“What I do, it mightn’t appear it’s that serious, but I take it awfully seriously,” he says, explaining that the programs he runs have to be meaningful for each group he delivers them to, whether it’s schoolkids or prisoners, people with mental illnesses or those who simply want to learn how to draw cartoons.
“I guess the advantage of finding my little niche is that no-one does what I do – touch wood – and I’m thankful for that, but I’ve got to do it properly and that means doing it so it adapts to each group.”
Andrew talks fast and he draws fast, too, whipping up a caricature of yours truly in under a minute, looking up every now and then for a split-second glance at his subject, eyes wide, his face a maniacal expression of concentration. Readers can have the same experience at the yearly “Behind the Lines” exhibition of Australia’s best political cartoons, held at Old Parliament House, and various other events at national institutions such as the War Memorial or Botanic Gardens.
On the walls of Andrew’s Gowrie home are drawings, paintings and illustrations done by his maternal grandmother and her sisters, which he takes as evidence that drawing is in the blood.
“I started drawing for money, here and there, when I was in my twenties,” he says, modestly listing a few highlights.
“I did a bit of writing and illustrating for Australian ‘MAD Magazine’ in the ‘90s and I had a comic strip in ‘The Canberra Times’ called ‘Bubs the Country Bumpkin’, which was years ago and was very insignificant.”
The self-described “youngish, middle-aged, still growing up fitness fanatic with a rural background” may have the same name as a former All Black but he’s a Rugby League fan and, for a while, drew a strip called “Victor the Viking” for the Raiders despite supporting their chief rivals the Dragons, working for free in the hope of getting a foot in the NRL door.
He started doing social work in disability support with Woden Community Service and helping out at the Youth Centre. At first it was a job and drawing more of a hobby, although in the late ’90s he started running school holiday cartooning workshops at public libraries.
“I was doing [youth centre] outreach programs for years and I always kicked them off with a cartooning session. It’s an ice-breaker to ease the tension and they have a bit of fun, and then they can ease into the topic-based stuff and I’ve found it does work well,” says Andrew.
“I diversified and at Woden School, the disability school, we had an outreach program there for some years and it was wonderful, we used basic images to relay messages because words don’t always have an effect… images are very powerful.”
Using cartoons as a communications tool, he now delivers support programs and workshops in a range of settings including both youth detention centres, the Alexander Maconochie Centre and psychiatric wards in both hospitals, and has picked up a lot of other incidental work illustrating one-off brochures, books and posters along the way. Chances are most Canberrans have seen his work around town.
“It’s a business, so I make money out of it, but the first thing is I love doing it,” he says. “I feel very lucky to be doing it and I think the heart has to be in the right place, you know? You have to be genuine about what you do and that’s all that really matters. The money and all that? It’s fantastic and relieving to know there’s a need for what I provide and I like to think I provide it really well.”