Anyone living in New Zealand this year will have got wind of the fact that we’re currently looking at options for choosing a new flag. And like some kinds of wind, the whole process has started to smell a bit.
From the outset, having the Prime Minister instigate a referendum on changing the flag when there was no significantly compelling reason to do so – apart from the occasional embarrassment of having the Australian flag substituted for the NZ flag at sporting competitions and the like – and also while there are many more compelling issues (poverty, refugees, the TPPA, etc) and more crucial uses for the money being used to administer the whole process – certainly has an odour to it.
Secondly, having a panel of judges decide from a list of 10,000 which final 40 flag designs will be considered without someone with actual design or vexillology skills sitting on that panel – and then coming to a conclusion that the only four options that will be considered are all variations on a fern – which, coincidentally, is the Prime Minister’s preference – seems even more on the nose.
But now, in the midst of all that stink, a flag design that was dismissed by the panel has blown back into the public consciousness and captured the minds of a significant percentage of the New Zealand’s population – or at least those who are on social media. It’s a simple design people are calling ‘Red Peak’ and it’s been like a breath of fresh air in the whole fetid swamp of this process.
I overlooked it on first glance. It seemed almost too simple. However, after reading more about the creative process of the designer Aaron Dustin, and the thought and consideration that went into its imagery, and then looking at it with the intention of finding my own meaning in it – as we must do for all images – I realised that I’d fallen in love with it.
I see the Land of the Long White cloud in Red Peak, the same country that welcomed me so warmly 17 years ago. I see snow covered mountains, which form part of the landscape here that I love. Beneath that is the red glow of the geothermal activity that beats deep in the heart of the land here and bursts through to the surface in so many places, providing energy and industry.
The dash of black on Red Peak acknowledges for me the role that the colour black has played in the New Zealand sporting identity, which – like it or not – is an important part of this nation’s psyche. I also see a nod to the past in the colours and the angles that resemble a close up of the Union Jack. And yet I also see the patterns of traditional Maori tukutuku in the triangle design.
Essentially, it’s a design that resonates with my experience living in New Zealand, and I would be proud to see it flying as a representation of this country that I live in and love so much. However, Red Peak is not on the official flag short list, and short of a law change (which is possible, apparently) it’s not going to be. That seems a shame.
As an Australian who has now lived in New Zealand for almost 17 years, I’ve been well aware of the mix-ups that happen between the two flags of my country of birth and now my country of residence. Both are part of my identity, and yet both seemed to be clinging to a bygone era that’s all about empire and colonisation.
Which brings me to the above cartoon. It’s clearly a nod to those who do not want to change the flag at all for historical reasons. They want to keep the old flag because people fought and died under it, and I completely honour that reason. I agree that we shouldn't just change the flag without taking that history into account, and if we can’t find one that does, then we shouldn't do it. However, Red Peak does acknowledge that history, in my view at least.
I also like to think that Red Peak is a representation of the fact that New Zealand today is a society that does not have to fight wars of empire anymore, and that it is a precious thing to be living in a country where we have the freedom to freely express ourselves – on Twitter and elsewhere - and fight for things like what flag best represents our common, yet multicultural, identity.
If nothing else, Red Peak is a reminder that identity matters, and if we don’t take a stand for defining that ourselves, someone else will do it for us.
So let’s not get blown about by random winds of change. Let’s run Red Peak up the flag pole and see who salutes.
Drone Baby, Drone
May the Fourth II
Well, it’s that time of the year again. The day when sci-fi geeks like myself get to let our freak flag fly about our love for Star Wars!
I must admit, I’m getting pretty excited about the impending new movie, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. As one who still denies the canonical authenticity – and sometimes, the very existence of – the atrocious prequels, I’m glad that it does look like we’re in for a decently executed story this time.
In spite of the fact that I still hold a grudge against JJ Abrams for sucking me in, then dashing my belief in his TV show ‘Lost’, I still reckon we can trust him to redeem George Lucas’ tarnished legacy. If he doesn’t, well – we’ll just have something else to gripe about. Either way, it’ll be fun.
So … May the Fourth be with you!
Last weekend, I was one of about 90 “artists” who gathered at the Aotea Centre in Auckland’s city centre for the Chromacon 2015 Indie Arts Festival. (Please note … When I put “artists" in quotes, as above, it’s referring to my own comparative lack of artistic ability.)
It was a huge lot of fun, and I got to meet some amazing comic illustrators for the first time, and caught up with a bunch of others I’ve known for a long time. But in between those collegial moments, the above cartoon was pretty much how I was feeling most of the time. While I know plenty of people have seen my cartoons before, there is nothing that quite compares to having someone stare at one's attempts at humour while you are sitting right there in front of it.
The reactions were many and varied. Thankfully, the majority were laughs, but there was the occasional stony face that glanced, read and then sauntered off, clearly unmoved. The scariest was the old lady with pursed lips who stopped and picked a copy of my book of ‘(sac)religious’ cartoons then flipped through the pages with a disapproving scowl on her face before dropping it back on the table and striding away, having made not a nano-second of eye contact. Yikes.
Of course my favourites were the ones who approached with blank stares, then broke out in chuckles as they pointed the particular cartoon out to a friend or accompanying family member. Those were the golden moments that made me realise why I enjoy drawing cartoons.
It’s the moments of connection that I long for. This joke formulates in my brain, I put it on paper, then someone looks at it and laughs. It’s now in their brain. There’s something simple and magical in that transaction, and the best bit is that in that moment of my nakedness, I don’t feel self-conscious anymore. Because everyone is naked at that point. We’ve effectively returned to the Garden of Eden, to an unsullied place of spiritual connection between the human and divine.
I’m not sure if the other artists at Chromacon felt the same way, but there was certainly a lot of creativity going on in that room that day. If that isn’t something divine, I don’t know what is.
Toilet Humour II
I’ve previously expounded on the joys of toilet humour here, so I’ve no need to elaborate on the above cartoon.
Suffice to say, it grossed out my teenage son. I call that ‘Job done’. (Pun definitely intended!)
You might remember a few years ago, I drew a bunch of cartoons for a new sex education programme that was being developed by a friend of mine from high school, who is now a fully qualified sexologist. This week, the programme officially makes its debut in New Zealand, and I couldn’t be prouder to see it finally reaching these shores. (Click here for a re-cap on what the programme is all about, and here for some immediate reaction it’s drawn from the media.)
It coincides with a challenge I had this week, which was to come up with a cartoon on the topic of “online theological education”. The above cartoon wasn’t my first effort. This was. While I reckon they both work pretty well, I must admit my fondness for the first one.
In any case, the above cartoon makes the same point that the Body IQ / Relationship IQ programme (formerly known as ‘Get a Grip’) does – that is, you’ve got to have your brain switched on when you go online. It’s not hard to find nasty stuff on there, so make sure your kids have the skills to handle it if they do.
Anyway, here’s to better education, both about sex … and theology!
I don’t think there’s much to say about the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris that hasn’t already been said. But cartooning about Charlie Hebdo? That’s going to last a very long time.
The above is my effort drawn for religious magazine Touchstone to mark the tragic events of 7th January, a fortnight ago as of my writing this. It pales alongside many of the outstanding cartoons that have come from cartoonists all around the world responding to this very personal tragedy for this community, but I trust it makes its point clearly enough (and hopefully brings a laugh along with the bad pun.)
I once published a whole book of sacrilegious cartoons, so naturally the whole tragedy is something that’s given me much pause for thought. I’ll be writing more about this soon, so stand by…
Three Wise Months
You’re probably not wondering why I haven’t posted a new cartoon for the last three months, but let me explain anyway.
The day after I posted the previous cartoon on this blog, I had a doctor’s appointment to try and determine why I was having chest pains every time I tried to exercise. Following a trip to the cardiologist, turns out I had what’s known as a stable angina. Thirty minutes of surgery later and I was good as new. Seriously, I had no idea how amazing modern medical technology was until I was looking at my own heart under a 3D imager and seeing the narrowed blood vessel that was causing all the trouble. I feel truly lucky to be living in an age where technology like this is readily available.
Still, heart surgery is nothing to be taken lightly, and I’ve been on a steady course of life changes since then to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That doesn’t mean less cartooning per se, but it does mean generally trying to get more sleep, eat better and exercise more. Few things focus the mind more clearly, I’ve discovered, than potentially fatal health conditions.
The next thing to happen was my wife’s mum died of cancer. Her latest diagnosis had been 6-months, but this ended up being 6 weeks, so we spent as much time as we could over the last few months with her and the family overseas. Then there was the funeral, where I gave the eulogy. It was a sad, but also happy gathering, mostly because we had all had the opportunity to say our farewells, and just celebrate her well-lived life.
This is where I segue-way back to cartooning, because my mother-in-law was – without doubt – one of the biggest supporters of my cartooning ever since I first started doing it commercially. She commissioned cartoons from me for brochures and posters for the hospital where she worked; she bought dozens of copies of my book and gave them away to friends; she commissioned more cartoons from me for the community magazine that she edited. I would not have gained as much valuable experience as I did early on without such opportunities, so I am incredibly grateful for that, and extra-glad that I had the chance to tell her before she died how much what she did meant to me. She also told me it was time to get on and finish my next book, which I’ve been working on for a couple years now. I must say, having an immediate family member tell you that before they die certainly makes one consider one’s priorities.
So those are partly the reasons why I’ve been absent from updating my blog over the last few months. What else? Oh yes … working the day job! My first eight months full-time at the new gig has certainly not been without its stresses and extra hours. But hey, it keeps the lights on.
In the face of all this, I’m encouraged by the fact that I have a notebook full of cartoon ideas just waiting to be drawn. The first of these is above, and also doubles as my cue to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year! I’m looking forward to a happy year of more cartooning, which is still the thing in my life that gives me the biggest creative buzz. By this time next year, I’m planning to be giving out my new book as Christmas presents.
Take care, all … and don’t miss that opportunity to tell those nearest and dearest to you just how loved they are and what they mean to you; not just at Christmas, but every day.
See you in 2015!
Up the Hill
Some years ago, at the request of a family friend who had known the cartooning I'd done as a teenager, I drew a dozen or so cartoons for a marriage guidance course. Out of those cartoons appeared a couple of characters who seemed perfect for their own comic strip.I started drawing some strips featuring this new couple, known only in my mind as ‘The Guy’ and ‘The Girl’, as they navigate modern life as a married couple.Five strips became fifty, and I felt like I had something that could become an ongoing creative endeavour. I even submitted it to some syndicates and along with some straight out rejections, got some encouraging feedback.However, it (obviously) never quite made it to the big time, and ended up sitting in my drawing file for a few more years as life rolled on. I eventually started colouring a few strips, potentially for use on another webcomic web site, which ultimately never went anywhere.Recently, I dug them out again. On taking another look at them I finally decided to heck with it, I’m going to put this thing out there on Twitter just for fun.And so, just like that, my long shelved comic strip 'Up the Hill' is finally seeing the light of day. You can check it out on Twitter here.It’s sometimes surreal, sometimes sexy, and hopefully funny as it observes the challenges of modern relationships. I’ve posted three strips to start with, and will be adding new ones three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.When the 'historic' strips in my file draw have come to an end, I'm hoping to be able to continue doing three strips a week. In any case, I’m looking forward to it stretching and challenging my creativity anew!Come and join me 'Up the Hill'!
May the Fourth
Yeah, I know we are now a week past Star Wars Day (ie. May the 4th) but this one only came to me a few days later.
If you're a Star Wars fan, I hope you enjoy it. If you're not, you should check out this documentary. You'll understand it on a whole other level then.
May the Fourth be with you all!