15 Sep 23 - Resident stories

Sketching the Truth

It could be the description of a superhero: mild-mannered banker by day, satirical cartoonist by night. But for years this was the life of Summerset Rototuna resident Allan Hawkey.

Allan's sketches depicting current events have appeared in newspapers across New Zealand as well as in international magazines such as The Spectator, Private Eye and The Oldie. Allan has also produced two books of his cartoons and has illustrated several books by New Zealand authors.

“I was always doodling in the margins of my textbooks at school,” says Allan. “Art was not considered a suitable career subject then, so my only formal training was a few brief art lessons in the third form. I did find I had a certain proficiency for accountancy, and while still studying I joined the ANZ Bank at age 17 and stayed until retiring in my late fifties.”

So how did cartooning come about? “When I was a bank manager in Timaru I saw some of the editorial cartoons in the Timaru Herald and thought, ‘I could do better than that.’ I drew some up and submitted them to the editor, and it went from there. I was their editorial cartoonist for 12 years despite having moved to Oamaru. In those days I submitted cartoons in hard copy form by snail mail. An arduous process.”

Allan stopped submitting cartoons to the newspaper when he got a bank transfer to Suva in Fiji. “The logistics were awkward and looking after a team of 200 over there seemed to be enough of a focus,” says Allan. “I retired from banking in Hamilton and became the daily editorial cartoonist for the Waikato Times for ten years and also did quite a bit of illustration work in that time.”

So, did any of his bank clients know what he did outside of ANZ? “Some of them knew, and understandably not all agreed with the cartoon’s stance on various topics. Editorial cartoons by nature tend to be provocative, but I try to be even-handed and give all an equal opportunity when handing out the barbs. Perhaps I subconsciously may have reined in some of my messages, given my role as a local banker. Some political cartoons – particularly in the UK – can be quite brutal, but I tend to infuse the work with humour, provided it doesn’t dilute the message.”

Despite the walls of his home featuring his own oils and watercolours, Allan doesn’t regard himself as a skilled draughtsman, but he says that for cartooning this is not a necessary attribute. “The idea or concept is all important. Many great gag and topical cartoonists are very average at drawing, but their humour and ideas are brilliant. Indeed, dreaming up the cartoon idea is the difficult part of the process. Some days it is a hard grind while at other times the ideas just roll out. I do not have any single process and call it ‘controlled mind wandering’. It gives the right side of my brain some exercise!”

These days Allan has swapped his paper, pen and ink for a digital art software programme and graphics tablet. “I am self-taught on Corel Painter. It took me months to get my head around drawing on a plastic tablet and seeing the image on a computer screen rather than on paper. However, it’s easier now and I would never revert to the old method. With the software, alterations can be made at any time. Another plus is the saving on paper and Indian ink. It is easier to store too. I used to have scores of boxes of cartoons, now it’s all on the computer backed up in the cloud. Cartoons are now not posted by mail but created in my home office and sent by email. Instant to the other side of the world!”

Apart from submitting cartoons offshore, he occasionally draws for his village publications. He also creates his own calendars for family and friends – “they make unique Christmas gifts.”

Born in Invercargill and raised in Timaru, Allan decided to retire in Hamilton as it was his last place of work. “I enjoy life in the Summerset Rototuna village – it runs well, and the units are sunny, easy to maintain and have all the mod cons. There are lots of different personalities here and from diverse backgrounds – a great mix as we age, relax and enjoy one another’s company.”

This is an article from the Winter 2023 edition of Summerset Scene magazine

Click here to read the full issue