Things I’d like to see in the media: more artful political cartoons #auspol



My third in this glorious series of ‘Things I’d like to see in the media’ is entirely out of left field.  I want artistically interesting political cartoons.

I know it’s somewhat expected of me as a conservative to say that everything was better in the 1800s or whatever, but when was the last time you saw a political cartoon in Australia that wasn’t a hastily drawn, vaguely sketchy affair?

If you can’t read the text in the cartoon here, Disraeli is scribbling on the wall ‘Libberals 368.  Torys 290.  Makes Tory majority 25.’  The police officer says: ‘Now, then, youngster. You’ve no call to be chalking that wall, and if you must do a sum, you might as well do it right!’


These days, we get scrawls.

(via Eureka Street)
(via Eureka Street)

Aha.  Right.

The problem is that Australian cartoonists confuse ‘speak to your audience’ with ‘treat your audience like an imbecile’.  Clever cartoons make us feel stupid.  Cartoons with jokes in them run the risk of a reader not ‘getting’ the joke.

But I’ve never been able to understand why Australian cartoonists are mad keen to create objectively hideous scribblings.  Each year, Canberra hosts an exhibition of the ‘best’ political cartoons of the year, and they’re always ugly.  Is it to remind us of the ugliness of our current society?  Is it to render us incapable of escaping the displeasing aesthetic of modern political discourse?  Is there some reason for making my eyes want to vomit?

I can’t escape the feeling that the quality of the artwork is a reflexion of the quality of the political thought.  Lazy expression of lazy ideas.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not claiming it’s a left-right thing.  Quadrant is supposed to be Australia’s conservative magazine, and yet its rejection of the sublime and beautiful could not be more comprehensively demonstrated by its cartoonist ‘Zeg’.

(via Quadrant)
(via Quadrant)

Hurr, hurr, hurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

(via Quadrant)
(via Quadrant)

Remember, this is the side of politics that is supposed to be the custodian of high culture and the arts.

The thing is, it’s not difficult to produce something with a similar effect that’s at least at little bit nice to look at.  We have centuries of art upon which we can draw for inspiration.  Here’s my take on the Greens using scraps of pop art that I could Google up.

Greens Policy Statement
The Greens Policy Statement

With the move over into ‘digital print’, the ability to use higher resolution pictures is made feasible.  Clearly, this is the time to start using red figure political illustrations.

LNP Red Figure
Coalition Red Figure

And given the ALP’s inability to join the modern political era, it seems like such a wasted opportunity that we don’t see more Punch-style political cartoons.  Alas, my skill at creating them is poor…

If our political cartoons are going to be lazy, we might as well make it lazy and attractive.  Somebody needs to bring the artistry back to political cartoons.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

12 thoughts on “Things I’d like to see in the media: more artful political cartoons #auspol”

  1. A witless old Punch or arty farty cartoon is much more boring than a witless contemporary sketchy cartoon. Sadly there’ll always be a percentage of witless cartoonists however arty farty. You’re right though re the 2nd cartoon. That style is inappropriate for a lit mag.

    1. I’m not sure what part of your comment establishes your argument that the post is ‘a load of bollocks’.

      I find your use of the word ‘boring’ effectively establishes the point of the post.

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. Oh man…

    You are about the last person I would care to argue with, nevertheless… As you have shown, the set of the quality of the thought involved and the set of the quality of craftsmanship or art in any cartoon or political joke do not necessarily map: which could be construed as meaningless, yet conveys information.

    There are a good few collections of modern ‘Punch’ cartoons, and a couple of ‘Private Eye’ collections from the ’60’s onwards I would point you at. In Blighty, the medium is still vibrant, though somewhat colloquial: after all, we still think we matter. Bell started in a magazine called “The Leveller” and features pretty heavily in the collected Leveller. Look for it on ABEbooks. The collected Bell must be the best surreal social history of Britain from a left-wing perspective. Though I am not in his camp politically, I see his view as having some merit, as for example I find Marxist historical analysis; though I am of the opinion that history in small quanta, is chaotic, if you follow me; so sometimes a “Great Man” actually does influence the process of history. And sometimes great cartoonists skewer their times better than at others. Bell, immediately post Falklands, had a run of brilliance that lasted through the premiership of John Major and well into Tony Blair’s regime.

    Bell, Rowson, et al are worthy inheritors of Cruickshank, Gilray, Rowlandson, and the like.

    And Victorian illustrators they are not.

    1. I am in almost complete agreement with you, sir! This was a pointed criticism of Australian political cartoonists. Indeed, most of my consumption of political cartoons is from overseas where there are still some that are quite artful.

  3. David Rowe? Punch for the Postmodern
    Ward O’Neill? A bit past it now, but kind of Punchesque in the 80’s, 90s and 00s

    I think it’s a bit too far a stretch to generalise an entire generation of cartoonists. Speaking without any knowledge of the broader selection from the late 19th & early 20th centuries, I’d bet that examples we see today are the most impacting, if not the best of the genre. When I was a kid I used to love the “Best of Punch” volumes at my local library. But if some of that was the “best of” I dread to think what the average standard was back then . . .

    Finally, a great contemporary example of the Punch style is in Terry Pratchett’s “Monstrous Regiment”. The punchline “That for your Royal Prerogative, you Blaggard!” had me falling about in the context of the story and artwork.

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