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behind the lines

Behind the Lines…with political cartoonist Mark Knight

Jessica Schumann

Superheroes. Battle axes. Death stares. Who said politics was dry and dull? Highly anticipated and scorchingly honest, Behind the Lines celebrates the best political cartoons of 2014 with Australian cartoonists making their mark in the Museum of Democracy’s latest exhibition, Behind the Lines 2014

Each year the exhibition acknowledges a cartoonist as the Behind the Lines Political Cartoonist of the Year. Selected for his extraordinary mastery of caricature and bold political insight, Mark Knight of the Herald Sun was crowned the 2014 winner. I caught up with Mark at the launch of Behind the Lines 2014 to find out how he’s made a career out of a sketchbook and pen.

Team Australia - Mark Knight

Mark Knight’s Team Australia! as published in the Herald Sun, 7 August 2014. This cartoon was a response to the Prime Minister’s call that we all be part of Team Australia.

How did you fall into the career of a political cartoonist?

I started drawing as a kid and my first official gig was for the school magazine. I was their cartoonist. I was doing the same thing to teachers that I am doing to politicians.

My fathers’ in the building trade, I was going to be an architect. My Mother took a collection of my cartoons to the Sydney Morning Herald, and they gave me a Cadetship when I finished school. In 1984, the Finn Review picked me up as their cartoonist.

And you’ve always had an inkling to follow politics?

I have an interest in it, not to be in the political party, but it’s the game that interests me. It’s just listening and learning and following.

Is it hard to find something new to draw every day?

I used to keep scrapbooks and libraries of books just with machines and all sorts of things you can use in the cartoons. You have to have a bank of visual images to make your cartoons interesting. I think if I just did two people in suits, I’d run out of steam.

Do you think that your cartoons are a more honest account to what we see on the news?

What the cartoons are…are an opinion, they’re a deciphering of what we see on the news. They are humorous interpreters of what’s going on in politics. Cartoons are accessible. I don’t like to make them to wordy, they need to be visually stimulating.

The Days of Knights and Dames, published in the Herald Sun 28 March 2014.  The Member for Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives on 12 November 2013. Ms Bishop entered Parliament in 1987 and was twice a minister under Prime Minister John Howard.

The Days of Knights and Dames, published in the Herald Sun 28 March 2014.
The Member for Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives on 12 November 2013. Ms Bishop entered Parliament in 1987 and was twice a minister under Prime Minister John Howard.

How do you translate such huge issues into a simple drawing that capitulates the depth but put’s it into a simple way for the public to understand?

You’re right, a lot of people are switching off. They see parliament presented in various ways in the media and the school room chaos and then when it does get complex it goes straight over their head. I like my cartoons to be accessible and that is the great dilemma/art/skill about being a political cartoonist to sit there and to distill the days’ events and to regurgitate it as a comment on what’s happened but making it funny and interesting to look at as well.

I like to use visual metaphors and tap into popular culture and use that as a conjugate (can’t spell) to try and explain the political event of the day. I hate people not understanding my cartoons.

Are you apologetic if you find you have offended a politician?

It’s very hard to offend them these day because they don’t show the offence. That would mean the cartoonist has won, giving us that oxygen that we crave. Most of the time, we have their PA ring up telling us how much they loved the cartoons.

Big moments in politics for 2014, what have they been for you?

As far of the exhibition goes, the greats of political slogan of the year was team Australia. What the PM was hoping to conjure, that sort of “we’re all on the same team”. I saw it as a superhero thing, I think the government was trying to achieve some “Herculian” thing that hasn’t really come off. Julie Bishop with her death stare, that’s superhero stuff. I guess it’s come back to bite them. It’s very interesting to hear them say “the Howard opposition never blocked the senate” they just don’t mention the Abbott opposition?

The essentials

What: Behind the Lines 2014
Where: Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House
When: Open daily from 9am to 5pm until November 2015
Web: www.moadoph.gov.au 

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Jessica Schumann

A 'rambling ranga' at heart, Jessica Schumann is a bubbly, creative social thinker who thrives on words, social media and an innate knack for sharing stories. When she finds the time to write, Jessica seeks out the beauty in change and the essence of human condition. Varied and diverse in nature, her writing delves into the enviable world of people, travel, food and culture. When you can't find her in a nook writing, just follow your nose and you’ll soon find Jessica indulging in her other passion – cooking – or curled up on the couch with a good book in hand. You can find her over at ramblingranga.com.au. More about the Author

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