THE YEAR IN PIC­TURES ( and words)

Greg Bruce talks to New Zealand’s top car­toon­ists about how they viewed the world in 2018

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED -

Ican’t now re­mem­ber whether I first en­coun­tered the work of Giselle Clark­son on the only-re­cently-re­leased-but-al­readyquasi-iconic Kiwi tea towel “Bis­cuits and Slices of New Zealand” or through the Twit­ter ac­count of best-sell­ing lit­er­ary pur­veyor of Scot­tish beef­cake, Diana Ga­bal­don.

Clark­son’s path to this not-in­signif­i­cant level of fame started at art school in Can­ter­bury where she went with the aim of be­com­ing a pain­ter but ended up ma­jor­ing in pho­tog­ra­phy. After grad­u­a­tion, she worked in shops, wool­sheds and forestry, spent time mea­sur­ing pine trees and fig­ured she would even­tu­ally be­come a ranger.

Then, one day while un­em­ployed, she started watch­ing the Olympics.

She says: “Team sports I don’t re­ally get be­cause you don’t know all the rules and there’s all this strat­egy and stuff that I just don’t un­der­stand. But if you see some­one run­ning re­ally, re­ally fast or jump­ing re­ally, re­ally high, there’s this sense of, ‘Wow, I re­ally could not do that’ — that’s re­ally so im­pres­sive.

“I found my­self watch­ing all day and, by the third or fourth day or some­thing, I was like: ‘I have to do some­thing. I have to feel pro­duc­tive some­how.’ So I started draw­ing fish, just for fun. Then I started get­ting re­ally car­ried away with that and turn­ing it into this whole chart of fish. But I didn’t do any­thing with that for a while. That was just sort of there un­til ages later when friends were like, ‘You should sell that.’

“But in a re­ally round­about way, it was prob­a­bly at that time I joined Twit­ter.”

This is an ex­tremely rel­e­vant ca­reer ori­gin story, be­cause it speaks so clearly to Clark­son’s off-kil­ter think­ing, and to her aes­thetic and her ap­proach to comics, which her fel­low car­toon­ist Sarah Laing de­scribes as, “So funny and sly.”

It was on Twit­ter that Clark­son even­tu­ally got her first se­ri­ous pub­lic at­ten­tion. On Ge­off Robin­son’s last day host­ing RNZ’s Morn­ing

Re­port in 2014, he chose the kokako as the bird call, and be­cause she was bored she drew it and put it on Twit­ter, where some­one run­ning RNZ’s so­cial me­dia saw it and retweeted it.

“So five peo­ple saw it,” she says, “and I was like, ‘Wow! This is amaz­ing!’ And I just made a de­ci­sion then to draw the bird call ev­ery day for a month.”

At the end of that month she had gath­ered about 300 Twit­ter fol­low­ers and had drawn the at­ten­tion of the ed­i­tor of For­est and Bird’s chil­dren’s mag­a­zine, which got her her first com­mis­sion. From there, her ca­reer took off. In De­cem­ber 2016, for a book called

An­nual 2, she pro­duced the work “Com­mon Bis­cuits and Slices of New Zealand”, which on first glance was a tra­di­tional en­try in the long­stand­ing genre of “tax­onomies of rel­a­tively bor­ing things for an­nu­als” but in its de­tails re­veals it­self to be a sub­ver­sive, funny, sly take, full of clever Lati­nate de­scrip­tions and cute, friendly draw­ings. In its new tea towel ver­sion it threat­ens to be one of this year’s best bud­get Christ­mas presents.

In Au­gust this year, she pro­duced a su­perbly con­densed comic ver­sion of an aca­demic pa­per on the tawaki, an ex­tremely rare pen­guin that swims an un­nec­es­sar­ily long way to find its food. It was this comic that caused fa­mous mega-sell­ing au­thor Ga­bal­don to tweet a link, with as­so­ci­ated com­ment: “That. is. BRIL­LIANT!!!”

Clark­son says: “The rea­son I like the comic for­mat is that you can get a lot of in­for­ma­tion into a cou­ple of pages but you can ac­tu­ally skip out all the con­nec­tive stuff. You can put things in bub­bles and string them to­gether with pic­tures and lit­tle ar­rows. You can con­nect the in­for­ma­tion in a way that doesn’t have to be so wordy and then a lot of what you’re say­ing and a lot of the hu­mour can go in with the pic­tures.

“So it be­comes this re­ally di­gestible thing. You can get the gist of what’s go­ing on with a glance, but ac­tu­ally you pick up an en­tire 26-page pa­per in one tweet, ba­si­cally, be­cause it’s got four im­ages in it.”

Cli­mate change is pretty much al­ways on my mind. Of course it isn’t a new is­sue in 2018 but ev­ery year the need for the world to act against it be­comes in­creas­ingly des­per­ate, now more than ever. The like­li­hood of en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the big de­ci­sions I make now.

Giselle Clark­son

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