State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 65 Autumn 2000

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The cartoonist and writer Vane Lindesay (1920-) sorting exhibits for ‘Cartoons for Amnesty’ — an exhibition shown at the Melbourne Arts Centre in August, 1989. Lindesay was President of the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Black & White Artists’ Club for eleven years.

Note on the Author

Vane Lindesay (the cartoonist ‘Vane’) once described himself as ‘a bit of a bookman’, saying: ‘I buy books, read books, collect books. I design books, have written books and I review books’. His long career in graphic design began during the Second World War when, along with illustrator (later novelist) Frank Hardy and cartoonist Ambrose Dyson, he formed the ‘art department’ of the Army Education Service journal Salt. After the war he worked as an artist on Melbourne newspapers, and for 25 years he illustrated Bill Wannan's Australian feature in the Australasian Post with his distinctive drawings. He has been a prolific book designer for over 53 years, his ‘outstanding and continuing contribution to Australian book design and production’ being recognized by the Award of Honour from the Australian Book Publishers Association; and his contribution to Australian cartooning by the Bulletin Black and White Artists Silver Award. He has had a long association with the literary journal Overland, beginning with the second number when Stephen Murray-Smith invited him to become ‘art editor’. His publications include the highly successful The Inked-In Image: A Social and Historical Survey of Australian Comic Art (1979), Australian Popular Magazines 1856–1969 (1983), and Noel Counihan Caricatures (1985). His book on Stan Cross is expected to be published next year.
A staunch supporter of the State Library over many years, Vane Lindesay is a Life Member of the Friends of the State Library.
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Stan Cross in Smith's Weekly

THE YEARS between two World Wars were truly remarkable in Australian journalism. During this period the brash Smith's Weekly newspaper was founded, and the highly successful newspaper comic strip emerged in this country.
Although experts cannot agree on the precise origins of this art form, we know that in 1865 the German caricaturist Wilhelm Busch was drawing his picture-stories featuring his trouble-making youngsters ‘Max and Moritz’ for book publication. In 1886 the Russian-born French cartoonist Emmanuel Poire, using the nom-de-plume ‘Caran d'Ache’, contributed his eight-panel (sometimes twelve) comic situations to the satirical journal Le Chat Noir.
Gradually the development and ready acceptance of the joke-story told in pictures and words became the most triumphantly popular feature of journalism everywhere it was introduced during the closing years of the nineteenth century. In England the comic strip originated in 1896 with Tom Browne's two tramps, “Weary Willie and Tired Tim’, drawn for Alfred Harmsworth's adult paper Comic Cuts. One year later in America Rudolph Dirks drew his hell-raising twins ‘The Katzenjammer Kids’ for W.R. Hearst's New York Journal. This lively communications medium was a tremendous novelty, building a readership for the various newspapers, and later for other publications, which even poached artists from rival papers, thereby being assured of poaching their readers too.
Curiously, despite the enormous circulation generated by comic strips overseas, many of which were printed full broadsheet-page in bright colours, Australian editorial management initially ignored their influence. This is not to say there were no Australian comic strips published during the opening years of the twentieth century. Sporadic exercises appeared in a few short-lived magazines such as Vumps, one issue only in 1908, and The Comic Australian, its 80-odd weekly issues published from October 1911 to June 1913. Hugh McCrae, better known as a lyric poet, contributed a surprisingly large quantity of joke drawings, front-cover cartoons and delightfully drawn comic strips to The Comic Australian. Hugh McCrae was, without question, the first comic artist in Australia to have his strip features printed in colour. Another contributor, Jim Bancks, who went on to create ‘Ginger Meggs’, which became the longest-running Australian strip in colour, had his first joke drawings published in that paper. But neither artist was the first to draw strip-humour in this country. That distinction belongs to Norman Lindsay, who in 1907 was making an original and pioneering contribution with his animal characters sequentially presented, but not in conventional boxes or panels, for the monthly Lone Hand magazine.
Meanwhile Australian newspapers were characterised by their dull, featureless grey columns of type with only headlines, and later smudgy half-tone photographs,
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“You're smoking too much, Dave; look how your hands are shaking!” [A typical tonal pen-painting drawn in 1935.]

DAD: Wot's up with the light?
DAVE: The globe's blown.
DAD: Spare me days, the flamin’ flies up ‘ere would blow anything!
[An example of Stan Cross's draughtsmanship from the mid-1930s.]

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for visual relief. This situation was to change dramatically with the founding in March 1919 of Smith's Weekly by a former Sydney Lord Mayor, Sir James Joynton Smith (1858-1943), enlisting the journalistic skills and long experience of J.F. Archibald, who had sold his interest in the Bulletin five years earlier. Editorially, Smith's, as the paper was affectionately called, was directed to, and fashioned for, the working man, and for the betterment of Australian soldiers returning to civilian life after World War I. It was primarily an illustrated broadsheet newspaper presenting whole pages smothered with joke drawings, political cartoon comment, and of course comic strips. The result was sensational.
From the start Smith's Weekly was blatantly jingoistic, and this was naturally reflected in its graphic humour, which was in turn a reflection of the moral attitudes of the time. For its entire span of 32 years the themes of Smith's Weekly humour never varied: humour about sex (not sexy humour), drinking and drunks, army humour, humour of the turf and horse racing, ‘Dad and Dave’ rural humour, and a new departure then in Australian urban humour — the theme of divorce characterised by its comic cynicism. This with the ‘dinky-di’ slang and chauvinism, added up to a fairly accurate picture of Australian life, thought and attitude between the two world wars.
During the 1930s the Smith's Weekly artists proved with their humour that Australians as a whole were adult. While negligeéd flappers discussed their latest boyfriends or husbands and drunks reeled across its pages, and all the characters through their captions or speech-balloons spoke like Australians, contemporary publications such as Melbourne Punch, Table Talk and even the Bulletin carried He-She witticisms in a false, editorial tongue, no different from those in a thousand magazines and journals all over the world. For a period of about 20 years Smith's Weekly was unique. With the wide range of comic and technical styles of its artists, and their approach to humour, it is small wonder that the Smith's Weekly school won world renown and was regarded as a sensation in London's Fleet Street.
The first draughtsman ever to work on the staff of Smith's Weekly was Stan Cross, known to a whole nation as the creator of Australia's funniest joke drawing.
Stanley George Cross, who is so strongly identified with Australian values, was not, as is commonly believed, Australian by birth. He was born of English parents on 3 December 1888 in Los Angeles. His mother, Florence Stanbrough, who encouraged Stan to paint long before he reached school age, came from Isleworth, Middlesex; his father, Theophilus Edwin Cross, a Bristol man, was an architect and builder, who after his marriage was attached to the Queensland Public Works Department. Stan's parents, described by him as ‘English-Australian long term tourists’, travelled to America in 1882 with their first son Hubert, jocularly nicknamed ‘Bunks’. Their two other sons were born, Walter in 1885 and Stanley in 1888. Walter died in infancy; Hubert became an accountant with the Western Australian Railways, but resigned his position in 1912 to join a pearl-fishing firm at Broome, Pearls International, as the company accountant. He eventually became a part-owner of the company, later travelling widely in the Orient and in Europe. At one stage he sailed a gun-running lugger to Malaya, was caught, and shot by the Dutch in 1941.
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The Cross family returned to Australia in 1893 and settled in Perth, where Theo joined the Public Works Department as a supervisor. And so the young Stan Cross grew up and was educated in Western Australia. At Perth State School he won a secondary scholarship, allowing him to enjoy three years as a boarder at what was then Perth High School, later reconstituted as the Hale School.
Much later in life Stan Cross recorded that he had no hobbies, but as a young man was very interested in gymnastics and for many years regularly attended a gymnasium. He won the school Gold Medal for this activity, and during his last year at school he played lacrosse in a reserve team as well as playing cricket in the school First Eleven. As an adult he claimed to be uninterested in playing golf, and was repelled by horse-racing.
The young Stan Cross was an excellent student, doing well at examinations — indeed, he won an Exhibition, which entitled him to a further year of study. But Stan confessed that before the results had been issued by the Department of Education, ‘I seemed to have lived a lifetime and far beyond the point of no return — to school that is.’ On the basis of these academic achievements at least one newspaper, quite wrongly, published a statement that Stan Cross was a Rhodes Scholar. That he could have been is nearer to the truth. In fact Stan, through his brother Hubert who was an officer of the West Australian Railways, had secured a job as a clerical cadet in that organisation and identified for himself a new life: at the age of 16, he said, he had ‘become a wage-earner and was starting to discharge my accrued family obligation.’ So he relinquished his Exhibition to the next highest candidate.
This period Stan found enjoyable enough, but he soon developed an urge to cultivate his slight ability to draw. His first efforts were modest but he recognised the main quality of possible success — a sustained interest, which was soon fanned into fanaticism, when he joined the Technical School art classes in Perth to discover he was among others with the same passion.
Stan was 24 years of age when he resigned from the Railway Department to study drawing for a year or so at St Martin's School of Art in London.
Before sailing for England he exhibited his paintings and pen-and-ink works twice in Perth — first with the West Australian Society of Arts at their 1913 Annual Exhibition, where, it was reported, ‘a large number of ladies and gentlemen attended the opening ceremony’, at which the Lieutenant Governor, Sir Edward Stone, officiated. Stan's second exhibition was prior to his sailing to England on the Royal Mail Steamer Osterley during the third week of March 1914, with another Perth artist, Michael McKinlay. They held a joint exhibition in Perth where the press reported it was ‘largely attended.’ The showing was again opened by Sir Edward Stone, who in his long address declared: ‘Mr Cross's cleverness and talent in pen drawing was wonderful.’
Stan and his friend Michael McKinlay were soon settled in London's Chelsea area, where they enrolled and studied at the country's finest art school. Stan made the best of his time, producing examples of his black-and-white work and calling on the editors of illustrated publications. One of these editors was Sir Owen Seaman of
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Enthusiast (explaining the ‘situation’) ‘Let this ‘ere meat axe be the Russians a comin’ on the east, the carvin’ knife's the Frenchies along ‘ere, our boys is the mustard pot, and ‘ere's the Germans — this ‘ere plate o’ tripe’. [Stan Cross had this joke published in London Punch, 30 September 1914.]

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The original “You & Me’ strip from the mid-1920s.

London Punch, who, no doubt to Stan's enormous delight, invited him to submit some drawings to that famous satirical magazine. He of course did so and in the 30 September 1914 issue a strikingly clever joke-drawing appeared signed Stanley Cross, and since it was a time of war, referred to that event.
Stan Cross was only a short time overseas. He returned to Australia, via the Cape route on the Zealandia. Back in Australia Stan settled down to freelancing full-time and by 1917 was contributing his five-column cartoons to the Perth newspaper the Sunday Times: other work of his appeared in the Western Mail. Stan's career was well underway now.
Smith's Weekly was soon into its popular stride. Smith's editors asked Stan Cross to submit examples of his work, whereupon he was instantly engaged on the staff. In his excitement at this offer he wrote in a private letter: ‘I did not even go into the minor question of salary.’ It was initially £8 per week. Later salaries reached £60 — a lot of money during the depressed 1930s.
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In 1919 Stan Cross arrived at Imperial Arcade, Pitt Street, Sydney, Smith's Weekly's first home, and set up his drawing desk and his articulated ‘dummy’ in one of the upstairs rooms occupied by the cartoonist Cecil Hartt. The two men were to become great friends.
Among his first tasks for Smith's Weekly Stan Cross was asked to originate a comic strip. This feature — called simply ‘You and Me’ — was, with development and change of title, to become the longest-running comic strip in Australian journalism. The first ‘You and Me’ strip featuring the characters of Mr Pott and his mate Whalesteeth, was followed by a second. Stan was then asked if he could keep the strip going. He drew this weekly strip for nineteen years until he left Smith's Weekly in 1939, relinquishing it to his staff colleague, Jim Russell, who continues to draw ‘The Potts’ up to this date, but for publication elsewhere.
In his long career with Smith's, and from 1940 with the Melbourne Herald, Stan Cross originated four national comic strips: ‘You and Me’ (1920-39), ‘Smith's Vaudevillians’ (1928-1939), The Winks’ (1940), and ‘Wally and the Major’ (1940-1970). A further two comic strips from his pen ran for short periods — a wartime feature titled ‘Adolf and Herman’, and ‘Dad and Dave in Snake Gully’, published in conjunction with the popular radio serial of the same title then broadcast daily during 1938.
The 1930s proved to be involving years for Stan Cross. He became a foundation shareholder in a registered company styled ‘Sydneysider Limited’. The Sydneysider was a saucy 24-page magazine published monthly between 1926 and 1932. Priced sixpence, its snippets of breezy humorous text and black-and-white joke cartoons made very light reading. Stan became a participant in its production, drawing cover and dinkus illustrations, and it would seem contributing editorial text from time to time over the nom-de-plume of ‘Econ’.
During the 1930s Stan had become a fervent disciple of the economic theories devised by the British social economist Clifford Douglas, being a set of principles known as Douglas Credit or Social Credit. Away from his drawing board Stan Cross spent the most part of his time writing his interpretations of economic theory, of supply and demand, and of the banks and capital. The Sydneysider columns echoed this philosophy.
The poet Kenneth Slessor, a one-time editor of Smith's Weekly, recalled how Stan Cross's real love was economics, mathematics and accountancy. Stan would doodle mathematical equations on the bar counter with his finger dipped in beer. Smith's Weekly staff artist Joe Jonsson, known to his colleagues as ‘the loveable Swede’, once complained at this: ‘Yes, that's all very interesting but you put your finger in your own blutty beer!’.
Les Dixon, a cartoonist on Smith's staff, recounts how George Finey was countering with his Socialist doctrine Stan's argument for Douglas Credit. Stan, listening patiently but growing less and less so as George went on and on, pulled out his pocket watch in the hope that George would take the hint. At this point George snatched the watch, threw it onto the floor and put his foot on it and continued, all the time prodding Stan on the chest: ‘And another thing Stan!’
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In just over two years Smith's Weekly reached a circulation peak of 165,648: its first edition in March 1919 had sold 35,000. With such rising success the management moved its printing operations from the basement of the Imperial Arcade to new premises specially built in Sydney's Phillip Street at the harbour end. A year or two after the move to the new address, and with the swelling art staff of Smith's Weekly, the concept of a club for Sydney cartoonists originated.
In a hired room of the Royal Arcade a small committee was elected by a representative number of cartoonists, with Cecil Hartt being voted President. The foundations then were laid for what was ultimately a quite promising body. Stan Cross, who was a foundation member, became the second President of the Society of Australian Black & White Artists, when Cecil Hartt was found dead, with a wound to the head and a shotgun beside him, on a mountain near Moruya, New South Wales, in May 1930. This tragedy, which has never been explained, was a great shock to Hartt's friends, among them Stan Cross. He served as President from 1931 to 1954 when he retired.
And so, added to his varied interests, which included studying the English language and soil conservation, Stan Cross became active as the President of the newly formed cartoonists’ club. Much of his time went to organising and presiding over the official table at the Artists’ Balls and of course directing club policy. Although the great economic depression was causing enormous and widespread suffering Smith's Weekly continued to flourish.
In one way, it is curious how little the Australian comic artist reflected on or protested during the economic depression of the 1930s. Seen another way, this lack of statement is understandable. The countless thousands of unemployed men, the police hounding of these work seekers from one place to another, the miserably fed, poorly clothed children, with the indignity of the ‘susso’ dole handout of a few shillings’ worth of groceries, are rightly no subject for mirth. Certainly the political cartoonists, each according to his editorial policy, attacked aspects of the conditions at that time. Yet, this is not to say there was no comment from graphic humorists. There was, but not in volume.
Strangely enough though, it was this period of suffering and misery that produced the funniest Australian joke drawing of all time. The historian and author Russel Ward, writing in the literary journal Overland, has said of this joke drawing: ‘We might safely leave out the word Australian — has anyone heard tell of a serious competitor in London Punch or the New Yorker?
In the 29 July 1933 issue of Smith's Weekly Stan Cross had drawn two men who had been working on top of a building construction. But there has been a mishap, for now one is hanging by his fingers from a girder at a frightening height over a street. His mate, to save himself, has firmly grabbed the trousers of the other, yanking them down over his ankles, and looking directly upwards is convulsed with laughter, while the other implores: ‘For gorsake, stop laughing: this is serious!’
When he drew this widely-known joke cartoon, Stan Cross was exploiting that element basic in humour, for traditionally humour is based on an assault on dignity.
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“For gorsake, stop laughing: this is serious!” [First published 29 July, 1933.]

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In the Stilly Night [One of a series by Stan Cross featuring ‘Dad Hayseed’.]

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And there is no situation more undignified than to be caught with your pants down. Yet appropriately, this joke caption had obvious overtones, with a superbly ironical, almost sarcastic statement for the times. Such was the popularity of the cartoon that it was reprinted on a quality paper and distributed throughout Australia and beyond, many being sent overseas. All through the Depression years, and after, these prints costing two shillings and sixpence were framed and hung on walls in work-places, hotel bars, barbers’ shops, even in some shop windows.
Another contemporary staff-artist with Stan was Virgil Reilly, who in 1945 sighted this print on the wall of the Japanese commander at Wewak, New Guinea. There was an arrow pointing to the trouser braces with added Japanese characters and the ‘For gorsake’ caption scribbled over with Japanese characters. Translated, the wording near the arrow and braces was ‘Made in Japan’ and the new caption read: ‘Japanese braces much better than British braces.’
During 1970 attempts were made from Melbourne on a national scale to locate the original Stan Cross ‘For gorsake’ drawing. Appeals for its whereabouts were published in the ‘Letters’ columns of interstate newspapers; George Blaikie, who had by now published his history, Remember Smith's Weekly, and cartoonist Mollie Horseman, both one-time Smith's Weekly staff members were keen investigators, but with no result. After all the time, interest, and searching, Australia's funniest and most famous joke drawing must be supposed lost or destroyed.
Stan Cross drew his regular ‘You and Me’ and ‘Smith's Vaudevillans’ strip features, together with rural-theme humour depicting the mythical farm characters Dad and Dave, and of course Mabel. He also portrayed in his joke drawings the rouseabout Aborigine humorously tangled up with the complex English language. In these times of ‘political correctness’ it becomes only too easy to accuse Stan Cross of racism because of his depiction of the Australian Aborigine. But most of his ‘Jacky’ cartoons declare their subject as shrewd, although people essentially confounded by the white way of things. Stan Cross never depicted an Aborigine as being belligerently drunk, or a thief, or begging or in any anti-social situation. In the mood and culture of the day his Aborigine cartoons were acceptable, as were those joke cartoons of white rural characters caricatured as intellectually slack-jawed and vacant of eye. Stan Cross portrayed the Aborigine as belonging in the Australian scheme of things — cartoonists today dare not.
It was small wonder that Stan's cartoonist contemporaries looked up to him, and that his draughtsmanship was greatly admired. Certainly he reached his peak during the nine years from 1930.
The talent of his fellow-brushes on Smith's Weekly was of a quality that also claimed the admiration of Fleet Street. Of the ‘old school’ working with Stan Cross were Cecil Hartt, George Finey, Syd Miller, George Donaldson, Jim Russell, Joan Morrison, Mollie Horseman, Frank Dunne, Joe Jonsson and Virgil Reilly. And competitively working on the then red-covered Bulletin were the brilliant Percy Leason, Unk White, David Souter and Ted Scorfield among others. Bill ‘Wep’ Pidgeon
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of the Australian Women's Weekly has to be included among those with a celebrated public image. Stan Cross ranked high in this company and earned their veneration.
One of the fortunate creators to enjoy recognition and fame in his lifetime, a circumstance not always rewarding the deserving until after death, Stan Cross has also won a degree of immortality, being fondly remembered for his ‘Wally and the Major’ comic strip, and for his celebrated joke drawing: ‘For gorsake, stop laughing this is serious’. He died in Armidale, New South Wales, and his grave in that city's cemetery bears the somewhat primly edited inscription:
STANLEY GEORGE CROSS
DIED 16th June 1977 AGE 87 YEARS
A cartoonist and member of the famed Smith's Weekly from the first issue in 1919 to 1939
His most famous cartoon Stop laughing. This is serious
[All the illustrations to this article, which are from Smith's Weekly unless otherwise stated, are in the possession of the author and are reproduced by permission of the Stan Cross Estate.]
Vane Lindesay

Vane Lindesay (1920-), ‘Jack Doolan Wazis Name’, Pen, ink, wash, pencil, 26.0 × 20.8 cm. Published in Australasian Post, 5 May 1983. p. 55. H89.113/1, La Trobe Picture Collection.