Drawing New Zealand Life

Looking at today, today

As one of the Research Librarians for Digital Materials at the Alexander Turnbull Library, I help to preserve and maintain New Zealand’s digital cultural heritage.

One of the largest ongoing digital collections that the library maintains is the NZ Cartoon Archive, which includes over 20,000 born-digital cartoons viewable through the library’s website.

The NZ Cartoon Archive includes everything from the sharp political satire of David Fletcher’s, ‘The Politician’ cartoon strip to Celia Allison’s ‘Cecily’ cartoons, and so much more. A lot of our collections can tell you all sorts of things about the past. The cartoon collections provide unique insight into contemporary New Zealand life and politics.

David Fletcher. The Politician, 3 April 2013. Reference DCDL-0024474 David Fletcher. The Politician, 3 April 2013. Ref: DCDL-0024474, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Celia Allison. ‘Cecily felt that Bubbles were a vital part of any occasion.’  May 2008. Reference DCDL-0006410 Celia Allison. ‘Cecily felt that Bubbles were a vital part of any occasion.’ May 2008. Ref: DCDL-0006410, Alexander Turnbull Library.

From their pen to your eyes

One of my roles is to upload newly received collection items into the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA), and create records and descriptions for these items so they’re searchable through the library’s catalogue.

The Turnbull Library receives most cartoons directly from the cartoonist on an ongoing basis via email, Dropbox, or USB drive for inclusion in the archive. Some cartoonists email us at the same time they send the cartoons to the newspapers for publication, so we get a sneak peek here at the library of the cartoons before they’ve even gone to print!

Additionally, some cartoonists, such as Mark Winter (who goes by the name Chicane), send us multiple versions of the same cartoon, which offers a glimpse into their creative process.

Chicane (Mark Winter). [The X Factor]. 1 May 2013. Reference number: DCDL-0024735 Chicane (Mark Winter). [The X Factor]. 1 May 2013. Ref: DCDL-0024735, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Once the cartoons have been received, we download each file to our secure server and then ingest and deposit each file into the NDHA, where the original file is stored and protected from changes. We also create an individual catalogue record for each cartoon, and link the digital cartoon to the catalogue record so it will be viewable through the library’s website.

One picture, nearly a thousand words

In creating the catalogue record, we not only describe the content of the cartoon, but also place the cartoon in historical context by describing to what (or to whom) the cartoon refers.

As an example, the scope and contents note for the cartoon above reads:

Three versions of this cartoon depict a large 'X' alongside a map of New Zealand. The cartoons ask, “Does New Zealand have the X-ploration factor?” and a voice from the North Island replies, “(Off)shore we have”. A second version of the cartoon offers alternate wording of the North Island’s response, and a third version adds in the words, “The Driller Thriller!” in the blank space to the left of the X. The cartoons reference the popular reality talent show, the X Factor, which premiered in New Zealand on 21 April 2013, and the Block Offer 2013 announced by Energy Minister, Simon Bridges, which offered a total of 1,500 square kilometres and 190,000 square kilometres offshore territory for oil and gas exploration permits.

While the subject matter may be obvious to us today in 2013 when these events are still fresh, as time goes on and figures move out of the public spotlight, that context can be quickly forgotten.

This cartoon is fairly recent, so it might not be too hard. How many of these figures in the news in 2013 can you identify?

Trace Hodgson. [Clandestine Kindergarten] 31 March 2013. Reference number DCDL-0024427 Trace Hodgson. [Clandestine Kindergarten] 31 March 2013. Ref: DCDL-0024427, Alexander Turnbull Library.

But what about the figures in this one from 2002? And what exactly is it referring to?

Christopher Slane. ‘We would be fools to take our tea with anyone so spidery.’ 3 August 2002. Reference number DX-010-007 Christopher Slane. ‘We would be fools to take our tea with anyone so spidery.’ 3 August 2002. Ref: DX-010-007, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Connecting with cartoons

One of my favourite things about working with the cartoon archive is researching the cartoons and discovering the news story or personality that inspired them. Some of the cartoons in the collection make me laugh out loud, and others point out injustices in New Zealand and around the world that break my heart.

Martin Doyle. The Murky Accomplice. 10 December 2012. Reference number DCDL-0023606 Martin Doyle. The Murky Accomplice. 10 December 2012. Ref: DCDL-0023606, Alexander Turnbull Library.

The Cartoon Archive receives between 200-300 new digital cartoons each month, so there’s always something interesting to work on.

Laurence Clark. [Marmite back]. 23 May 2013. Reference DCDL-0024324 Laurence Clark. [Marmite back]. 23 May 2013. Ref: DCDL-0024324, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Finding items in the New Zealand Cartoon Archive

Enter a search term in the box at the top of the page to get started, or go to the New Zealand Cartoon Archive collection page. Very recent cartoons are available in TAPUHI before they are added to this site.

Digital cartoons, and cartoons that have been digitised, are viewable on their record pages. If you want to see print cartoons, use the Send an enquiry button on the record's page.

Not all items are individually described online. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, use the Ask a Librarian form.

By Valerie Love

Valerie is the Research Librarian, Digital Materials, at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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