Arts / Nothing funny about cartooning’s future

Prize-winning cartoonist David Rowe… the “atmospheric and unsettling” aspect of Rowe’s cartoons won him the top spot, says curator Holly Williams.

AS a menacing shark-like pair of budgie smugglers encircles a drowning Malcolm Turnbull in a cartoon by Matt Golding, cartoonists the world over are wishing someone would throw them a life raft.

Cartoonists these days are “doing it tough,” Australian Cartoonists’ Association representative Cathy Wilcox told journos at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.

The gathering was to celebrate the Political Cartoonist of the Year award going to David Rowe, of the ‘”Australian Financial Review”.

The jeopardy in which cartoonists are constantly placed was the key message of Pulitzer-prizewinning cartoonist for the “Washington Post”, Ann Telnaes, who was in town as part of the opening for “Behind the Lines, The Year’s Best Political Cartoons 2017”.

Alan Moir’s “Closing the Gap”, “Sydney Morning Herald”, February 16.

Telnaes, who sketched the history of legal action against cartoonists in the US, beginning with an American public figure who objected to being portrayed as a parrot, said she believed that “visual metaphors are part of our language” and that such visual acuity was the stock-in-trade of cartoonists.

Cartooning was universal and had been going on for much longer than most people think, but it must make people think, she said. It had been under siege in recent times, notably in Iran, where a female cartoonist Atena Farghadani was charged with “indecency” for allegedly shaking her male lawyer’s hand and in Malaysia, where political cartoonist Zunar has been under a charge of sedition.

Cartooning, Telnaes said, had been accurately described as the bastard child of journalism, so “if cartooning is threatened, it serves as a warning to all journalists”.

This grim caution was in marked contrast to the jolly tone of this year’s “Behind The Lines”, which as curator Holly Williams explained to the journos earlier, had been built on the idea of politics as a three-ring circus.

Matt Golding’s “Circling Budgie Smugglers”, “Sunday Age”, February 25.

With eight key themes, including “Playing to the Crowd,” “Roll Up, Roll Up” and “Monkey Business”, the plan was to make it engaging and accessible to audiences and young people who might otherwise not take an interest in satire. In “PlayUP,” children and families will be able to engage in the exhibition.

Almost any subject seemed to lend itself to the circus treatment, such as Jon Kudelka’s cartoon suggesting a Vegemite test instead of the language test and the “things that failed the pub test”, which fitted well into “Monkey Business”.

There are many moving and serious cartoons on show, such as Alan Moir’s “Closing The Gap”, but comedy was to the fore when it came to the great international leaders such as Donald Trump, of whom Williams said: “There have been more cartoons across the world about him than anyone else since time began.”

As for the “Human Cannonball” segment, that was reserved for stars such as Abbott and Hanson, who constantly “propelled themselves into the debate”.

Williams said it was the “atmospheric and unsettling” aspect of Rowe’s cartoons that had won him the top spot.

“The figures he draws become lurid, bordering on the grotesque as he gives visual form to our uneasy feelings on the state of the world,” she said.

“Behind the Lines 2017”, Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House, 9am-5pm daily.

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