One of New Zealand’s greatest cartoonists, the Dominion’s Tom Scott has finally pulled stumps.
I’ve known Tom for nigh on half a century since he first popped up as a very funny political columnist in the Listener. To the magazine’s good fortune, when Tom switched to cartooning, they were lucky to snare Jane Evans whose humour and insights rank her among the best of our political commentators.
Tom’s cartoons were treasured, reflected by their frequent re-publication in book form. In my public days I was occasionally his subject/victim.
He was specially good at portraying earnest wet types such as zealots, protestors, parsons and the like, always with ostrich-like necks and chinless. Some stick in my memory such as following the 1981 election and the shock success of Peter Dunne’s party of non-descripts.
On Monday following the election Tom portrayed a bewildered looking Dunne sitting on a stool facing a quiz-master holding a clipboard saying, “You have 20 seconds to answer. Name your MPs.”
He copped his share of complaints, specially from religious nutters when for example he portrayed skinny vicars clad only in baggy underpants strapped to a wall and being lashed by a dominatrix but mostly his targets took it in good humour.
His criticisms could be severe but only once did I feel he lapsed into cruelty, this a very unkind portrayal of Jonathan Hunt.
Producing a daily cartoon is an onerous task. Often when part of an all-afternoon, mostly liquid lunch group I’d see Tom become anguished late in the day, moaning that he had to knock up a cartoon for the morning paper and that his mind was blank. But somehow he always managed.
He disliked people making suggestions for as he said, if they were good ideas, he’d feel possibly he might have thought them up. Still, two I hit him with were too good to ignore and he produced them, writing a scrawly credit to me down the side with the first but, I insisted, it wasn’t necessary so not the second.
The first showed the Pope addressing a group of priests saying, “Let us Prey”.
The second in the first frame had an Islamic terrorist, eyes bright with anticipation at the promise of 60 virgins. The next frame showed a massive explosion and the last and largest, the horrified terrorist in Paradise as the promised 60 virgins descend eagerly on him, all elderly Catholic nuns.
Eventually the daily obligation became too tough, principally because Tom engaged in so many other creative projects including writing books, making films, television script-writing and play-writing. Had he been an actor, given his eclectic curiosity, you can be sure by now he’d have had a crack at the whole spectrum of performing arts, including a stint in a tutu with the New Zealand Ballet, in the chorus with the Opera company and tightrope walking in a circus.
A few years ago he cut back to a still burdensome 5 daily cartoons, this allowing the Dom to blood a trial replacement. Unfortunately the replacement simply wasn’t funny, thus delaying Tom’s sought after departure. Despite that, more recently he retreated still further days and now is gone permanently. A new fellow who illustrates boldly but tends towards comment without humour has the role and hopefully will crack it.
Tom’s enormous creativity, as with all such types, stems from a heightened sense of curiosity. Once while staying with me in Sydney and out walking, we came across a lunatic standing motionless, his nose pressed against a high stone wall. We proceeded on for 20 minutes but it was too much for Tom, bursting with curiosity. So we returned and fortunately found the wall now vacant, lunatic-wise. There we stood for 10 minutes with our noses pressed against it. It was actually quite interesting, notably the amount of insect life in the crevices one would otherwise be oblivious to. I used that experience in my novel “OGG” a few years later.
Now Tom’s engrossed in writing a biography of a VC winner. No surprise there as he’s always had a boyish fascination with heroic types, thus for example, his movie on Ed Hillary. So too when I introduced him to Joe Bugner in Sydney. Joe was a terrific heavyweight who twice gave Mohammad Ali plenty of trouble. The two of them clicked instantly, not the least because Joe was a great wit and for some months thereafter they planned to do something creative together, exactly what I’ve now forgotten.
Tom’s cartoons will be sadly missed, his departure marking yet another step in the relentless decline of newspapers under the electronic assault.
One thing’s certain. He’ll die in the saddle producing films, plays, books and God knows what else. Let’s hope before that day comes he does have a crack at the ballet. Tom as one of a line of pink tutued ballerinas would be a huge crowd-puller.