Giving Them Hell: Political Cartoons — WORD Christchurch

Anyone who knows me well is aware that I’ve always been interested in cartoons and comics. As a child I devoured Asterix and Calvin and Hobbes; as a teenager I flipped to the political cartoons, studying Garrick Tremain’s effortless shading; and today I consume pretty much any comics I get my hands on, online and off. I even (briefly) considered political cartooning as a career, before being dampened by the “death of printed media!” doom and gloom and the fact that all the political cartoonists I was aware of seemed to be older men. (No offence, Peter Bromhead.)

So with that in mind I was super excited to attend a session which featured not only Toby Morris (of Pencilsword fame) but also that rare unicorn, female cartoonist Sharon Murdoch! Interior designer and long-lived editorial cartoonist Peter Bromhead rounded off the panel, all facilitated by Toby Manhire.

Sharon Murdoch. Image supplied
Sharon Murdoch. Image supplied

What’s your ambition in creating cartoons?

To do a drawing which the editor will accept. I look for the paradox which an event is all about; news is a sort of dung heap of information, and all I’m really interested in are the top two layers. I then sit around worrywarting it until I can do something which represents some kind of funny paradox. —Bromhead

Sometimes it’s an act of solidarity, of protest, to show I’ve witnessed something. Witnessing can be very powerful; if enough people say they’ve seen something, that’s a motivator for change. —Murdoch

Cartooning is a kind of preaching, agree or disagree?

I try not to, but it’s something I have been accused of. I do try to say something with my comics, otherwise what’s the point? Nowadays I’m not so interested in ripping someone to threads, I’m more interested in engaging with issues, talking about topics. Comics can be a medium for engagement and change. I don’t feel duty-bound to be funny. —Morris

Toby Manhire, Toby Morris, Sharon Murdoch and Peter Bromhead at WORD Christchurch.
Toby Manhire, Toby Morris, Sharon Murdoch and Peter Bromhead at WORD Christchurch.

What Prime Minister do you most enjoy drawing?

Muldoon was easy. Just take a pear shape, add a straight line for the mouth, close one eye, add a bit of hair on top and there you go. —Bromhead

John Key is really challenging to draw, he has such an everyman face. I think Tom Scott comes closest: “He has a face that looks like a knife stabbed through a scrotum.” —Sharon Murdoch

Just emphasise the white tide mark of his hair dye that goes up and down. Any man who dyes his hair is not to be trusted. —Bromhead

All three agreed that too much emphasis on technical proficiency can be stifling — it’s more important to capture the idea, the energy of the person. Plus being too accurate can run the risk of attracting politicians into buying the originals, Bromhead’s worst nightmare.

The death of printed media…?

I don’t think cartoons are as important as they were in the 50s and 60s because we are so bombarded by visual images that cartoons don’t seem to have the same impact anymore. I don’t think people are reading newspapers, the political clout has waned. —Bromhead

I think cartoons are perfectly placed to succeed — with such short attention spans if you can communicate an idea in a picture that’s a lot more effective. —Morris

I think the static image is still potent, will still survive the demise— sorry, I mean “the changing media landscape”. I mean, look at the burkini cartoon by Anne Telnaes. So simple but very effective. —Murdoch

Personally I’m hopeful that political cartoons will continue to call out the baffling, upsetting and funny antics of our elected representatives.

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WORD Christchurch

Where do you get your ideas from? WORD Christchurch

Audience question time at festivals can create some truly cringe-making moments. Turns out it is not that easy to ask an intelligent, succinct question. Most of the time what we really want to do is make a statement and leave the onus up to the other person to decode that into a question. Bit of a cheek really, expecting presenters/authors to both create and answer the questions that we have lurking somewhere in our subterranean minds.

The Art Gallery on a Saturday morning was where we all went for a bit of help with our ideas generation from four bright and beautiful young things: playwright and actress (Alice Canton), National Poetry Slam champ Mohamed Hassan, songwriter Hollie Fullbrook and cartoonist Toby Morris. Actually make that five beautiful young things – Poet Steven Toussaint asks the hard questions and he’s not that ancient himself.

Prize for worst question ever goes to Where do you get your ideas from? Steve asked them to explain

Why do you hate that question so much?

Alice

I steal ideas from everybody and I don’t really want people to know that. Although now you all do! I also hate the question because I fear some of my ideas will be considered superficial. Then I just want to wet myself and melt onto the floor to force the interviewer to move on to someone else.

Alice Canton. Image supplied
Alice Canton. Image supplied

Mohamed

The question is just too broad. I don’t have a secret stash of ideas, it’s not like I’m hiding my ideas in a place where they all have some sort of private life.

Mohamed Hassan. Image supplied
Mohamed Hassan. Image supplied

Hollie

I fear I will jinx my ideas if I reveal how I get them. It’s like the Sufi Centipede story. The centipede could dance beautifully until someone said: ‘How do you do that?’ And the centipede tried to explain. And could never again dance after that.

Hollie Fullbrook. Image supplied.
Hollie Fullbrook. Image supplied.

Toby

I take big topics that resonate with me and make them more accessible by connecting them to my personal life. What I hate is when people ask me What pen do you use? Like it’s the pen that is being creative!

Toby Morris. Image supplied.
Toby Morris. Image supplied.

What do you do when inspiration is scarce?

Alice

I go to other shows and I steal ideas!

Mohamed

I can’t write when I am comfortable, I suppose I have to get out of my comfort zone. I explore.

Hollie

I try to associate with people who believe in me.

Are there ideas that are too explicit or personal and you will never explore?

Alice

Ideas that are too explicit just don’t interest me.

Hollie

I hide in my songs – I give the difficult, personal, explicit, political, awkward stuff to other characters! In this way I shroud the real situation.

Mohamed

I don’t like it when things become aggressively confessional. There are some things I will never write about. Sometimes I think people reveal too much.

At what point do you decide to let go of an idea because it really just isn’t up to much?

Amy

I cling on for way too long, I take bad ideas to full term. That seems to be how I learn.

Hollie

I abort bad ideas very quickly. I know they are bad when I start having to try too hard.

Toby

Looming deadlines make me give up on them.

So there you have it – out of the mouths of babes. And let it not be said that we weren’t fast learners, because the quality of the questions from the floor at the end of the event was of a very high standard!

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Quick questions with Toby Morris – WORD Christchurch

We are asking quick questions of writers and thinkers coming to the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival on from 24 to 28 August.

Toby Morris is an Auckland-based illustrator, cartoonist and comic artist. You might know him from The Pencilsword and his drawings (with Toby Manhire’s words) for RNZ’s That is the Question.

Toby Morris. Image supplied.
Toby Morris. Image supplied.

What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?

It’s been a while! I used to come to Christchurch when I was touring in a band, and by that point in the tour everything was always a bit hectic and exhausting. I’m looking forward to being in Christchurch without being stressed and tired! The programme looks great, I’ll probably check out a few talks and park myself up with a sketchbook somewhere to do some drawing – seems like there are lots of beautiful spots of park up.

What do you think about libraries?

I love libraries, one of my favourite places. So many of my favourite memories have happened in libraries – whether it’s finding something mind blowing in a strange book that called out from a shelf, or finding a new favourite band in a CD with a curious cover, or even just flirting with girls on the top floor of Wellington Central when I’m supposed to be studying for exams. I love writing and drawing in libraries. Now that I’ve got kids I’m reminded of the power of libraries all over again – such amazing safe spaces to lose yourself.

What would be your “desert island book”?

CoverMy go-to comfort read is Tintin in Tibet. It’s such a simple story that I find it kind of pure and clean, it’s quite perfect. All the white space of the swirling snow is quite calming.

Share a surprising fact about yourself.

I have no sense of smell.

Toby Morris appears in:
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?, Sat 27 Aug, 12.30pm
Sunday Fringe – Writing to Make a Change, Sun 28 Aug, 11.30am
Giving Them Hell: Political Cartoons, Sun 28 Aug, 2pm

More

Toby Morris. Image supplied.
Toby Morris. Image supplied.