A Comic Christmas

December 22nd, 2017 By Hannah Benbow

Christmas can be overwhelming: last minute shopping, incessant carols, and the heat of a New Zealand Summer. It’s not surprising, then, that the festive season attracts its share of satire. Here we highlight some of the comics and cartoons from the Library’s collections that have made us laugh this December. Mere Kirihimete!

Rita Angus, “My whiskers!" illustration.
Rita Angus, “My whiskers!”. Christchurch Press 24 December 1935. Fairfax Media BY-NC-SA.

Rita Angus - who signed her work “Rita Cook” in the 1930s and early 1940s – worked as an illustrator for the Press, one of several jobs she took on to support her painting career (Angus, Rita. Te Ara). This cartoon appeared alongside a children’s story “1935 in the toymaker’s workshop” on 21 December 1935. Father Christmas, shown reading letters from children, is expressing his frustration at their demands. Meanwhile, a mouse appears poised to crash one of the toy aeroplanes into the busy workshop. A number of Santa’s helpers would have been familiar to young readers as characters in Angus’ children’s comic Peter and Paul Penguin.

Children's Christmas puzzle comic.
Eric Resetar, Childrens' Xmas comic: loads of puzzles, facts & laughs. Date unknown.

Eric Resetar was a pioneer of New Zealand comics, creating and printing comics from the early 1940s, when he was given a special dispensation from wartime paper rations from the Department of Internal Affairs (Adrian Kinnaird, “Remembering Eric Resetar: 1928-2011). He is perhaps best known for his space hero, Crash Carson of the future, but also published this Childrens’ (sic) Xmas comic. Filled with “loads of puzzles, facts and laughs” for children it featured this delightfully bright and jolly looking Santa Claus on its cover.

Broadsheet’s take on Christmas 1976 featured cover art by Sally Hollis-McLeod. Mother Christmas, holding the reigns of her sleigh, wryly dismisses an argument heard by many other women fighting for equal employment opportunities at the time: “Well, yes, Brian, I did have some trouble at first - they tried pulling the one about not having enough toilets …”. Mother Christmas features in a children’s story in the same issue: “A Christmas surprise” by Christine Rose. When Sally wakes to find Mother Christmas filling her stocking, she is told that “I’m new to the job. Father Christmas finally got too old …. He said he was getting too fat for the reindeer to pull. And the presents, you know.” Auckland University has recently digitised Broadsheet from 1972-1997, you can read this and other issues here: broadsheet.auckland.ac.nz.

Broadsheet cover, December 1976.
Broadsheet cover, December 1976. Copyright Sally Hollis-McLeod and the Broadsheet Collective.

The more things change the more they stay the same. A cartoon, published in the New Zealand Herald in 1973, titled “Songs for the Season” by Sir Gordon Minhinnick uses well-known Christmas carol titles to highlight political issues that were topical in December 1973. Songs include “Hark the hydro levels sink” and “Jingle Tills”, two songs that could be equally relevant at Christmas this year amongst drought worries and consumer frenzy. At the same time Federation of Labour President Sir Thomas Skinner singing “Silent Night” is pictured holding a “Xmas Eve shopping ban”, an idea that seems preposterous in 2017.

Sir Gordon Minhinnick, Songs for the season.
Sir Gordon Minhinnick, Songs for the season. Published in the New Zealand Herald 21 December 1973. Ref: C-179-122. Image reproduced with the permission of NZME.

Another Minhinnick cartoon from 1980 illustrates the cynicism regarding Christmas traditions and changing New Zealand culture. In one scene, a child asks his mother for “roast finger lickin’ turkey, stuffed with fish and chips” for Christmas dinner, while in another a man reads out a Christmas card with the line “Persons awake, salute the happy morn!” (an adaptation of the carol “Christians, awake!”). Yet, at the same time, the cartoon is steeped in traditional Christmas imagery, using festive decorative tape as a boarder and proclaiming “Merry Christmas!”

Sir Gordon Minhinnick, Merry Christmas!.
Sir Gordon Minhinnick, Merry Christmas! Published in the New Zealand Herald, 24 December 1980. Ref: C-171-063. Reproduced with the permission of the Gordon Minhinnick Estate.

Humour can provide insights into our history that may be missed in statistical analyses and learned tomes. This is one of the delights of the New Zealand Cartoon Archive, and of the comics, cartoons and illustrations to be found throughout the wider National Library collections. When you read out the jokes from your Christmas crackers or laugh-so-you-won’t-cry as you pull a burnt pavlova from the oven, you can rest assured that you are not the first nor the last to use humour to make the Christmas season a little easier, and a lot more jolly and bright.

This blogpost was co-authored by Merryn McAulay and Hannah Benbow.

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