A young gun who wants fame the easy way

political cartoon

I love political cartoons I really do. I developed my appreciation for the intellect, wit and social commentary behind them when I studied History at school. When I was at Auckland teachers training college I made them a big part of both my social studies and history lessons because I found them to be both memorable and powerful.

Like political bloggers, political cartoonists are often undervalued and their ability to influence the public dismissed. They also (like political bloggers) start their career working for free in the hope that it will lead to paid work. They keep going for the sheer love of the game and some will never find paid employment.

Those who do stick it out and have enough talent may find that their problems are only just beginning once they find employment. As employees, they will have to contend with the political bias of their editor which will result in many a brilliant and cutting cartoon being thrown in the trash (especially if they have conservative views as the New Zealand Media is very left-wing).

It is not an easy career and is not for the faint hearted which is why an article that was funded by Simplicity (an online KiwiSaver plan) that depicted New Zealand cartoonists as male, pale and stale is way out of line.

[…] Cartoonists don’t retire, they die. Eventually.

And in a way it makes sense. There are a limited number of positions, and it’s a highly specialised skill that’s not greatly impacted by aging. Once papers find cartoonists they like, they keep them. Once people become cartoonists, they’re generally in for life.

But the downside of this is obvious. It’s hard to say about my own peers, but it has to be said: New Zealand’s group of political cartoonists has hardly changed in my lifetime. In an era of radical generational change in politics and media, our cartoonist pool is largely static and is hardly representational. To be blunt – it’s very old, very male and very white.

Says the very young, very male, very white, wannabe political cartoonist Toby Morris. No doubt in the future someone like Toby will lament that an old guy like Cameron Slater still dominates the political blog scene when there are so many up and coming, keen young conservative writers wanting a slice of his audience. Will those young writers be prepared to write for almost ten years for FREE while building their audience or will they expect to whip up a website, write a few posts a day, take a break on the weekends and then rake in the subscription dollars?

New Zealand’s Political cartoonists worked really hard to get to where they are today. If youngsters like Toby want a slice of that action they need to first put in the hard yards of years and years of working for free, slogging away, creating for the sheer love of it.

Toby Morris is a Auckland based illustrator, comic artist and writer.

[…] I decided to see if I could put a number on this cartoonist generation gap.

[…] Based on those numbers the average tenure is around 28 years, and the median is 33.5 years. Al Nisbet has a been a working cartoonist as long as I have been alive.

Yes, and because of that, his political cartoons will be so much better. Like those who study history, the more you know about the past the better your analysis will be of the present as well as your conjecture on the future. Like a good wine, political commentators get better with age. The reason why Cameron is so successful as a political blogger is that although he is only 49 he has been deeply involved in politics and involved in the inner working of political parties since he was a teenager.

[…] the average age of those five is 72 years old. Only one of the 16 current cartoonists – the great Sharon Murdoch – is a woman. And I don’t know them all personally but I think that it’s possible that everyone on that list is white. (Update: Sharon Murdoch is Ngāi Tahu – sorry, Sharon!)

Look in the mirror Toby. Why does gender or skin colour even matter?

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d be concerned that after doing the exact same job for 28 years I might lose a bit of enthusiasm. I’d be worried I might not have the freshest takes. I’m pretty sure I’d be cynical and jaded, and just possibly I might not be up to date with the attitudes of the time. And that’s before you even get to think about whether these 16 cartoonists are representing a range of experiences and views that reflect the variety of New Zealander’s lives in 2018. Let me be clear: It’s not wrong to be over 60, or wrong to be male, or wrong to be white. And I’m definitely not saying any of these cartoonists should be fired. Even Nisbet. What I’m saying New Zealand’s media needs to make an effort to include other voices too.

If those ‘ voices’ make it on their own merits and not their skin colour then sure Toby but what you are proposing is that those who put in the hard yards be replaced by others purely on the basis of their age. Being older doesn’t mean you are not up to date with the attitudes of the time just as being younger does not mean that you are. Does he seriously think that these cartoonists exist in a vacuum and do not interact with younger people? They have children and grandchildren. They read the news and use social media and being older they have seen much of what is happening now, happen before.

When I finally met Whaleoil cartoonist SonovaMin at a Whaleoil Christmas BBQ a few years back I was really surprised.  Judging his cartoons purely on their modern style I had formed an image in my mind of a thirty-something Asian man because I stereotypically associate Asian men with technology and being a whiz on the computer. I was completely wrong on both counts which just goes to show that you can’t judge a person’s age or ethnicity by their cartoons.

[…] So what can we do? Where are these new cartoonists? It’s a problem that the National Library’s New Zealand Cartoon Archive has been aware of and trying to address for some time. In 2013 they partnered with The Listener to run a Young Cartoonist Award competition (young meaning under 35 year olds) with some degree of success.[…]

But that competition served to highlight several problems as well as trying to solve them. I understand they weren’t swamped with entries, and the three cartoonists ‘discovered’ were, well, still more white guys. For me, despite thinking it could be a career option for me since childhood, the first three political cartoons I ever attempted were my entry into that competition, and I wasn’t alone. The theory, it seems, is that without much chance of employment no one draws them uncommissioned. So no one gets good enough to be employed.[…]

He drew three cartoons and expected to magically become a political cartoonist at the end of it. Say no more. This guy clearly doesn’t have the passion and drive to become a political cartoonist and perhaps that is a reflection of his generation. Imagine if Cameron had done three blog posts and when he didn’t get any comments or income he had then given up.

[…] So to me the solution is finding practical ways to bridge this gap between enthusiast and professional by providing space and support for young people to get rolling. I’d like to see scholarships, or properly paid junior cartoonist positions from the major outlets. Stuff, in particular, who’ve celebrated printing Nisbet as example of free speech, would be smart to share that platform and support with other younger cartoonists too.

So he wants to learn on the job while being paid. I am sure there are plenty of aspiring political bloggers who would love to be paid for blogging too while being handed someone else’s audience instead of building it themselves one reader at a time and learning what works and what doesn’t work.

[…]To put it succinctly, like cartoonists are supposed to do: last time we had a big generational political change, a wave of new subversive and challenging cartoonists emerged too. Let’s do that again. Please.

Yeah, as long as they can get paid after drawing three whole cartoons with no passion or dedication or drive required. Those cartoonists he praises did it the hard way and their success was earned, not handed to them on a paid platter.


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If you agree with me that’s nice, but what I really want to achieve is to make you question the status quo, look between the lines and do your own research. Do not be a passive observer in this game we call life.

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