Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cartooning history: some thoughts on Margaret Mahy’s Awesome Aotearoa

I leafed through Margaret Mahy’s new children’s history of New Zealand last night. Given that she was banned from Christian radio, that I’m currently doing research on the cartoon genre and also lecture a course on Being Kiwi, being Christian, I was interested. Here are some random thoughts

– I liked the concept – New Zealand history for kids.

– I liked the way that space was given to tell of the Maori and French beginnings.

– I thought the missionaries got off lightly, noted for their role in Maori language learning, nor directly tagged with the supply of muskets to Maori.

– I was surprised in a book put out by a commercial press, to find grammatical errors, for example full stop instead of comma on page 18.

– I am not convinced of the mixing of cartoons and history. Cartoons often work by highlighting a particularity. What does this distortion do in a book titled “history”? So for example, the cartoon on page 39 referenced Samuel Marsden as the flogging parson. He was, but given that he exercised most of his ministry in Sydney, is this particular detail worth half of one page of a 125 page book about New Zealand history?

– And if it’s a book titled “history,” do things have to be true? So the cartoon on page 44, referencing the Treaty of Waitangi, has an army officer saying “Just how small can you make the small print Williams?” It’s sort of funny, but in a kids book, will kids get the joke? Or are they meant to laugh at all the cartoons, and so the cartoons are simply eye-candy, and not “history.” If so, that seems to me to be a trivialising of the genre of cartoons.

Posted by steve at 08:25 PM

1 Comment

  1. Steve, what I like about the cartoons in this book is that often they will subvert the narrative and remind us that there is more to the story. There are layers of narrative, other perspectives and vantage points,layers of history and thus also layers of meaning and significance.

    Comment by Paul Fromont — May 13, 2009 @ 6:02 pm

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