Cartoon “extravaganza” looks to draw a crowd

‘The fan’, Bruce Petty, 'The Australian', 13 August 1971.
‘The fan’, Bruce Petty, ‘The Australian’, 13 August 1971.

“I prefer drawing to talking.

“Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.” Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, 1887-1965.

While “Le Corbusier’s” words may not have been intended to capture the essence of political cartoons, there can be few more appropriate descriptions of why they are so valued.

Defined as “illustrations designed to convey a social or political message”, the 21st Century is awash with them. From Facebook and Twitter – where memes abound – to billboards, newspapers, and every other place where people have the opportunity to create imagery and publish, they are omnipresent, pushing every kind of message you can conceive of.

In fact, if one were to draw a political cartoon illustrating their impact, it’s likely that it would be of a man (or woman) flailing, and drowning, in a churning, seething ocean of them.

But where do political cartoons originate from, and have they lost their power to succinctly reveal complex political messages where verbosity and other forms of propaganda fail?

These are just some of the issues that will be considered at Flinders University’s “Extravaganza on Political Cartoons” event this Wednesday (24 September).

Speakers Dr Richard Scully and Associate Professor Robert Phiddian will respectively present papers on the topics of: “Shaping Satire: The Importance of Medium for the History of the Political Cartoon”; and: “The Revolution in Political Cartoons and the Early Australian.”

Dr Scully, a DECRA Fellow, History, from the University of New England, will explore the importance of artistic medium when considering the history and development of the cartoon.

From early woodblock printing, to laser printing, digital media and online mediums, Dr Scully will look at how each era and technology has enabled, as well as restricted, satirical expression through political cartoons.

Flinders University’s Associate Professor Phiddian, an expert in Renaissance and Eighteenth Century literature, with a special interest in political satire, will look closer to home, assessing how political cartoons have been used – and their influence – in Australia.

Associate Professor Phiddian will examine the work of Australian cartoonists including George Molnar and Les Tanner, taking a particularly hard look at the common assumption that cartoonists are “always left-wing”.

He will also discuss the impact of Bruce Petty’s visually and politically radical cartooning for The Australian from day one until the Whitlam years, part of which will involve a close examination the controversy surrounding an Anzac Day cartoon in 1969.

“I’ll be taking people back through a strange time warp to the decade when the Australian was a disruptively liberal and progressive newspaper,” Associate Professor Phiddian said.

“An Extravaganza on Political Cartoons” will be chaired by Flinders University’s well-known political commentator, Associate Professor Haydon Manning, and hosted by the Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities.

The event is part of activity around the 2014-2015 Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities (FIRtH) research theme of Humour Studies, which will culminate in a conference of the AHSN (Australian Humour Studies Network), hosted by Flinders at the State Library of South Australia from 4-6 February.

If you would like to attend any of the FIRtH events, please RSVP here or call Joy Tennant on (08) 8201 5841.

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