Cartoonists On Political Pricking

Pushing the boundaries

By Roger Childs

Bill Leak pushing the boundaries

Cartoons often sell papers, because the caricaturists can go into places where the reporters can’t.

Tom Scott’s effort today in the DomPost is a good example:  Labour Scout Leader, Jacinda Ardern, makes the connection between yobbo behaviour at camps preparing budding lawyers for life in the firm.

The late Bill Leak did it constantly in The Australian. (See alongside.)

At the recent Readers’ and Writers’ Week at the NZ Festival there was an excellent forum of cartoonists speaking about the art of political pricking.

Making observations were

~ Sharon Murdoch

~ Sonny Liew from Singapore

~ Toby Morris.

Jonathan King did an impressive job compering and asking the questions.

What’s political cartooning like for you?

Sharon, a rare and very incisive female cartoonist, does a cartoon every day and crams a lot into the rectangle!  Her messages are part of the narrative as readers know the events/issues referred to and will be aware of what has followed. She loves playing round with her cast of characters.

Sonny prefers the multi-panel approach and in his recent published book he uses different styles to keep it fresh for the readers.

What can cartoons and comics do?

Cartoons can make the issues of the day accessible in a graphic way, according to Toby.

They are better than straight text and the viewer can see and recognise the hand of the author. There is a distinctiveness and intimacy in caricature.

Sonny feels that comics can tell stories within stories.

Do cartoonists have responsibilities?

Toby Morris

What they do should leave room for debate and differences of opinion, in Sonny’s view. You definitely don’t want to be extremist and encourage “hate speech”.

Toby feels that cartoons should be thought-provoking, but not necessarily balanced.

Sonny observed that in Singapore in earlier times, there was a view in some quarters that caricatures of politicians took away their authority. There is still some sensitivity in Singapore and his book was not well received by some people.

Working for Radio New Zealand Toby is well aware of the need to be balanced. He feels that it was good if cartoons could include both sides of the story, but that isn’t always possible.

Are there any subjects that are off limits?

Sharon has had a couple of cartoons pulled for being too extreme.

She said that her cartoons are from her perspective and that’s what people expect.

However, she has been accused of not being balanced. It’s important to be honest, and cartoonists can often play the Devil’s Advocate.

A book well worth getting: plenty of laughs and food for thought.

Is it an unpredictable art?

I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow! Sharon.

You have to keep an eye on the headlines which can’t be anticipated.

Occasionally you have to take a punt e g on election day.

Toby does a monthly cartoon for one publication and this is tricky.

Today’s headline quickly becomes yesterday’s news.

However, sometimes a cartoon has a message that is universal and it lasts!

The cartoonist’s wider role

Sharon Murdoch with the equally famous Munro (Credit: stuff.)

Sharon likes to look not just at politics, but at people’s lives and attitudes. She says that you need to have convincing, realistic characters.

In Singapore the government has achieved a lot and this can be recognised in cartoons; so it’s not just about criticism.

Some of Sharon’s cartoons are from her own experience and she made the decision not to be silent on the sexual harassment issue. I have been threatened with rape.

Toby observed that he sometimes gets angry about issues but realises he needs to channel and balance his concerns.

An excellent session

This was a frank and enlightening forum which was greatly appreciated by the more than 300 people present.

A very clear message which came was through was that the cartoon industry is alive and thriving.






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