Laughs No More? Australians Are Reassessing a Beloved Cartoonist.

Laughs No More? Australians Are Reassessing a Beloved Cartoonist.

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Among my household’s most prized possessions is a small framed drawing of two faeries holding arms, flying by the evening sky. It is an unique by the Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig. He gave it to my mom after it accompanied an article she wrote in The Age newspaper within the early Eighties, about my 5-year-old declare that I used to be the Queen of the Faeries. Until not too long ago, this was a easy treasure: a drawing of me and my mom imagined by one in every of Australia’s most beloved artists. My emotions about it not too long ago have grow to be a bit extra sophisticated.

It is tough to clarify to a non-Australian how the work of 1 cartoonist would possibly so deeply infiltrate our nationwide id. Leunig’s drawings have appeared usually in The Age for many years, however his affect extends far past these pages. He has revealed dozens of books, has collaborated with chamber orchestras and a few of Australia’s finest identified singer-songwriters. His work has additionally been displayed on Melbourne trams and been changed into stage productions and claymation characters for youngsters’s tv. In 1999, he was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia.

Leunig’s cartoons are usually imbued with whimsy and infrequently depict wide-eyed characters who’re overwhelmed or overpowered by the trendy world. They have sometimes been controversial, particularly his work about motherhood, youngster care, and typically girls typically. But in latest months, his artwork has grow to be more and more targeted on what he perceives as injustices associated to Australia’s Covid lockdowns and vaccine mandates. A few weeks in the past, he submitted a cartoon to The Age that locations the well-known picture of a person standing in entrance of a tank close to Tiananmen Square subsequent to a drawing of a person standing in entrance of a tank with a vaccine syringe changing the gun turret. The drawing was rejected by the paper, Leunig posted it on his personal social media accounts, and after a big public outcry, he was fired from his Monday editorial web page slot. (He retains his Saturday slot in Spectrum, a lift-out part that’s extra lifestyle-focused than the Monday editorial web page.)

When dwelling as an Australian expat in America, I typically would urge pals and companions to learn Leunig’s books, as a strategy to perceive the soul of Australia. This was notably true for his small books of prayers, that are nondenominational and solely barely non secular, however which thrum with humanity, love and typically anger. His work has at all times spoken to me of a sure Australian innocence, in addition to a large humor that doesn’t shrink back from loss of life and intercourse however not often makes use of these topics gratuitously. If I had been to pinpoint the origins of my very own darkish humorousness, one affect can be an outdated Leunig cartoon titled “the awful aspects of spring,” during which the brand new canine digs up the outdated canine at a yard barbecue.


There has been loads of commentary about Leunig’s latest flip, however the most effective I’ve learn is an essay by the University of Tasmania lecturer Robbie Moore on the web site of Meanjin, a Melbourne-based literary journal. It’s value a learn, if for no different motive than to know the depth of thought and anguish that Australians are pouring into the flip in Leunig’s work.

It is at all times dangerous to tie any id to the work of 1 artist, not to mention the id of a complete nation. And wanting again over Leunig’s work within the context of his present controversy, I really feel considerably abashed on the ease during which I’d fall into the concept of Leunig’s most well-known character, Mr. Curly, because the Australian everyman: the easy, lovable man who simply needs to hang around along with his duck. That picture doesn’t converse to the true strengths of this nation, which embody variety and togetherness. But I additionally perceive why so many individuals are feeling loss proper now, a way of betrayal that this artist who used to symbolize the goodness attainable in our particular person and collective Australian souls is now a mouthpiece for indignant conspiracy-minded individualists who would possibly examine themselves to victims of a bloodbath merely for being requested to do a small factor to guard the weak in their very own communities.

We’ve misplaced a lot to this pandemic in Australia: years, milestone celebrations, and most tragically, hundreds of lives. I in all probability won’t ever let go of my love for a lot of Leunig’s work — it’s too ingrained in who I’m, within the story of my household and our collective id. But I do really feel as if I’ve misplaced one thing essential due to his present work and stance, and I count on many different Australians do as properly.

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