Saturday 11 March 2017

There is a wonderful cartoon

in this morning's paper. It is in honour of another cartoonist, the late Bill Leak. He died  yesterday at the much too young age of 61. It depicts his gravestone in the form of a hand - with a particular finger raised and one person reading his will saying to another, "He says he wants it facing the Human Rights Commission".
It is a reference to the cartoon which caused a complaint to be brought against him under Sec 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  I won't bother to address that here. It is easily found on the internet, along with the vigorous debate for and against what he depicted.
Cartoonists are not generally kind people. They are observant. They see things in people that most of us would prefer to remain hidden. I will never be able to see one former Prime Minister without thinking of him as looking a little like the cartoon character "Tin Tin".  The way he was drawn made him instantly recognisable.  Another was made instantly recognisable by his eyebrows.
It is a cartoonist's role to draw people in this way. It is also their role to comment, often unkindly, on public figures and events. 
It must also be said that the commentary may not be what they believe but what they believe needs to be said.
Many years ago now I was at a gathering of writers, journalists, and others. Bill Leak was there. He was arguing with someone about something. I never did discover exactly what the argument was about. The other person, a writer as famous for his temperament as his writing, challenged him to "draw someone then - someone you have only seen once". Leak sat there and scratched away with a pen on a scrap of paper. He was at it for several minutes. I was vaguely aware of him looking in my direction but someone was talking to me. A few minutes later I heard, "He's bloody gone and done it."
To which the response was, "Of course I've bloody gone and done it."
Leak held up the scrap of paper - and there I was, instantly recognisable. He had no idea who I was - and even if he had been told my name it wouldn't have meant anything to him. He wasn't nearly as well known himself back then - but he still had the capacity to observe and draw. I wish now though that I had asked him if I could have that little cartoon. It wasn't unkind. It was just me.
He had an incisive mind and an acerbic wit. He was a master of satire. More than once he was accused of being "racist" - an interesting observation given that his partner is of a very different ethnic background. He was called "crude" by some.
His cartoons were not popular with everyone but perhaps that's the way it should be. Being a cartoonist isn't about being popular or kind. It's about telling the truth as you see it or as it needs to be said.

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