The Australian Reuben

Posted by on March 1st, 2010 at 3:17 PM

Down under at the 25th annual Stanley Awards convocation of the Australian Cartoonists’ Association (ACA), held November 12-15, freelancer Peter Broelman was named Cartoonist of the Year, winning the coveted Gold Stanley. The Australian equivalent of the National (i.e., U.S.) Cartoonists Society’s Reuben, the Stanley is a convoluted statuette that reproduces in three dimensions a Stan Cross cartoon deemed the funniest ever in that nation. Here’s the cartoon (click to enlarge; for the full effect, be sure to click again on the li’l magnifying glass so you can see the expressions on the characters’ faces—they’re both laughing—and read the caption):

Stan Cross was a pioneer in Australian newspaper cartooning. Although born in Los Angeles, California, his parents, both British, had been married in Australia and returned to the country when Stan was about four. After miscellaneous careers, including some freelance cartooning, Cross joined the staff of Smith’s Weekly almost at the beginning of that publication’s history, which commenced in March 1919. Smith’s was probably responsible for the birth of the modern newspaper cartooning era in Australia. According to John Ryan in his seminal Panel to Panel: An Illustrated History of Australian Comics, Smith’s imported American comic strips with no intention of publishing any of them: instead, the imports were used to show Smith’s cartoonists how to produce a cartooning form, comic strips, that was relatively new in Australia.

In August 1920, Cross began a comic strip called You & Me, which featured the drinking bouts and mutual contentiousness of a man named Pot and his cohort, Whalesteeth. The name of the first was derived from rhyming slang in which “the old pot and pan” stood for “the old man”; the name of the second referred to the fellow’s prominently displayed teeth, which, when he grinned or grimaced, took possession of the entire lower portion of his face. By November, Pot had acquired a loud and acrimonious wife, and the strip was thereafter devoted to domestic humor rather than, as was its initial intention, political commentary.

Writes John Ryan: “In terms of drinking, arguing, swearing and displays of bad temper, You & Me remains unique in Australian comic history and pre-dated many aspects of the anti-social Andy Capp by almost 40 years.”

But Cross was most adept at single panel cartooning, and the cartoon above, published July 29, 1933, was so popular that Smith’s took the unprecedented step a week later of having it reproduced on “high class art paper” and offering copies for sale at 2 shillings, 6 pence.

Cross, a tall (6 foot – 2 inches) man with a pencil-thin moustache, was loquacious and enjoyed laughing in company as well as on paper. Here is his self-portrait, holding a couple of his comic characters on his lap in the manner of a ventriloquist (click to enlarge):

Cross resigned from Smith’s on Christmas Eve 1939 and went to another paper, and You & Me was taken over by Jim Russell, who changed its name to Mr. & Mrs. Potts, and when Smith’s Weekly ceased ten years later, Russell successfully moved the strip to another paper, changed its name again (to The Potts), and continued it, toning down the level of acrimony between the Potts,  for another 52 years, making his tenure on a single strip (62 years at his death in 2001) longer than that of any other cartoonist in captivity and The Potts the longest running comic strip in Australian history. The introduction of Uncle Dick, a genteel scrounger, revived the strip and kept it going; eventually, the other Potts all but disappeared, yielding their places to the machinations of this portly grifter. Here’s Uncle Dick (with the Potts visible at intervals).

The ACA is the world’s oldest professional cartoonists’ organization: it was established in 1924 as the Australian Black and White Artists Club. Stan Cross was the second president of it and served the longest, from 1939-1970. By the mid-1990s (or thereabouts), the Club had nearly expired when it was revived, largely through the efforts of James Kemsley, who was producing Ginger Meggs, the other most enduring of Australia’s comic strips; Kemsley urged the group to adopt the new name and to admit to membership cartoonists from other countries, rejuvenating the organization.

Peter Broelman, who usually draws political cartoons, is a past president of ACA. Here’s a recent sample of his work (he’s syndicated through Cagle Cartoons; see cagle.msnbc.com) and his own self-caricature.

Special guests at this year’s ACA confabulation included Tom Richmond from the U.S. (sometimes termed Mad’s new Mort Drucker) and editoonist Pat Oliphant, who was born in Australia and couldn’t find a way to escape until 1964 when Paul Conrad left the Denver Post with a vacant chair at the drawingboard. Oliphant, perhaps the country’s most notorious expatriate (except, possibly, Rupert Murdoch, for whom Oliphant once worked and still despises), consented to be interviewed on stage in front of the multitudes, and next time we meet, we’ll display excerpts. Stay ’tooned.

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