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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.

Why is looking good so important?

This month we focus on three recently launched stories which look at the ways people change their appearance for social and cultural reasons. In Personal grooming Bronwyn Dalley explores the changing fashions of hair and beard styles; in Tā moko – Māori tattooing Rawinia Higgins shows the importance of facial tattoos to Māori identity; and in Body shape and dieting Caroline Daley shows that the ideal body shape among New Zealanders has been affected by cultural as well as physical factors. In this blog post Megan Cook reflects on these three fascinating stories.

Our Movember portrait gallery features some of the fine moustaches you'll find on our biography subjects

Our Movember portrait gallery features some of the fine moustaches you'll find on our biography subjects

Movember – the 11th month of the year, previously known as November – begins like any other, goes through a messy, semi-groomed phase, then – appearing on the face of a man near you – blossoms into glorious moustaches, often with outrageous sideburns. Grown to raise funds to support men’s health, it’s hair we don’t see much of the rest of the year. It used to be commonplace – a man without a beard was a rarity in the 19th century. With the introduction of first safety razors and then electric razors in the 20th century, facial hair was cut back and a clean-shaven face became the norm.

It wasn’t the first time new technology had changed the face of New Zealanders. Māori, who traditionally made their unique scarred and coloured moko (tattoo) with bone chisels, shifted first to metal chisels and then to needles. The moko that resulted were more defined and detailed, and prompted a resurgence of interest in moko. It wasn’t the last – in the late 20th century and early 21st century, ta moko became an assertion of Māori identity and strength and were no longer a rare sight.

There are many reasons why we might change our appearance: to support a cause, because technology lets us, to proclaim our identity, to look good and because it’s fun. When Prussian bodybuilder Eugen Sandow visited New Zealand in 1902–3 he inspired a generation of body shapers, who used his exercise and diet regimes to develop the perfect body (or as near as they could get to it). Perhaps, while they lifted weights and stretched, they gazed at a photograph of Sandow, who favoured Grecian poses, columns, and leopard-skin loincloths. Those without the patience or inclination to lift weights or diet could make do with a corset.

Corsets, like make-up, were generally worn by women, whose ideal appearance was more mobile than that of men. Over the 20th century hair was long and up, short and sculpted, long and down, curly, straight, and in between. The ideal woman’s body went from curvy to flat chested to buxom to slender, getting taller all the time. Achieving the ideal wasn’t always possible, and in the early 21st century cosmetic surgery was increasingly common – breasts, upper arms, bellies and thighs were the body parts most frequently altered.

Most alterations people make to their appearances are not as permanent as cosmetic surgery. And, to return to the men with moustaches, a great many who grow them for Movember whip them off quick smart come December.

120 years of women’s suffrage

'V is for vote' stamp featuring Kate Sheppard (click for image credit)

'V is for vote' stamp featuring Kate Sheppard (click for image credit)

Today, 19 September 2013, is the 120th anniversary of all New Zealand women gaining the right to vote in parliamentary elections – a world first. Most of us – male or female – don’t think about it much, or at all. Come election day, we take it for granted that all New Zealand citizens will cast their vote as they see fit. And that’s a lovely thing – one fight over and done with. The push for gender equality moved on to other issues (you can track some of them in Te Ara’s stories on the Women’s movement and Gender inequalities).

The fight for women’s suffrage is a good story though, with fierce campaigning, deep conviction vehemently expressed, conniving and cheating, money and the drive to maintain power, ambivalence on the part of some politicians despite their genuine support of the move, differences among the campaigners and conflict between men. The minor celebrations of women’s suffrage – campaigner Kate Sheppard on the $10 note, memorials of one kind or another scattered through New Zealand cities – do little to give a sense of how exciting it was, the fear women felt when they stood and spoke on a public stage, and the delight of the first election in which women could participate.

Go to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and you’ll find Kate Sheppard and Anna Stout, John Hall and John Ballance, Henry Fish (at this distance a pantomime villain) and Richard Seddon. Less well known are Lily Kirk, bright and shining star of the campaign platform, and her devoted husband Arthur (who suggested they should go into lodgings to avoid housework), Elizabeth Caradus, one of the few working class leaders of the campaign (who shunned positions of authority, perhaps because having 15 children limited her free time) or Meri Mangakāhia (who spoke to the Māori Kotahitanga parliament, arguing that women should get the right to vote and be able to stand for election).

The campaign for women’s suffrage did not stand alone – it was part of the push to get the suffrage extended to all competent citizens, regardless of property ownership or gender (for more on this, see Voting rights). But in New Zealand women getting the vote caused more controversy, generating heat in a way none of the other extensions of suffrage did.

To find out more, download the latest Manatū Taonga – Ministry for Culture and Heritage ebook: New Zealand women and the vote, or look at NZHistory’s feature on New Zealand women and the vote, which includes a searchable database of those who signed the last of three giant suffrage petitions.

A new look for Te Ara biographies

Last week we released a long-awaited redesign of what is now truly the Biographies section of Te Ara.

A few years ago you may have noticed that we moved the biographies once found on to, incorporating them into Te Ara. But when the rest of the site enjoyed a beautiful redesign of its interface, the biography content was excluded from scope and, until this week, still looked and behaved in a very different way from the rest of Te Ara.

More than 2,500 of these intriguing and interesting life stories originated from the five volumes of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography (DNZB), which were published between 1990 and 2000. Another 16 biographies (of subjects who have died since 1990) have been added online, and these more closely resemble the structure of a Te Ara story.

Our brief was to design a new interface for this content so that it would look and behave as you would expect from a section of Te Ara, but would also remain different enough to distinguish it from Te Ara’s other stories and sections. Its design also needed to have enough visual connections to link it to its DNZB origins, but not so much as to confuse users with mixed-branding messages.

What’s new on biography ‘story’ pages

With this in mind we began the challenge, starting with the ‘story’ pages – where you’ll find the biography text.

For our long-time biography users we retained the distinctive bright orange inherited from the old DNZB website on just a few key visual elements as a link to the content’s DNZB origins.

Orange stripe – linking the content to its DNZB origins

Orange stripe – linking the content to its DNZB origins

We also added a ‘metadata box’ to the first page of each story, which highlights key information about the biography subject – name, birth and death dates, occupation(s), and any tribal affiliation(s). It also lists the author of the biography and says which volume of the DNZB it was originally published in or, if it was originally published online, the date it was first published.

A metadata box for a biography first published online (left) and one first published in the DNZB (right)

A metadata box for a biography first published online (left) and one first published in the DNZB (right)

New-look Biographies section homepage

On our redesigned homepage for the Biographies section we’ve incorporated some new (and not-so-new) features that offer our users a variety of different interest points as a way into the biography content.

At the top of the page we’ve introduced a slideshow of biographies, mirroring the featured stories slideshow on Te Ara’s homepage. It uses nice big images and handcrafted blurb to describe a selection of fascinating individuals, scheduled to change on a weekly basis. It was interesting to note while working on this how much easier the handcrafted blurb was to read when compared to simply pasting in the first 50 or so words of a biography. But more on that topic in another blog post!

Hone Tuwhare is one of new featured biographies

Hone Tuwhare is one of new featured biographies

The second addition is a set of quick search filters – hotly contested and yet to prove worthy of its place! (Give them a go and let us know what you think.)

Quick search filters

Quick search filters

Next up is the portrait gallery – a curated selection of images that groups biography subjects by their photographs. This provided a brilliant opportunity to feature the colourful, quirky, humorous, familiar or unusual found among the array of biographies.  We hope the artfully written blurb and striking painted portraits shown in the current gallery lure you in to clicking through to find out more about the painted subjects.

'Painted portraits', this month's portrait gallery.

Painted portraits: this month's portrait gallery

The familiar ‘Born on your birthday’ search remains, but now, rather than just taking you off to one biography, it will give you a list of all the biography subjects who share your special day.

Who was born on your birthday?

Who was born on your birthday?

We’ve introduced a ‘This month’s life story’ block, again with a handcrafted blurb, to highlight a person who is relevant to the topic of the month in our email newsletter Te Ara hiko (which you can subscribe to from the bottom of every Te Ara page).

Finally, the last feature lets our users connect with the biographies through their occupations. From carvers and criminals to whalers and writers, the representatives of each occupation is populated randomly, with a different set of 15 people selected daily. The occupations also rotate on each page refresh to keep things interesting!

Prophets in the featured occupations listing

Prophets in the featured occupations listing

What’s next?

What we have is just the first version – plans for further development include: adding thumbnail carousels to image and media pages, upgrading the usability of the advanced search, adding a search bar to each biography story page that will search only the Biographies section, and aligning the design treatment and content of the Biographies search results tabs and pages no matter where you arrive from (they are currently different).

What do you think?

Let us know if you think we succeeded in our mission or not. We hope you’ll enjoy the new features mentioned above, as well as the improved usability and consistency of the updated interface. But this is all part of an ongoing process of improvement, so we can refine and adapt the design based on the evidence and feedback gathered.

So please give us your feedback – by either leaving us a comment below or emailing it to – good or bad, it will be welcomed!

All great fun

1950s Tourist and Publicity Department skiing poster (click for image credit)

1950s Tourist and Publicity Department skiing poster (click for image credit)

Today we are delighted to launch Te Ara’s second-to-last major section – 102 sparkling new entries which fall under the title of Daily Life, Sport and Recreation.

Despite the three-part title, this is really a theme of two halves. Almost half the entries describe New Zealanders’ passion for sport. One section deals with particular sporting codes, from archery and fencing to waka ama. Anything you wanted to know about our past champions, our successes and a few of our collective failures can be found here. There is also another part which looks at different facets of New Zealand sport as a whole, covering such subjects as disabled sport, sports medicine and drugs and veterans sport.

The other half of the theme examines the fabric of our daily life, the elements which surround us all the time – the food and drink we consume, the clothes we wear, the homes we inhabit, the words we use, the way we occupy our spare time and enjoy our holidays, weekends and celebrations – when we are not watching or playing sport! There is much here that is familiar, but also surprising aspects which unfold from our history – you can find out when beards disappeared, and then returned. Did you know that until the 1960s each Kiwi used to consume more than five times as much tea as they do today? On the other hand, we drink over 20 times as much coffee as our 1890s ancestors.

There are striking differences between the two halves of the theme. The Daily Life section tends to give more attention to women’s traditional sphere – to housework and domestic recreations like sewing and knitting. Sport inevitably gives plenty of attention to men, although there are outstanding entries on netball and good coverage of women’s significant successes in athletics, rowing and triathlon, with another entry exploring gender and sport. And Daily Life uncovers some surprising gender switches – there is a wonderful image of the dance of the shearers (all male) in the Dancing entry.

There was a logic to putting daily life together with sport – for both are about time out from paid work (until professional sport came along of course!). They are about the eating, drinking, socialising, watching-games parts of life – the fun parts. There is plenty of humour and warm nostalgia in these entries. They were a delight to prepare, and this shows in the outstanding work of the writers, resourcers, designers and editors who are responsible for them. The office vibrated with gales of laughter as we chose film clips or explored old photos and advertisements. There are even two entries on humour – Māori and Pākehā.

So we hope that you will find this new section of Te Ara as much fun as we did, that you too will chuckle as you read the entries – and learn some interesting things along the way. Enjoy!