Some closing cartoons

Before I walked out the door of the National Library forever my task was to write a blog about my favourite cartoons. Impossible of course, because there are so many and my interest is pulled in many directions by different cartoons, cartoonists and aspects of cartooning.

So I decided to choose just six cartoons drawn over the last couple of years and chat about them. ‘There’s more to a cartoon than meets the eye, Horatio…’ So here we go…

Political commentary

Politicians much in the news expect to be lampooned, and usually take a measure of pride in the number of times they feature, in spite of Prime Minister John Key’s assertion at the opening of the new ground floor of the National Library that there were a sight too many cartoons about him in the collections.

Mulheron, Michael, 1958-. Published in the Dominion Post 19 May 2010. Mulheron, Michael, 1958-. Published in the Dominion Post 19 May 2010. Ref: DCDL-0014381

Wellington cartoonist Michael Mulheron always depicts John Key wearing a knotted handkerchief on his head, who knows why, but it’s a touch of genius in my view.

I love this cartoon, with the PM’s face showing a mixture of terror and astonishment as he finds himself in this awful predicament. I asked Michael about his technique and he said the ”most important thing is to express an idea with vitality… no computer program can match the immediacy of pencil on paper. Colour enriches it but does not really expand the idea.”

So he draws, scans and opens the cartoon in Photoshop and then plays with it using special effects. And here in the finished result the lovely colours complement the fine drawing.

Prime Minister John Key’s joke got him into hot water, literally in this cartoon. He had commented in his amusing laid-back manner that he was pleased to be ‘having dinner with Ngati Porou as opposed to their neighbouring iwi, Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner’. This predictably created a frenzy of outrage and the PM had to apologise when the joke was interpreted by some as linking Tuhoe with cannibalism.


New Zealand cartoonists do not limit themselves to New Zealand affairs only. The cartoon below has become somewhat talismanic because the cartoon itself created a furor when it was ‘accidentally’ published after the New Zealand Herald editor had decided not to run it, because of the sensitivities of the Zionist community in New Zealand.

Malcolm Evans and the Herald parted company as a result but the event caused a lot of heated debate about freedom of speech. Evans maintains that all of his cartoons are intended to stimulate discussion, which of course, this one certainly did.

Evans, Malcolm, 1945-. Published in the NZ Herald ca 13 June 2003. Evans, Malcolm, 1945-. Published in the New Zealand Herald ca 13 June 2003. Ref: DX-002-280

The bone of contention was the Star of David in the word ‘Apartheid’. The editor of the paper stated that the Herald was ‘at pains to separate the policies and actions of an elected government from one of the world's great religions’. The stark black and white drawing with the empty black windows and thin strands of electric wire in an empty street in Palestine emphasise the tragedy of the situation.


Sharon Murdoch is one of the few women cartoonists currently being collected by the Cartoon Archive. Her drawing has a quaintly humourous quality that is unbeatable.

Murdoch, Sharon Gay, 1960-. Published in the Dominion Post, 10 February 2012. Murdoch, Sharon Gay, 1960-. Published in the Dominion Post, 10 February 2012. Ref: DCDL-0020191

This cartoon is a favourite because of the pitifully innocent lack of awareness of the man, who must be Prime Minister John Key, banging the signpost into the head of the Taniwha. This cartoon was drawn around Waitangi Day 2012 when the government was preparing to drop a clause relating to the Treaty of Waitangi where assets were opened for sale to private buyers.

The Maori Party said that messing with the Treaty so close to the weekend's celebrations was deliberately provocative to Maori and in spite of their confidence and supply agreement with the government they were threatening to break away.

Drawing, words and wit

Mark Winter (Chicane) often puns and plays with words in his cartoons. Sometimes words are the only image in the cartoon but his drawing is also very fine.

Winter, Mark 1958-. Published in the Southland Times, 7 May 2012. Winter, Mark 1958-. Published in the Southland Times, 7 May 2012. Ref: DCDL-0021199

Here we see the three vital aspects of a good cartoon – words, wit and drawing – in beautiful alignment. Winter had used the squashed, sagging old face of media mogul Rupert Murdoch in previous cartoons; in this one the face is put squarely in the sights of a duck shooter’s gun, in the same way Murdoch’s journalists had targeted their victims.

The cartoon was drawn at the time that a report was issued about the level of responsibility Murdoch should accept for the ethical behaviour of journalists on his newspapers. The worst of the behaviour was the phone-hacking of private individuals.

Larger than life

Not all cartoons collected by the Cartoon Archive are political or editorial; some are about social issues in New Zealand. Allan Hawkey’s cartoon is about conservation, particularly that of giant weta.

I love this cartoon simply for its funniness; it’s also a good example of a cartoon that has you gaping uncertainly and then you realise – the ‘aha’ phenomenon. Allan Hawkey always draws his people like this – slightly gormless and lumpy looking. I like his drawing and the subtlety of his colouring. Hawkey draws a lot of cartoons about the Waikato area although he ventures further afield as well.

Hawkey, Allan Charles, 1941-. Published in the Waikato Times 19 April 2012.Hawkey, Allan Charles, 1941-. Published in the Waikato Times, 19 April 2012. Ref. DCDL-0020908


The last cartoon I have chosen is by I believe our youngest cartoonist, Hayden Smith, born 1976.

Cartoonists are long-lived in the sense that once they start they tend to keep cartooning until they drop, which means that younger people who have the gift and the desire to do political cartooning are rare birds who need nurturing. It is also possible that fewer young people are attracted to traditional political cartooning because of the huge variety of online creativity offered by modern technology.

There have been literally hundreds of cartoons drawn about the Christchurch earthquakes. This one shows the people of New Zealand maintaining a vigil of two minutes’ silence at 12.51 on 1 March 2011 which was exactly a week after the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February struck. It was this earthquake that killed 185 people.

Smith, Hayden, 1976- Published ODT 2 March 2011. Smith, Hayden, 1976- Published the Otago Daily Times, 2 March 2011. Ref: DCDL-0017250

So there you have it – six cartoons drawn from the several thousand digitised by the NZ Cartoon Archive over the last few of years. It’s a selection that is based on my experience working as the Librarian for the New Zealand Cartoon Archive, which was established on April Fools’ Day 2005 by being fully absorbed into the Alexander Turnbull Library, after a partnership with the New Zealand Cartoon Archive Trust.

Teaser image: Slane, Chris, 1957- Published the New Zealand Listener 27 August 2012. Ref: DCDL-0022719

By Pauline Hannah

Pauline was formerly the Research Librarian for the NZ Cartoon Archive.

Post a Comment

(will not be published) * indicates required field

Be the first to comment.