Nevile Sidney Lodge was born in Timaru, South Canterbury, on 19 May 1918, the son of Elsie Irene Grant Smyth and her husband, Leonard Arthur Lodge, a bank accountant. He attended primary schools in Auckland, Manurewa and Te Kuiti before finishing his formal education in Wellington at Rongotai College and Wellington Technical College art school.
He had been interested in drawing from an early age and tried unsuccessfully to sell some cartoons while working as a window dresser from 1935 to 1940. When serving in the Middle East as a corporal in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force during the Second World War, he contributed cartoons to army publications, including Parade and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Times. He was considering an offer to join the staff of Parade when he was taken prisoner at El Alamein. He honed his skills and brightened the lives of fellow prisoners with his cartoons, and even exchanged with guards comic sketches for additional food during the three years he spent in prisoner-of-war camps in Italy and Germany. Lodge later joked that he ‘studied on the Continent for three years’.
In Wellington after war’s end, Nevile Lodge was soon busy as a free-lancer, working from a small office above the Blair Street vegetable markets. In 1947 he began his long association with the city’s Evening Post , contributing ‘Lodge Laughs’ cartoons, containing topical and social comment, and full-page front-cover sporting cartoons for the newspaper’s popular Saturday evening Sports Post. For the biggest sporting occasions, particularly rugby tests against the Springboks and British Lions, Lodge prepared three covers in advance, one each for a win, loss or draw.
On 30 August 1952 at Wellington, Nevile Lodge married Patricia Joan Paul. They were to have four children. By now his cartoons also regularly appeared in three diverse national weeklies: NZ Truth , New Zealand Listener and New Zealand Free Lance. His commercial artwork, with the same distinctive cartoon figures, illustrated a number of newspaper and magazine advertising campaigns.
He became the Evening Post ’s editorial cartoonist when the incumbent, Neville Colvin, moved to Fleet Street, London, in 1956, but continued to free-lance until 1965 when he began working full time at the Post. Although his cartoons inevitably became more political and national in their focus, especially as they were syndicated to other daily newspapers, he is most fondly remembered for his depiction of ordinary New Zealanders: suburban blokes in sportscoats and baggy trousers clutching their half-gees; and women in cardigans and floppy slippers, their hair in curlers, sometimes partly hidden under scarves. Sitting-room walls gave pride of place to flights of ducks, and armchairs had free-standing chrome ashtrays positioned next to them. But as the rugby-racing-beer suburbia that was his subject matter in the late 1950s and 1960s disappeared into folklore, his cartoons reflected the changes. Travel made New Zealanders more sophisticated, and television presented particular problems. Caricatures had to be instantly recognisable. Lodge noted that ‘it is important to keep up-to-date as public figures can change hairstyles or shave off a moustache, and the public know straight away’.
The Sports Post ceased publication in 1975. A number of ‘Lodge Laughs’ collections were published over the years and in 1981 Nevile Lodge was made an OBE. Although he retired officially in 1982, he continued to contribute three ‘Lodge Laughs’ cartoons a week until November 1988. He died at Wellington on 7 March 1989 survived by his wife, Patricia, three sons and a daughter.
Lodge had been a sharp observer of the social scene but was always a gentle cartoonist. He saw himself as a commentator on human nature, which he considered to be thoroughly predictable, rather than a political pundit. Nevertheless, he was a skilful caricaturist and an astute political observer. While he never went for the jugular, his Evening Post cartoons were a daily reminder to politicians that he saw through the rhetoric and bombast.