Just another out-of-touch politician?

Political cartoons are among the most scathing in the art form. Cartoonists tend to get up close and personal with their political subjects, lampooning, lambasting and laughing at their targets without mercy.

Even so, it’s often the subjects themselves who build up the most impressive collections - the originals of which are often gifted to them by the cartoonists - and these prove to be the source of large and useful donations. The Cartoon Archive recently received donations of personal collections from two former Labour Cabinet members, Jim Anderton and Ann Hercus. It is a treat as well as a privilege to receive such donations from notable living people, as the donors have the potential to provide important contextual information before it’s lost.

Jim Anderton

Jim Anderton’s collection of 61 cartoons (B-197-001/061) came into the Library in December 2014. The collection covers his political career from the 1970s to 2011, during which time he was Labour Party president, Leader of the NewLabour and then Alliance Parties, and Deputy Prime Minister under Helen Clark. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Mayoralty of Christchurch, losing out to Bob Parker just after the Canterbury earthquake in 2010.

Alistair Nisbet’s cartoon showing the fight between Jim Anderton and Bob Parker for the Mayoralty of Christchurch, 2010. Ref: B-197-018Alistair Nisbet’s cartoon showing the fight between Jim Anderton and Bob Parker for the Mayoralty of Christchurch, 2010. Ref: B-197-018

His interactions in cartoon form (as in real life) have him clashing with David Lange, Jenny Shipley, Jim Bolger, Winston Peters, Helen Clark and Bob Parker, and are drawn by cartoonists as diverse as Tom Scott (at 13 cartoons, the biggest single representation in this collection), Murray Ball, Gordon Minhinnick and Bob Brockie. The variety of drawing styles and personal opinions adds to the vitality of the collection, which in turn feeds into the rich texture of New Zealand’s political history.

Tom Scott. “The sky is falling!! Jim Anderton is coming!!” [2000] Ref: B-197-005Tom Scott. “The sky is falling!! Jim Anderton is coming!!” [2000] Ref: B-197-005

Ann Hercus

Ann Hercus’s recent donation of cartoons (C-176-001/021) numbers 21 originals, a third of Anderton’s overall donation and with a narrower timeframe (1979-1987), but is no less important an insight into the social and political attitudes of the time. Similarly to Anderton, her political career is represented by a wealth of notable editorial cartoonists, including Tom Scott, Nevile Lodge, Eric Heath and Trace Hodgson.

Trace Hodgdon. Ann Hercus, September [1979]. Ref: C-176-015Trace Hodgdon. Ann Hercus, September [1979]. Ref: C-176-015

Unsurprisingly, Hercus comes under the microscope for being a woman in politics as well as being a politician. Between 1985 and 1987 she was Minister for Social Welfare, Women’s Affairs, and Police, and came under fire in every arena; the majority of this collection focuses on her role as Police Minister. You might conclude from the overall tone of these cartoons that a woman’s lot in politics in the 1980s was not an easy one.

Eric Heath’s cartoon depicting Ann Hercus, 1987. Ref: C-176-017Eric Heath’s cartoon depicting Ann Hercus, 1987. Ref: C-176-017

Giving editorial cartoons a good contextual description becomes less easy as the years go by. The intention of the cartoon is not always immediately apparent decades after the fact; nor is it necessarily easy to find information around that intent without serious hunting, or going to the source itself, be it the politician or the cartoonist.

Although not having contacted either of the subjects directly, I did take the opportunity to contact one of the cartoonists in the Hercus collection, graphic designer and ex-policeman John Stevenson, so far not represented in the Turnbull cartoon collections. He had drawn a cartoon of Hercus with kaftan-wearing Police Association President Rob Moodie, in 1984. I deduced from looking at the cartoons on his current website, checking for style, and from the description of a photograph of him with a new police car in 1982 (from the Evening Post collection, reference EP/1982/0866) that they might be the same person. I emailed him, and got a prompt and affirmative reply. He also supplied his date of birth, which meant I was able to update his name authority record with more accurate information.

John Stevenson depicts Ann Hercus and Rob Moodie wearing the same kaftan, 1984. Ref: C-176-021John Stevenson depicts Ann Hercus and Rob Moodie wearing the same kaftan, 1984. Ref: C-176-021

How it helps

The importance of political cartoons as documents of our history and culture cannot be overlooked, and many researchers will refer to them as part of their wider investigation. The cartoons become clearer, and far more usable, if they’re placed within their context. If the subject is not available for querying, whoever is describing the cartoons will try other sources but, if ultimately unsure, will use phrases such as ‘this suggests that’ or ‘this possibly refers to’, to make it evident that clarification might be needed. Researchers are welcome to, and often do, contact the Library with missing information in such cases.

Further reading

Several books have been published based directly on what is held in the Turnbull Library cartoon collections, including:

  • A cartoon war, by Sarah Murray (2012)
  • Between the lines: a cartoon history of New Zealand political and social history, 1906-2005, by Ian Grant (2005)
  • Having a ball: a cartoon history of New Zealand rugby, by Ian Grant (2011), and
  • a series of monographs by Curator, Māori Paul Diamond, looking at the theme of Māori in cartoons over the course of New Zealand’s history, due for publication in November 2015.

By Denise Roughan

Denise is Assistant Curator, Drawings, Paintings and Prints.

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