Approaching the anniversary of the birth of Noel Cook (1897-1981) I wanted to post a few excerpts from a feature in my forthcoming Paper Trail book. As a cartoonist and illustrator Cook was one of the most significant and perhaps under-appreciated to come out of New Zealand in the twentieth century. Cook had varied career as a commercial artist/cartoonist/art editor and painter, producing a large body of work in New Zealand, Australia and England. In researching Cook I've found his life to be every bit as fascinating as the work he produced.
I'll be posting samples from Cook's career on the Pikitia Press tumblr over the next few days as well. Read Cook's first installment of Peter for the Sunday News here. The following recollections are excerpted from an interview conducted 6th May 2013 with Noel's son Peter Cook.
"You know what artist's are like they cut out everything that they see for ideas. Dad never threw anything away you see (Laughs). Except his paintings, they're the things he did throw away because he gave them to so many relations. He never held onto his paintings. There was one I remember as a tiny kid I had that I've never managed to find. There were some pen and ink drawings he did, I must have been about three years old."
Some of Cook's earliest work were cartoons and illustrations produced for The NZ Observer. This example from May 29th, 1920.
You know he was in the war? the first War? He called it the great adventure. His father was a newspaper proprietor in Auckland, New Zealand. His relations there have a lot of the history. He went with a whole bunch of friends to the war because they didn't separate you in those days, he stayed in the same platoon with them. They all got killed except him in one shell. The only time I remember him talking about it he must have been drunk we were only kids in bed and he was coming to give us a story. He told us a bit about the boys calling out to him, "Give my love...". It was like a boy's adventure story, he was very angry. Two German prisoners of war were carrying him off on a stretcher 'cause he was badly wounded himself and he threw dirt at them and then he felt sorry 'cause he knew it wasn't their fault. A friend of his, another friend had just lost his brother and Dad had taken a prisoner and this friend put a small bomb in his pocket. Dad took it and threw it away. He could understand that a man had just lost his brother and the German kissed him! He always remembered getting that big kiss. He went to England then for convalescence, then back to New Zealand.
Advertisement for Noel Cook's Peter in Sunday News April 3rd 1932
Noel Cook Cover for Blue Star comic Valley of Doom. Interior comic by Royce Bradford of whom little is known other than he is rumoured to also have been a New Zealander.
I was pretty close to him although I was often angry with him because he couldn't control his drinking. I began to understand. He never forgot that you see. they were his closest friends. So by the time they got back to New Zealand he did get a job in an architects office. He met some other artists, he was always drawing. He used to draw the Rugby teams , The All Blacks and all that sort of thing. He met a bunch of other artists and they all went to Sydney. He was close to his parents 'cause he got letters but he just wanted to get away from the gung ho thing, 'cause everyone was saying, "Oh you're heroes," and he hated all of that because it was a horrible experience. He couldn't go along with that, although he always went to Anzac Day events, but he wasn't happy about it.
Cartoon for the NZ Observer June 12th 1920
The people that he went to Sydney with were Unk White and George Finey, they were great friends of his. The Finey's were quite close to us when we were young, the whole family. Another chap Alex King, he was a good artist, I remember him. Bill Constable was another one, there were quite a few he had some exhibitions with them over here (England) combined with them. When he went to Sydney it was all that black and white stuff, black and white footballers, or politicians, or you name it.
Armistice Day illustration from the NZ Observer, 13 November 1920.
One picture he did for Armistice Day was a picture of his friends marching up a hill, Ghostly images of ANZACS advancing through No Mans Land. I've still got that, it was printed in The New Zealand Observer. He had that on his mind a lot. He wasn't sentimental in another way it was deep down with him.
Later when he was working with the Consolidated Press in Sydney, Frank Packer was the boss you know. Dad kissed him in the lift! (Laughs) Frank jokingly kicked him out of lift. A childhood friend of mine, a cadet reporter Andy MacCullough, witnessed this. He was very fond of Dad who enjoyed a great joke with everybody. He was always in the artists room and that's my memories of going into the artist's room and being sat down and being given paper and a pen and seeing the men that had photographs that they washed in the sink. They were my early memories of him at work.
Excerpted panels from early installments of Peter in the Sunday News 1932
Then he started the space stuff. I think he named me after his first strip, Roving Peter it was called (laughs). He started those and then I came after or just before. I think it was after. I remember We were living in Vaucluse then up on the hill looking out over the pacific and sunny mornings on Sunday reading the comic as it came in the Sunday Sun.
Without my mum I don't think he'd have survived long. He met her at a Mrs Kneebone's Wine Lodge at Circular Quay. She was quite a brilliant pianist, she was at the Conservatorium, and the girls used go down (they wouldn't go to the pub of course) to this wine place. Very unusual in Sydney, I don't remember any but apparently there was, where ladies could go in just like a continental place. That's where he met my mum. I think her parents were worried but all her siblings loved him, he was very jolly with them, and he helped them out a hell of a lot because he never stopped working you see. Everybody was going out of work with the depression and all that.