Putting the little guy in the picture
Daily deadlines provide great, albeit forced, inspiration, says the man behind the Nelson Mail's daily editorial cartoon. Anna Pearson spoke to Mike Moreu:
Mike Moreu has just finished his cartoon for the day - "David Shearer: Ghost Opposition Leader" - and tomorrow, he'll do it all over again.
He doesn't have the luxury of waiting for a Zen-like artist's state to descend before picking up his tools. Instead, he is a deadline-driven artist with an intense work rate.
“You have to learn to just let it go at the end of each day - that's it, the cartoon is gone and there's the next one to look forward to,” he says.
Moreu's job is to respond to the rampant daily news cycle, on a local, national or international level. It starts well before he picks up a pen, pencil or computer tablet for drawing. He reads newspapers, listens to the radio and occasionally checks out the television news.
“You want to read a lot, gather ideas or topics and then forget about them, toss them in the back of your mind and let the material mulch,” he says.
Moreu has usually chosen what he's going to draw by noon, after reading the Nelson Mail and assessing the hot topics of the day.
“I settle on what I want to draw and then I just disregard everything else - probably the only thing that would change that at the last minute is if like a Prime Minister died . . . or the second coming or something,” he says.
Moreu grew up in the United States, mostly in the South, and comes from an artistic household.
His foray into cartooning came while at university, where he was enrolled to study journalism.
"That was my first thing - writing, and along the way I just sort of picked it [cartooning] up. It got more serious as I got more attention, I suppose. It was a self-fulfilling thing," he says.
After drawing editorial cartoons for the University of Georgia campus newspaper, Moreu went on to work as an illustrator for Microsoft in Seattle. He moved to New Zealand in 1997, landed a part-time gig as an advertising artist at the Nelson Mail, transferred to the editorial department and eventually started cartooning for the Nelson Mail and The Press.
“It's a funny old thing, cartooning. I remember reading a quote from Charles Schulz once and he said, ‘If I was a better writer, I would have been just a writer and if I was better artist, I would have been just an artist . . . but I'm pretty good at both, so I'm a cartoonist' and I guess that's how I kind of view myself as well. It's a little bit of writing and it's a little bit of art - a good synthesis of the two," he says.
Moreu also does occasional freelance art for local web designers, has done book projects in the past and is working on a graphic novel that he will launch in the next couple of months and serialise online. His workbench occupies a wall of his tiny little living room in a historic cottage on Russell St. He combines traditional pen and ink drawing methods with computer techniques, using a Wacom Cintiq tablet with a pressure-sensitive monitor, and plans to eventually move to an all-digital workflow.
Moreu says he uses humour in his cartoons, as it's a great tool for disarming people, but only when it is appropriate. He says it allows him to slip in a serious or salient point in a way that makes people think about it long afterwards.
His cartoons are the source of many congratulatory and dissenting contributions to the Nelson Mail's letters page. He once had Michael Cullen, who was the deputy prime minister at the time, chide him in a letter to The Press.
“Any sort of acknowledgment that people are reading what you're doing is a good thing. The worst thing is not getting a reaction.
“One of the wisest pieces of advice I ever got was from a great cartoonist called Trace Hodgson, who also lives in Nelson and also contributes to the Nelson Mail on Mondays. He once said the role of the cartoonist is to stand up for the everyman - or to be the everyman - and to take the side of the little guy. I think that's pretty apt.”
- © Fairfax NZ News