Now that the Herald has dropped its syndicated Alex cartoon, there’s a glimmer of hope that New Zealand’s moribund newspaper cartooning scene might finally let in some new blood. Toby Morris has 10 suggestions for cartoonists to consider.
If you get your news from social media, you might be feeling like the state of cartooning in New Zealand is pretty dire. Last week the Otago Daily Times‘ veteran editorial cartoonist Garrick Tremain produced a string of sexist and tone deaf cartoons that completely misread the mood of the country and reinforced tired stereotypes, and this week the New Zealand Herald ran an installment of long running finance-humour cartoon Alex that was blatantly transphobic.
The Herald, to their credit, acted swiftly, running an apology the next day alongside the strip, and has now reportedly decided to drop it completely. The Spinoff understands there was clear internal agreement that the strip had crossed the line and that editors had agreed that it was unacceptable and should be canned.
So in theory, there’s a gap there for something new, which doesn’t happen often. There’s a perception that professional cartooning opportunities are rare, so it’s often said it’s hard to find new talent. But is there really nobody who could take the reigns from Tremain at the ODT? And why haven’t we had more regular syndicated NZ newspaper strips?
The answers are related, but really they’re two different problems with distinct challenges. To be blunt, editorial cartoons are really hard. You need to be able draw well, but you also have to have opinions to share too – hopefully insightful or interesting ones. You have to be a news and politics junkie as well as a visual communicator. On top of that, the opportunities to be paid are so rare that there are very few opportunities to try your hand at it. There’s no development league.
Daily newspaper strips are a different thing again. Strips are mostly syndicated, meaning newspapers pay a very low monthly fee to a central distributor. A subscription essentially. For the cartoonists, the pay is terrible unless you’re running in dozens, preferably hundreds of newspapers – which obviously is pretty difficult (or impossible) in New Zealand. So most likely, for financial reasons more than creative ones, we’ll probably never see another Footrot Flats or Bogor again. Unless something drastic changes, the same old cartoons will probably run forever.
Deep deep sigh.
But while it’s easy to feel like cartoons are trapped in ancient grey quicksand, it’s not true to say there isn’t any new talent coming through, or that cartooning in New Zealand is old fashioned or out of touch. New Zealand has a rich scene of talented comic artists and cartoonists, they’re just not always following the traditional path. So if the Herald wants a new local strip, or the ODT needs a new cartoonist, or you just want to read something that makes you feel excited about cartooning in New Zealand, I have a few suggestions for places to start.
(I have to be clear and say I haven’t actually asked any of these people if they’d even want the stress of a daily gig, or want to be printed in the Herald or the Otago Daily Times (and I suspect some of them wouldn’t). I don’t want to volunteer them for jobs they don’t want. Also, this is a quick list of ten off the top of my head: I will definitely have forgotten equally valid artists, and for that I apologise in advance – there are many more I could suggest).
Sam draws a fantastic regular autobio comic called Rooster Tails about his life as a transguy in Auckland. His work is personal and honest, and funny too – he has a way of talking about his own experiences in a way that relates to bigger issues, and he approaches these huge topics with warmth and heart.
Li Chen draws a very funny regular cartoon strip called Extra Ordinary. It’s hard to describe without just saying funny and cute a lot. Li is example of the modern cartoonist who earns a living from webcomics. Her loyal and large readership is international rather than limited to New Zealand and she gets income through Patreon, Kickstarter projects and freelance commissions.
James Squires draws a regular strip called Moonbeard, which resembles a traditional 4 panel newspaper cartoon but is often weirder, darker and more funny than you’d find in most newspapers. It’s surreal, and yes, I’m going to say it again, funny.
Zoe Colling draws a comic called Deep Breaths. It’s a funny, honest, very insightful slice of life autobio comic. It’s hard to find online, but worth tracking down physical copies of. She’s great at capturing character and tone, the feeling of a small moment, in a way that’s understated but very clever and very funny. Here’s her instagram.
Indira Neville has been drawing hilarious fearless irreverent comics for years, including 15 issues of Nice Gravy. Indira’s work is bursting with energy and personality and her jokes range from proudly silly to deeply cutting. (She was also an co-editor and creator of the anthology Three Words which collected 60-odd women NZ cartoonists, forever shooting down the myth that NZ women don’t make comics)
Eddie draws a regular autobio strip – already in the traditional newspaper format – called Sloths and Trolleys detailing the ups and downs of his life as an illustrator and new dad. He also draws sci-fi, adventure, horror and NSFW adult comics too, not all appropriate for the newspaper, but worth a read.
Sarah Laing, another of the Three Words editors/creators, draws funny and observant slice of life comics on her website Let Me Be Frank. Sarah has written and published novels and short stories, and the graphic memoir Mansfield and Me.
Michel is probably too busy and doesn’t exactly need a new job right now, but how amazing would a regular strip by him be? He currently draws wrestling comics for the WWE, children’s book series like Tongan Heroes, Samoan Heroes and has just illustrated a powerful comic for the School Journal on the history of the Polynesian Panthers. (And here’s my recent video interview with Michel)
Rachel is another talented example of kiwi artists tapping into a global audience through webcomics. Her regular strip Lore Olympus recasts characters from Greek mythology as players in a contempory romance comic, and it’s wildly popular. The drawing is incredible, the writing is smart. Newspapers might even be a step down in terms of audience size for Rachel, but hey, we can imagine. (Her friend and fellow Wellingtonian Jem Yoshioka also has a great serialised webcomic called Circuits and Veins)
Ross is an illustrator probably best known for his Garage Project beer cans, but he draws great comics too, including the recently released book Rufus Marigold that deals with anxiety in a clear, clever and funny way, as well as very funny shorter comics like definitely not authorised comic versions of Home and Away and Star Wars characters as high schoolers.