information on. I have biographical notes for some of them but would appreciate any new information folk might have on these artists. I found these 1937 cartoons in a custom bound collection titled Political Cartoons. They were compiled for the New Zealand Minister of Employment in Labour's first cabinet, Hubert Thomas Armstrong. The volume contains cartoons from The Evening Post, The Auckland Star and The New Zealand Herald. The Collection is filled primarily with the work of Sir Gordon Minhinnick but there are also many examples from The Auckland Star that are signed J.C.H, a cartoonist completely unknown to me.

Update: Via a FB post by Dylan Horrocks, Kristian Thompson has identified J.C.H. as John Cecil Hill. Kristian pointed to a Victoria University page with brief biographical notes on Hill.

The Cartoonists Part Five

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

Read The Cartoonists Part Four

In this 1955 commentary on New Zealand's meagre contribution towards the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, Sid Scales of the Otago Daily Times shows less indulgence than Nevile Lodge towards New Zealanders' preoccupation with horse racing. The quotation is from T. L. Macdonald, Minister for External Affairs 1954-57.

Eric Heath, an admirer of the vitriolic Petty of The Australian, has asserted that New Zealanders live under a lot of umbrellas. "Anything I do that stabs people at all brings a flood of protesting letters. Readers are very sensitive, and there is a reluctance to draw such figures as the Queen or the Pope, which cartoonists in any other country can draw."

New Zealanders in the 1970s seem happier with the Giles type of man-in-the-street humorous cartoon than with hard political satire. It accords with a national character which Heath has defined as peace-loving, good-humoured, easy-going and domestic. Lodge agrees with that assessment, adding to it only an unreadiness to change unless overwhelming reasons are offered.

In this conservative, neighbourly milieu, caricature pure and simple has vanished and its use in cartoons has declined. Nor does New Zealand welcome extreme scepticism of the kind exhibited by Low in the year of his death, 1963. In such cartoons as "Man the Lord of Creation" Low seemed to be summing up a lifetime of close observation of his fellow men. The thrust was verbal rather than pictorial—but devastating. His Ten Commandments, for example, are "Don't Get Found Out" repeated 10 times. On his wall also is a house-hold motto: "Do Others Before They Do You.", A nation which expects cartoonists to be funny men might well have disowned one of its greatest sons—if it had seen his work.

Certainly cartoonists of nearly equal calibre working in New Zealand have eschewed satire in favour of a gentler, more humorous social commentary. They have performed superbly, as might be expected of men stooping slightly from higher purposes.

Caricature of himself by Les Gibbard. Reaching journeyman status under Minhinnick's tutelage on the New Zealand Herald, Gibbard in 1968 became a Political cartoonist with The Guardian (London and Manchester) and is now regarded as among Britain's best.

Sid Scales, for example: "This'll cheer you up dear—it's not real 'flu—just a viral infection." Or his teetotal fireman indignantly refusing to put out a hotel fire. Or Minhinnick's re-creation of that old tear-jerker "The Crisis", with Dr NZRU attending a fevered John Citizen at the crisis of the 1937 Springbok tour. Or Lodge's museum visitor glancing furtively around to see that no one is looking, then poking out his tongue at a Maori tiki.

Eric Heath of The Dominion comments simultaneously on two major issues, the French nuclear tests and the proposed Springbok tour.

New Zealand's cartoonists can still hit the political nail on the head, as in the August 14 1968 Minhinnick picture of the Prime Minister lustily singing hymns in church, then groping after a single coin for the collection bag—"The collection will be in aid of the United Nations work for Refugees!" What they rarely do is hit the citizen's thumb as well. It is the way New Zealanders like things to be. Their cartoonists have caught the likeness well.

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)

Minhinnick Wartime Cartoons

Selection of New Zealand cartoonist Sir Gordon Minhinnick's wartime cartoons from the Evening Standard. Minhinnick (13 June 1902 – 19 February 1992) had selections of his cartoons collected in annual books although many now exist only as yellowed newspaper cuttings. Through a combination of cartooning techniques Minhinnick took aim at the Axis Alliance, my favourite being the 'silent' cartoons that occasionally featured Mars, the Roman God of War, and no dialogue save a caption or title within the cartoon.

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.