New Zealand Cartoons

About this guide

Use this guide to get an introduction to the Cartoon Archive collection, as well as

  • important information about born-digital cartoons
  • how to search for cartoons on this site
  • other sources for cartoon research
  • how to view cartoons
  • how to use cartoons and order copies.
The cartoon shows a series of people with dangerous jobs. Cartoonists have joined the ranks of sword swallowers and bomb defusers since a series of Danish cartoons were published which have sparked demonstrations and threats to the cartoonists' lives.
“Dangerous”, Allan Charles Hawkey, 8 February, 2006. Ref: DCDL-0000757.

What is the Cartoon Archive collection?

The New Zealand Cartoon Archive includes over 50,000 cartoons reflecting New Zealand society and politics. It contains cartoons and caricatures from the 19th century to the present.

The New Zealand Cartoon Archive is contained within the Alexander Turnbull Library’s Drawings, Paintings and Prints collection.

Why use cartoons?

Recent scholarship has emphasised the ways cartoons offer insights into a given time period, including both wider themes, such as the portrayal of Māori, and more specific events, such as the Christchurch earthquakes.

Cartoons often sum up complex issues in a single striking image, and are even collected by many of the politicians they lampoon. Cartoons are also studied by art historians, who can be interested in their graphic qualities, material processes and systems of distribution.

In New Zealand, Ian F. Grant and others have used cartoons to outline the country’s political and social history. See, for instance, Grant’s Between the lines: a cartoon history of New Zealand political and social history 1906-2005 (2005) and Sarah Murray’s A cartoon war (2012).

What formats does the Archive contain?

The Archive includes original cartoon drawings from the 20th and 21st centuries by cartoonists like Nevile Lodge, Eric Heath and Peter Bromhead. It also includes many reproductions and newspaper clippings of 20th-century cartoons.

Since the early 2000s, the Cartoon Archive has also collected born-digital cartoons, receiving several hundred cartoons each month.

Shows a dog labelled public wearing a pet cone (colloquially known as a 'cone of shame') under the title 'The truth is hard to get at'. Refers to the revelations and allegations leading up to the 2014 General Election, especially the revelations of so-called dirty politics and various cover-ups around those issues.
"Dog Beehive", Sharon Murdoch, 17 September 2014. Ref: DCDL-0030121.

How to search for cartoons

Start a search from the Cartoon Archive page, and you’ll restrict your results to this collection.

Otherwise, enter a search term in the main search box, and add the word ‘cartoon’ to this.

From the results page, you can narrow them down using filters on the left-hand side of the screen. The filters include ‘Date’, ‘Type’ and ‘Subject’, as well as whether or not they are ‘online’ or ‘physical’ items. Online items are either born-digital or have been digitised, and can be viewed on the website.

Search results page for 'christchurch earthquake cartoon', showing collection items, and filters that can be used to narrow down results by format and date.

Cartoons by specific cartoonists

Search using the term ‘cartoon’ and the cartoonist’s name. Be sure you are using the catalogued version of the cartoonist’s full name. For instance, you would need to search for Alastair Nisbet, not Al Nisbet, or simply search for Nisbet.

Other sources for cartoon research

Papers Past

Papers Past provides many cartoons which are not included in the Cartoon Archive collection. Newspapers particularly worth consulting include:

Some cartoons on Papers Past have the word ‘cartoon’ in the descriptive caption or heading and you can get results by searching for ‘cartoon’. This kind of search does not produce good results when combined with another search term.

However, you can search the term ‘cartoon’ within particular newspapers or within a particular date range, or search for the name or penname of a cartoonist you are interested in. The results you get from this search will often only take you to captions, but you can see the cartoon itself by viewing the full page of the newspaper.

Search results for 'cartoon' in Papers Past, showing items that have the word in their caption.

A general keyword search may also help you find information contained in some cartoon captions, however writing in the cartoonist’s own hand is not searchable, because this text has not been transcribed in the way articles and headlines have.

Cartoon from the front page of the Observer magazine, showing a family eating lamb chops while hundreds of sheep look on. The caption reads 'The luxury. Why?'
"The luxury. Why?" Observer, 29 May 1920.

Further reading

The New Zealand Cartoon Archive Trust has the history of the Archive, news and information on New Zealand cartoons and cartoonists, and links to their work.

Visit the New Zealand Cartoon Archive Trust

How to view cartoons

Both born-digital and digitised cartoons can be viewed online. If you want to see non-digitised print cartoons, use the Send an Enquiry button on the record’s page.

Item page for a Bromhead cartoon that hasn't been digitised. There is a 'Send an enquiry' button at the top.

Not all items are individually described online. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, use the Ask a Librarian link at the top right hand corner of every page on our website.

Using cartoons and ordering copies

Cartoons are fantastic resources for teachers, artists and researchers, often providing striking insight into a particular time or place. Under the Copyright Act, you can take copies of the Library’s images for your personal use, research, or use in the classroom. If you want to publish them, and they still in copyright, then you will need to obtain permission from the Library or the artist. You can arrange this as part of the ordering process.

You can also order high-resolution colour or black and white copies of items in this collection. For out-of-copyright works, or once you have obtained permission from the copyright holder, we can provide digital copies for reproduction in publications, films and websites, and digital prints suitable for framing.

Cartoons are in copyright if the cartoonist is still living or if they have been deceased for less than 50 years. If you would like to order a cartoon that is in copyright, you can use the Send an enquiry button to get contact details for the cartoonist or copyright holder.

More about making copies

More about copyright and privacy


Written by Dr Melinda Johnston and Hannah Benbow.

With assistance from:

  • Amy Watling
  • Jenni Chrisstoffels
  • Jay Buzenberg
  • Reuben Schrader