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 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.