No accounting for this cartoonist


By Lenore Tardif

Readers who tear apart each new issue of Green Left until they find Chris Kelly's latest jibe at the political world may wonder how this lad from the "sad industrial town of Burnie" became a socially responsible cartoonist.

Because he and his dad worked for APPM? Because his mum taught in a Catholic school? Or because he abandoned a promising career in accounting to travel the world (including China)? Or does this strange career twist stem from the frustrations of squeezing university students into the residential back blocks around Tassie Uni?

To hear Chris tell it, it all began rather improbably in late 1983, in Greece. "I was with a Dutch girl rolling around drunk on a footpath." Although it seems unlikely, "She asked, 'What does a possum look like?' and I drew her one. The next morning I still liked the drawing and I turned it into a travel story for my niece back in Tasmania. I began drawing stories from then on."

This was not yet total cartooning success. "I sent some of my first efforts to my parents, who threw them in the fire because they thought I was on drugs."

But Chris was more intoxicated by what he saw and felt as he travelled through different political regimes, experienced poverty and oppression in Third World countries and tiptoed around the nuclear reactors scattered across Europe. His cartoons became political, a way of expressing what he was feeling.

"A lot of cartoonists just make jokes", he says. "I can make jokes, but if it doesn't have a point to make, you're just trivialising the issue.

"A cartoon won't change the world, and you're a dickhead if you think it will, but it helps get the point across to people whose political consciousness may just be developing.

"Bruce Petty once spoke about doing a really good cartoon and waking up the next morning and finding the government was still in power!"

Chris lists three reasons for cartooning. One is that he likes it. The second is that he's "a bit of a shit stirrer". But "the prime motivation is trying to express a point of view well to a wide audience. If you've got something to say, then you may as well say it as strongly as possible. Otherwise you may as well go and say it to yourself in the toilet."

And with something to say, he finds Green Left "an outlet for expressing my ideas. I identify with their general philosophies and it seems they identify with mine. They allow creative freedom. GLW contributors seem able and willing to express themselves with a r ranges of passions than in probably any other in Australia paper. Most other papers are boring by comparison."

His cartoons for Green Left are also a product of his concern about the concentration of media ownership in Australia — who could forget his hilarious drawings of Kerry Packer devouring newspapers?

Chris Kelly's fourth book of cartoons will be released in September.

Titled Is That A Banana Republic Or Are You Just Displeased To See Me?, it includes many of the cartoons from his "Once Upon A Time" and "The Banana Republic" series that have been featured in Green Left Weekly. The price is only $12.50, and the title alone is worth that much.

To secure your copy, send cheque or money order for $12.50, plus $2 for postage and packaging, to: Gossip Press, GPO Box 1653, Hobart 7001.