Two Sketches is a webseries featuring Spinoff cartoonist Toby Morris chatting and drawing with a selection of New Zealand illustrators, artists, comic artists, cartoonists, sketchers and doodlers. In episode 2, Toby visits with the political cartoonist of the Sunday Star Times, Dominion Post, The Press and Waikato Times, and New Zealand’s first woman editorial political cartoonist: the award winning Sharon Murdoch.
Sharon Murdoch is a one woman revolution. Well, in the world of New Zealand political cartooning at least. In a few short years both on the page and off it she has flipped on its head every traditional expectation of what a political cartoonist does and what they’re supposed to look like. Cartoons are supposed to be savage takedowns: powerful men in suits reduced to slobbering snarling scribbles. And people who draw them, well they’ve usually been men too.
“You think there’s all these rules about how you have to do it, but I don’t draw political cartoons like most people do” Sharon told me, when we sat down to chat for Two Sketches. “You can do it your own way. There’s not the rules you think there are.”
In person, she’s understated and unassuming, the last person to hype herself or sing her own praises, but I can’t help notice the front window of her Wellington villa is propped open with an old media award trophy. She’s got a few of those lying around: Canons and Voyagers – New Zealand’s Cartoonist of the Year in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
And that’s not to say local cartooning was in trouble before she came along. At the peak of their careers Trace Hodgson and Tom Scott were deadly assassins. Currently Chris Slane and Rod Emmerson are as good as anyone in the world – sharp and skillful. It’s not all bad, but at the same time there are others who’ve held onto the same jobs (and attitudes) since the days when ladies brought a plate and blokes smoked on planes. The fact that New Zealand never had a woman political cartoonist in mainstream media until 2013 is bizarre and embarrassing.
But Sharon changed all that, and after breaking through that barrier she kept on going. Not content with merely being there, she quickly became the one of the best. And as much as I complain about the lack of young cartoonists, Sharon coming to cartooning later in life meant she started with years of knowledge and experience to draw on. Her years as a designer and illustrator mean she is a sophisticated and skillful visual communicator, and her activist background means she has something to say. I love that her cartoons feature regular people as often as politicians in suits. I love that she draws about why things matter. Her cartoons are stylish and intelligent in concept and execution and filled with generosity and empathy.
If you can’t tell already, I’m a huge fan. It was an honour to sit down together to chat and draw for Two Sketches, and I hope once you watch the episode you’ll see why.