1950s and 1960s
There was a comfortable smugness about New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s and, in parallel, it was a quiet, unspectacular period on the cartooning front. Gordon Minhinnick, the fire of the preceding two decades somewhat abated, continued at the New Zealand Herald. After J. C. Hill’s departure, Neil Lonsdale, who had an advertising background, drew at the Auckland Star from 1953 to 1968.
Nevile Lodge, also from the commercial art world, began his long Evening Post stint when Neville Colvin left for England. The Dominion had no staff cartoonist after A. S. Paterson left in 1950, until Eric Heath, a freelance artist, began in 1966. At the Otago Daily Times, Sid Scales took over when Keith Waite left for Britain in 1951.
General interest magazines, historically the major supporters of the cartooning craft, were now faltering and dying – the Observer closed in 1954, the Free Lance in 1961 and the Weekly News a decade later.
Māori making a mark
While Māori have frequently been the subject of cartoons, there have only been a handful of Māori professional cartoonists. These include Harry Dansey, the regular cartoonist for the Taranaki Daily News in the 1950s. Fellow journalist Noel Holmes commented that Dansey was an elegant artist but lacked the cruel sense needed by a great cartoonist. In the 1990s and early 2000s James Waerea was resident cartoonist for NZ Truth, while Anthony Ellison drew political cartoons for a range of papers from the 1980s to early 2000s.
1970s and 1980s
Strong political convictions and anger about injustices motivated a number of cartoonists during the third golden era of New Zealand cartooning, from the mid-1970s until the end of the 1980s. There was a fortuitous combination of a large number of talented cartoonists with a period of convulsive and compelling politics. Abrasive National Prime Minister Robert Muldoon tried to insulate the country from international economic forces and then ‘Rogernomics’, named for Minister of Finance Roger Douglas in the fourth Labour government, swapped regulation for heady, unprecedented liberalisation.
Among the new cartoonists were Bob Brockie (a caricaturist of distinction), Peter Bromhead, Malcolm Evans, Trace Hodgson, Tom Scott, Murray Webb, Garrick Tremain, Allan Hawkey, Chris Slane, Malcolm Walker, Mark Winter (who used the pen-name Chicane) and Al Nisbet. In dailies and weeklies they produced a stream of hard-hitting cartoons through a period of unprecedented change.
In the 2000s all of these cartoonists, along with the New Zealand Herald’s Rod Emmerson and Guy Body, were still at work, but their output was not helped by blander politicians and the political constraints of MMP (mixed-member proportional representation).
The feminist movement and the changing role of women in the 1970s and 1980s opened the way for female cartoonists – although political cartooning remained strongly male-dominated. In the early 1970s prejudice against women was such that Rosemary McLeod had to get her boyfriend to submit her cartoons to Salient (the Victoria University student newspaper), which refused to publish cartoons by a woman. McLeod’s cartoons later gained mass circulation, appearing regularly in the Listener. Sharon Alston and Helen Courtney achieved prominence with their cartoons in the feminist magazine Broadsheet. In the 2000s Sharon Murdoch’s cartoons featured in the Dominion Post.
Cartoons as historical documents
Generally, the convention that cartoons can be harder-hitting than the written word, and the lack of successful libel prosecutions, have encouraged cartoonists to take advantage of editorial and managerial controls that have usually been exercised lightly. For this reason editorial cartoons are increasingly recognised as important historical sources alongside official, but often sanitised, records.
The country’s rich cartooning heritage has been systematically preserved at the New Zealand Cartoon Archive at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington since 1992. By 2013 the archive, holding more than 50,000 cartoon originals and copies, had curated 14 exhibitions and published six books.
Looking to the future
In 2013 the Young Cartoonist Award was established to encourage emerging cartooning talent. Jointly sponsored by the New Zealand Cartoon Archive and the Listener, the award attracted a field of strong entries in its first year, pointing towards a promising future for New Zealand cartooning.