There has been a bit of controversy about the above political cartoon that appeared in The Australian last Monday, with people suggesting the cartoonist, Bill Leak, is a racist. Here's my two cents.
I met, observed and conversed with Bill in the late 1980s when he invited me up to the newspaper studios where he worked in Sydney City. (This was in the days when cartoonists and artists worked from the offices of the newspapers they worked for, before computers were common place and certainly before cartoonists enjoyed the present-day 'luxury' of working from home.) Bill was charming, affable and had the streak of the Australian Larrikin running through his veins.
Bill related his story (no doubt told to many others) of his delight of school groups coming through the offices of the artists to see them at work. Like many cartoonists (then and now), he was a fan of Ralph Steadman's work, and whenever Bill could he used to incorporate some splatter into his cartoons. He did this by means of blowing the ink off the end of a medical syringe and onto the paper; but he told me he would often wait until the schoolchildren came in with their teacher, so that he could casually bring out his needle and syringe from his desk. He would casually draw up the ink, and all designed to horrify the teacher (and perhaps a few students too, one would hope) into believing that many Artists were (or at the very least, Bill Leak was) working for the newspapers under the influence of illegal substances injected intra-venously. Needless to say, Bill added, many teachers hurried their charges most quickly out of the Art Department....
On another occasion, at an Australian Black and White Artists Club Award Night, a fellow-Artist (and I can no longer recall who it was) had been looking forward to receiving a caricature of himself, that he had clearly commissioned Bill to draw and that he had hoped he could frame and place in his study. The work was large and in great detail, and was a magnificent representative of the person in question. Bill was just about to present it to the subject when he stopped and asked if he would like it autographed (for Bill had forgotten - intentionally or not, who knows? - to sign it). Of course, the answer was "Yes, please". Bill, with a flourish, signed it in full view of all present: "Get Fucked, Bill Leak"! The subject was stunned, no doubt somewhat disappointed by the profanity, but still took it from Bill with grace...
Is Bill racist? I doubt it. He will endure the controversy of the above cartoon with a general sense of the continuing importance of cartooning in our country, and a personal sense of having caused some mayhem. No, Bill is more a shit-stirrer than a racist.
I include another of his cartoons (below), to demonstrate my case. Or am I adding fuel to the fire? In any case, I have to go and meet Neil Matterson this morning, so I can present him with and he can sign some of his Trundle books...
Comicoz is Nat Karmichael's publishing imprint. Nat is committed to preserving a permanent collection of Australian comic and comic strips. He feels that there is a need to recognise comics' contribution to and depiction of Australian culture.
Since 2011, Nat has self-published over twelve comic-related books and was Publisher-Editor of
Oi Oi Oi! -- the last series of nationally-distributed comic books of original stories to appear on Australian newsstands. He is a member of the Australian Cartoonists Association and edited the Association's journal Inkspot for 14 issues from late 2015. For numerous years he has been the Lead Judge in the Ledger of Honour Awards for the Comic Arts Awards of Australia (formerly the Ledgers). These days Nat dreams of retiring from his occupation as a Clinical Nurse in the Psychiatric Emergency Centre in Queensland's largest public hospital, so that he can spend more time with his long-suffering wife and their six children and fourteen grandchildren. And perhaps publish some more comic-related books.
Comicoz acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respects to elders, past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.
Australian Publications since 1976:
1 x Poster
19 x comics (one a co-production with Cyclone Comics in 1988/9, one a co-production with Cowtown Comics in 2022)
2 x Paperback books
10 x Hardcover books