Have you ever tried to talk to children about current affairs, politics or history? How did it go? 

Presenting these subjects in easily accessible chunks is quite difficult, and a challenge professional cartoonists know very well. How do they condense a complex idea or event down into one simple drawing?

The 'book nook' of Inked Play

Cartoons are sometimes referred to as one of the most accessible art forms – making them an ideal entrance for children to the world of art, galleries and museums–especially as they are often (or at least aspire to be) funny. Even the term ‘cartoons’ drums up images of Saturday mornings in front of the TV, bright colours and silly characters. But, they can also be mediums for more serious or imaginative thinking about concepts, events and ourselves—something that is explored in the Inked: Australia Cartoons exhibition. 

Professional cartoonists have sometimes turned to fairy tales, folk songs and other cultural touchstones to express ideas. By slightly changing a familiar tale, an artist can subvert the viewer’s expectations to explore something that is going on in the world. 

Judy Horacek, 2001, The unjolly swagman, www.nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148725554 

One of my favourite cartoons in the Inked: Australian Cartoons exhibition is a good example of this. In the cartoon ‘The unjolly swagman’, artist Judy Horacek used both the story of Waltzing Matilda and popular children’s book ‘Where is the Green Sheep,’ which she also illustratedIn it, she explores what it must be like to be the Jolly Swagman from Banjo Paterson’s poem ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

People often talk about ‘Waltzing Matilda’ being an important part of Australian culture, or part of our ‘national identity’. Horacek seems to be suggesting that even the old swaggie gets down from time to time, which might disappoint those who place lots of expectations on him to be our national identity. Many other cartoonists have used children’s stories, such as the Gumnut Babies or Little Red Riding Hood, to reflect on the current state of Australia and the world. These cartoons, and others, are on display in Inked Play, a children’s space within Inked: Australian Cartoons.

Curated specifically for families and children, Inked Play explores the world of cartoons, ideas, history and politics in accessible and activity based ways. From looking, finding, drawing and reading, Inked Play has a range of experiences to engage children in the wonderful world of cartoons. Come and see the famous Gumnut Babies going off to war. Create your own cartoon or draw a protest sign to hang on our display wall. Get stuck into a book. Find all the hidden Inkie the Echidnas in our huge wall art display and explore whether the world is doomed or domed.

Inkie the Echidna drawn by cartoonist David Pope

Inked Play will be open daily in the Exhibition Gallery, 10am-5pm as part of Inked: Australian Cartoons until 21 July. You can find it by following Inkie the Echidna.