Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ian Dickson - Gags Cartooning from Men Only

Another selection of New Zealand cartoonist Ian Dickson's gag cartoons from Men Only circa 1940-1950's. View more Men Only cartoons here. Biographical notes and further samples of Dickson's work here.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Al Nisbet Cartoon Controversy


The above cartoons by Al Nisbet published in the Marlborough Express and The Press have caused a furor in New Zealand over Nisbet's depictions of poverty and Polynesians in relation to the New Zealand government's food in schools programme. I've read several interpretations of the cartoons above and the wider view has been that Nisbet's depiction of overweight polynesian figures exploiting a government programme is an offensive stereotype.

Nisbet has spoken in his defence,

"Obviously the cartoon worked. It got reaction. You've got to push the envelope, otherwise you have namby-pamby PC cartoons. I do not apologise, because, to me, cartoons are meant to provoke reaction

Al Nisbet discussed his cartoons with John Tamihere and Willie Jackson on their radio show.
There have been calls to change racism laws after Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy made a statement that while she found the cartoons offensive and appalling but they were not deemed racist under the definition by law.

"It does not reach the levels of racism within the inquiries and complaints process within the commission."

(video here.)

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has commented prior to viewing the cartoons,

"By the description I was given it certainly could be offensive to people. I'm often the source of the humour in them, if you like, and I try and take it all with a grain of salt because cartoonists are notorious for taking a mile out of an inch."

Tom Scott commented critically on Nisbet's work to Radio NZ,

"Personally, 'cos I'm a virtuous, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela type person I don't tend to mock the more helpless people in our society. But he's allowed to, he's hired as a cartoonist to have a point of view. I wouldn't have drawn it, I don't think it's particularly funny, but he's entitled to do that sort of thing."

(Listen To Tom Scott on Radio Live here.)

Dylan Horrocks' statement of Nisbet's cartoons,

"A tendency to rely on crass (& racist) stereotyping is built into the history and conventions of political cartooning, whether the cartoonist is conservative, liberal, or whatever. The best political cartoonists are aware of that and deal with it critically & thoughtfully. Whereas lazy (or nasty) cartoonists revel in stereotypes without self-awareness or ethics & then say "lighten up, it's a joke."

Read further statements from Scott and Horrocks here.

Sean Plunket speaks to the Scott Mason, editor of the Marlborough Press on Radio Live.

3 News has commentary from Dame Susan Devoy, the Mana Party, the Green Party and Nisbet's editor at the Marlborough Express, Steve Mason.

Colin Espiner asks the question, "Should cartoonists be allowed to offend people?"

"Funny how I never heard such a hue and cry over Bro'Town, with its cringing sterotypes of Pacifica people. But that was written by brown people who live in Auckland, right? So it's OK. Along with all of Billy T James' back catalogue. So if Al's cartoons weren't racist, were they offensive? Certainly they were. They offended many ethnic groups, plus beneficiaries and the elderly, I would imagine, given the old geezer in the background of one of Al's efforts."

"And for the record, I don't agree with Al Nisbet on food in schools. I think the programme is a fine idea. Neither do I think many people living in poverty have a wide-screen television. But that's not the point.

Like Voltaire, I'll defend Al Nisbet's right to say what he thinks and a newspaper's right to publish it."

"Those who call for Al Nisbet or the newspapers he works for to apologise for daring to offend people need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves what kind of world we'd have if we had a press that provided only bland, inoffensive, easily digestible fare. Or simply hop on a plane to China or Fiji and find out for themselves."

Ruth DeSouza has blogged about Nisbet's work and the broader issues of health and poverty.

"These despicable cartoons highlight the media’s role in perpetuating the myth that  responsibility for poor health (whether it’s about people who are obese, smokers or problem gamblers) is an individual and group one rather than linked with broader issues for example colonisation, economic restructuring or the devastating social consequences of state neoliberal policies."

Ric Stevens writes about the assumptions of audiences and compares Nisbet's work with other New Zealand cartoonists. One point Stevens makes that may have been missed by folk who have not read any of Nisbet's prior work,

"Having looked at hundreds of Nisbet cartoons over the past decade, I can personally vouch for the fact that he is even-handedly nasty towards everyone."

Alex Parsons' commented on the issue with a cartoon,

My Personal Take On Nisbet's Cartoons - M.Emery

I didn't find Nisbet's cartoons particularly humourous but rather more absurd. Adults dressing as kids to get free food and families financing lavish lifestyles from the savings made on Weetbix and milk all seems a bit nonsensical to me. The relevance of the older characters in the strip appeared ambiguous and the jokes/punchlines struck me as a bit sophomoric. I get the criticisms of using the under-privileged and weaker elements of society as a poor target for humour and I understand the sensitiveness of this issue. Like a lot of people cartoons I typically enjoy point out the foibles of the wealthy and powerful.

I don't however find them offensive. Growing up half-caste in New Zealand during the seventies and eighties I was unfortunate to experience racism first hand from Maori and Pakeha, often inadvertent, sometimes overtly. As I approach 40 I feel very inured to racial stereotypes and life's given me the perspective that what is happening to people in real life, is far more important than some lines on a piece of paper.

Nisbet has indicated he filed these as part of the grind of providing daily editorial cartoons without giving much thought to the reaction they would provoke. Expressing an opinion is a core part of an editorial/political cartoonists job. If it is a contentious issue that may cause pain and hurt, then they should be prepared to answer for any backlash. Using the 'right to freedom of expression' with no explanation should not be acceptable. I believe Nisbet has responded and offered multiple explanations for his work although he certainly hasn't sated his critics.

I found some of the responses to Nisbet's work disconcerting regarding censoring cartoons like his. However unpopular the reaction to his cartoons, I believe as long as no laws are being broken and his editors are satisfied with his work then they should not suffer censorship. All cartoonists in our part of the world should be able to enjoy this freedom. I'm probably the only New Zealand cartoonist that has had his house ransacked by police officers and been taken away in handcuffs with my cartoons and sketchbooks in evidence bags. At the end of that debacle I was assured, "No matter how distasteful my work was, I was breaking no laws, and I was entitled to publish it."
As it stands the ire and national debate raised by the publication of Nisbet's cartoons may have borne more fruit than if his commentary on this issue had been more insightful and pointed.

Thanks to my father, the various cartoonists that emailed me their opinions, and responses in the NNCC FB group. Thanks to Grant Buist for drawing my attention to Nisbet's cartoons.

Heiress To Tangurau Part Six (Conclusion)

Previous instalments of Heiress To Tangurau from Princess, part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery - Pelorus Jack

Some of the dates and details have been changed but the comic below about a friendly porpoise guiding ships in New Zealand waters is based on the real-life Risso's Dolphin, Pelorus Jack, and featured in the Gold Key Comics title, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. Gold Key Comics, an imprint of Western Publishing, also published comics and digests under the imprint Whitman Comics from where the following scans are taken from.

Brief archival footage of Pelorus Jack.

Pelorus Jack featured in many New Zealand newspapers in the early twentieth century. Conflicting reports of Jack's death below featured in the Wanganui Chronicle March 22nd 1911.

(Per Press Association.) WELLINGTON, March 21.

This afternoon, Mr Geo. Allport, Secretary for Marine, received a letter from Mr G. Webber, settler at French Pass, in which he said that Wells Bros. of D'Urville Island, had found what they believe to be the carcase of Pelorus Jack. Webber, who has seen Pelorus Jack many hundreds of times, was asked to identify the remains, and as a result the opinion was expressed that the colour, size and shape exactly corresponded with what they had seen of the fish in the water. The length of the carcase is, they state, just one inch under 14 ft, and girth between 9ft. and 10ft. "I should say, says Webber, "that he has been dead for a week or ten days, and has been considerably bitten by sharks, probably after death." The Department has sent instructions to take photographs of the fish and secure the skeleton till the Hinemoa can call for it. The Department is also requesting masters of passing vessels to ascertain if Pelorus Jack is frequenting his usual haunts.


The "Colonist," is in the position to contradict the report as to the death of "Pelorus Jack." Mr W. T. Bond. of Nelson, who returned home by the Pateena today, states that he and others saw Jack in the water on Monday night, and that, he followed the Pateena for miles. Mr Bond has seen him many times, but never saw him so frisky as he was on Monday night.


In reference to a report of a dead fish having been found and believed to be 'Pelorus Jack," It is stated by the officers on the Pateena, which arrived in Wellington tonight, that Pelorus Jack was seen on Saturday afternoon as usual when the Pateena was on the passage from Nelson to Picton, and on Monday night the look-out man on the Pateena saw Jack accompanying the vessel from twenty past nine till ten. Pelorus Jack was also seen by some passengers. This afternoon Jack was not seen by anyone on the Pateena but this is not unusual as he has frequently been absent during the past few months

Sources: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast