Candid Cartoonists: Fiona Katauskas and the coming mediageddon

Fiona Katauskas has been a freelance cartoonist since 1997. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, New Matilda and Eureka Street as well as on greeting cards for the Ink Group and t-shirts for Mambo. She is also the author and illustrator of a children’s sex education book, “The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made”, published by ABC books in 2015. For our Candid Cartoonists series, cartoonist she talks to us about her work process and favourite election cartoon of the season.

Aside from your own work, what has been your favourite cartoon of the election so far and why?

That’s a difficult question, especially as it’s been such a long campaign. I’d have to go with David Pope’s effort from the final week — “Stability” — the Government’s house of cards with the speech bubble, “Right, no-one exhale until July 3”. Of course, I’m not explaining it well but believe me, it was a cracker.


What makes a great political cartoon?

A great cartoon is the spark made when a great image strikes the perfect wording and sheds a new light.

Tell us about your cartooning process.

I read through the papers and online news sources, jot down some of the main issues, then go for a walk. I find I need to be physically active in some way for my brain to start whirring. If I don’t make time for a walk, sometimes hanging the washing on the line (I work from home) or pacing the backyard like a madwoman does the trick.

How does editing work? How does it change what comes out?

I don’t have editors who make any changes prior to publication (well, they haven’t so far) so the editing tends to be done from my end. Sometimes I don’t have time to leave a cartoon to sit before I sent it off but ideally, I like to leave the cartoon for a few hours then look at it afresh and make any changes from there.

How do you think about your audience, and has that changed over the years?

I don’t do cartoons with my audience specifically in mind. I tend to come up with things that amuse me and then hope they amuse other people too. I work alone from home so don’t have anyone to run things by.

My audience has changed over the years, though. The newspapers I used to freelance for years ago had a much larger readership than the independent online publications I work for now. In other ways my audience has grown, as cartoons are spread and shared on social media. This social media presence has also meant that I am more connected now with my audience now than ever before and can interact with them directly.

Are there lines you won’t cross in satire?

I try to play the ball, not the man (or woman). And I don’t do fat jokes.

What are your current obsessions as a cartoonist?

Trying to pay attention to this godforsaken campaign! I’m obsessed with the fact that I’m not obsessed with it, which just makes me feel tired and even less interested in the whole palaver.

What could cartoonists be doing better?

Finding secure and decently-paid work — we could definitely be doing that better. However, given the encroaching mediageddon, that doesn’t seem likely.

What can cartoons tell us that words can’t?

It’s not so much what cartoons can tell us as the way they make us think. There’s a certain passivity to absorbing text, whereas cartoons, with their juxtaposition of images and text, force our brain to make the connection between them. It’s a different way of thinking.

What’s the future of political cartooning in Australia?

In a word: bleak. If newspapers cut daily production, as rumoured, bleaker still. Cartoonists of the future will either have evolved to be able to live entirely on exposure or will come from wealthy families who can support their cartooning habits.

Fiona Katauskas will moderate a panel News meets Comedy at the Walkley Foundation’s Storyology festival in Sydney, August 10-13, 2016.