New Zealand cartoons

About this guide

Use this guide to get an introduction to the Cartoon and Comics Archive collection. Find out:

  • why researching cartoons is important
  • which formats we collect
  • how to search for cartoons on this site
  • researching individual cartoonists and their work
  • other sources for cartoon research
  • how to view cartoons
  • how to use cartoons and order copies.
French cartoonist killings 10 January 2015, by Thomas Scott. Ref: DCDL-0030449. Alexander Turnbull Library.

What is the Cartoon and Comics Archive collection?

The New Zealand Cartoon and Comics Archive includes over 60,000 cartoons reflecting New Zealand society and politics. It contains cartoons, caricatures and comics from the 19th century to the present.

The New Zealand Cartoon and Comics Archive

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

Because comics and related art forms are also heavily represented in our published collections, we have produced a complementary research guide for Comics and Zines.

Comics and zines research guide

Why use cartoons?

“A good cartoon can convey, at a glance, a wealth of information; it can epitomise an idea better than a thousand words; it is remembered when words are forgotten; it is instant enlightenment.” — Sir John Marshall, NZ Prime Minister 1972. John Marshall Memoirs, Vol. One, 1912-1960, 1983.

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 and Comics Archive has also collected born-digital cartoons, receiving several hundred cartoons each month.

In 2019, the Archive was expanded to include comics and comic art. We also collect manuscripts and other material relating to artists’ lives.

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, by Sharon Murdoch, 17 September 2014. Ref: DCDL-0030121. Alexander Turnbull Library.

How to search for cartoons in our collections

Below is information about doing a basic cartoon search and also how to search for the work of a specific cartoonist in our collections.

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

Cartoon and Comics Archive collection page

Otherwise, to search all the collections enter a search term in the main search box, and add the words ‘cartoon’, ‘comic’ or ‘caricature’ to this.

From the results page, you can narrow results down by 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.

Researching individual cartoonists and their work

If you are interested in the work of a specific cartoonist, search the Natioanl Library website using the term ‘cartoon’ and the cartoonist’s name.

Be sure you are using the catalogued version of the cartoonist’s name. For example, you would need to search for Thomas Scott, not Tom Scott. If you’re not sure of their full name, the easiest thing is to start with the cartoonist surname, in our example we would start by searching for Scott.

We record biographical information relating to cartoonists in our catalogues as well. If you are interested in artists biographies, search for their name using the thesaurus module (symbolised by an icon of a head and shoulders) in Tiaki. From this window, you will also be able to view a full link of all the unpublished material we held by and about an artist.

Tiaki homepage

Example of biographical information and unpublished work that we hold.
Alastair Nisbet's biographical information in Tiaki and a list of unpublished material we hold.

Other sources for research

There are many other good sources for cartoon and comic research. Below we mention a few of these sources.

Papers Past

Papers Past provides many cartoons that are not included in the Cartoon Archive collection.

Papers Past

Newspapers particularly worth consulting include:

Searching for cartoons in Papers Past

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.

Searching Papers Past

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

Blog — A bit of cheek: Ian Grant looks back on 27 years of the Cartoon Archive

Archived copy of

How to view cartoons from the New Zealand Cartoon and Comics Archive

You can view digitally born cartoons, and print cartoons that have been digitised on the National Library website.

If you want to see print cartoons that have not been digitised yet, use the ‘Send an enquiry’ button on the the website page of the cartoon you are interested in.

Item page for a Bromhead cartoon that hasn't been digitised. There is a 'Send an enquiry' button at the top.
Example of print cartoon that has not been digitised. The ‘Send an enquiry’ button is on the right hand side of the page.

Using cartoons and ordering copies

Cartoons are fantastic resources for teachers, artists and researchers, often providing striking insight into a 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 a Library image, and it is 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 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

Can't find what you are looking for?

Not all items are individually described online. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, use our ‘Ask a Librarian’ service and we will help you.

Ask a Librarian


Written by Dr Melinda Johnston and Hannah Benbow.

With assistance from:

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