Candid Cartoonists: Jeff Hook on P.C.-ness and his other current obsessions

Geoff Hook OAM, better known as “Jeff” Hook, is an Australian artist who was an editorial cartoonist for The Sun News Pictorial and The Herald Sun and Sunday Herald Sun for 38 years. He is widely known for his realist drawing style and the inclusion of his signature hook in his cartoons. Over the course of his career, Geoff has won national and international awards for his work, which has appeared in papers, magazines, and 46 books. He was further recognised for his service to the print media as “a political and social commentator, and as a cartoonist” when he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2012. A collection of his work can be seen at www.geoffhook.com. In our new Candid Cartoonists series, we ask canned questions, and he coughs up his work process and favourite election cartoon of the season.

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

Geoff Hook: Bill Leak’s cartoon ‘Bill Shorten’s anti-business?!’ is one of many of Bill’s that has summed up an issue in the election.

Border security and people-smuggling as a business are succinctly encapsulated in the drawing with the caption embedded as essential comment to complete the idea to make a funny and beautifully balanced whole for the viewer.

Jeff Hook's recent favorite. Courtesy of Bill Leak.

Jeff Hook’s recent favorite. Courtesy of Bill Leak.

What makes a great political cartoon?

First it must be funny; straight to the point, with or without caption.

Tell us about your cartooning process.

The news of the day is the first consideration. I choose a topic with which I believe the public will be familiar. I always sketch a rough in pencil, then complete the caricatures and finished drawing.

Sometimes the caption will come first but at other times the drawing is in my mind first.

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

Editing of the caption eliminates unnecessary words. Editing of the drawing will require leaving out distracting features — or sometimes adding another “punch” to the drawing.

I use a realist style so accuracy of drawing is essential., e.g. a yacht drifting at odds with the tide is not to be tolerated.

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

Not all of one’s audience may be familiar with the subject. I attempt to spell out my intentions clearly in the drawing. I’ve always appreciated and have experienced their right of reply.

Are there lines you won’t cross in satire?

I will only go as far as I think fair in questions of morality, and physical disabilities. I guess I self-censor so that the cartoon doesn’t bully or cause unnecessary offence. Doesn’t always work, as I’ve been made aware.

What are your current obsessions as a cartoonist?

Humour and fine drawing. Politics and my abhorrence of political correctness. I hate how it’s creeping into our lives in so many ways. Topics of climate change, same-sex marriage, and what I think is a fair go.

Jeff Hook CFA cartoon politics

What could cartoonists be doing better?

Cartoonists have given their all. Think “Charlie Hebdo”, and the struggles of cartoonists in many countries to even maintain their freedom. The cartoonists I’m in touch with are like me. We always feel we will do better the next time. The nature of the profession is that we are always struggling to be that bit more effective.

What can cartoons tell us that words can’t?

A cliche — but the impact of a cartoon is “worth a thousand words”. The message of an effective cartoon can be taken in at a glance, so the impact is immediate.

What’s the future of political cartooning in Australia?

The decline of print media is a threat to the future for political cartoons. It’s particularly difficult for the young cartoonists to gain experience and to work in the industry.

However, technology has opened up opportunities and a wider audience than we’ve ever had. As I know from the running of my own website. We reach countries I’ve scarcely heard of and have an unlimited audience.

Free speech is essential. Our younger cartoonists are already having a go in media and digital.

I have high hopes.

This series is coordinated by Eliza Berlage, Walkleys program assistant. See more of Geoff Hook’s work at geoffhook.com.