Graphically speaking: cartoons, comics and graphic novels

An image from the graphic novel, Maui: legends of the outcast (click for image credit)

An image from the graphic novel, Maui: legends of the outcast (click for image credit)

We’ve just published two interesting and related entries: Cartooning and Comics and graphic novels.

While researching using historical newspapers I have often come across cartoons that portray negative stereotypes of Māori. Trevor Lloyd is one example of how the lens through which Māori are seen in cartooning can be problematic. While Māori have often been the subject of cartoonists, it hasn’t been common for them to be involved in cartooning. Harry Dansey of Ngāti Tūwharetoa was a regular cartoonist for the Taranaki Daily News in the 1950s, but a fellow journalist noted that he lacked the ‘cruel sense’ needed by a great cartoonist.

From personal experience, I have grown up with Tom Scott’s cartoons and more recently have become a fan of Mike Moreu, particularly because I enjoy his more detailed (and artistic) drawings.

In New Zealand the fear of comic books and their effect on children has been around for a long time. In the late 1930s, while British-style comics, with more explanatory text, were considered superior, American-style comic books with speech balloons were referred to as ‘alien’ or ‘yellow’. In the 1954 Mazengarb report on teen delinquency, comics were seen as potentially harmful. There was even a comics advisory committee set-up in 1956, which banned hundreds of comics from being imported.

I’m not sure any of the comics I read had a particularly corrupting influence. As a kid I read a number of New Zealand comics. I enjoyed Bogor, a comic strip about a woodsman and his hedgehog mate. I also loved the Footrot Flats series about Wal Footrot and his trusty dog, Dog. I also remember reading about Terry Teo in Terry and the Gunrunners. My favourite comic, though, was from overseas. It was 2000 AD, particularly the stories featuring Judge Dredd.

Later I came to read various graphic novels from overseas. One that has won critical acclaim is Watchmen, written by Alan Moore. It presents a dystopian alternate reality that questions whether a society with superheroes would be better or not. I was put onto Art Spiegelman’s Maus by a friend. It is a powerful graphic novel, based on the author’s parents’ experience of the holocaust. Unusually, characters are depicted as a type of animal based on their race, for example Jews are depicted as mice – maus being the German word for mouse.

A number of graphic novels have been produced in New Zealand, but my favourite is Maui: legends of the outcast. Illustrator Chris Slane teamed up with Ngāpuhi poet and academic Robert Sullivan. Chris Slane’s visual interpretation of the demigod Māui and his stories is dark and visceral. Slane is supported by the extraordinary interpretative text supplied by Sullivan, which moves the Māui stories from their standard children’s fairytale narrative to a rendition that gives a deeper cultural insight into the stories.

Take a look at both these newly published entries to see New Zealand’s stories told visually, whether it be in the form of a long graphic novel, or a snappy one-panel cartoon.

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