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This is not a knife

First published in The Guardian online, 23 June 2011
This is a riff on Rene Magritte’s famous painting The Treachery of Images. It shows a pipe. Written below it are the words “Ceci nest pas use pipe.”, French for “This is not a pipe.” This highlights the fact that, despite its realism, this is a painting of a pipe, not an actual pipe.
In the first version of this cartoon I had the two Surrealists, Magritte and Dali, making the explanation that no, it wasn’t a crack-pipe, merely a drawing of one. The joke, of course, is that the same rule applies to themselves. They too are just drawings.
I believe the premise is a very funny one but doing this cartoon taught me that a great premise does not, on its own, make a great cartoon – it has to be presented right. The earliest incarnation had the two artists happy and smug that they had pulled the wool over the cop’s eyes. But the whiff of nastiness really bugged me. I was sure I could end better than this, and ideally you want the final panel to be a strong one, not a winding down of the jokey climax in a previous panel. I then changed it to the cop being the one to point out that the pipe was actually just a drawing. Good, but what happens then? The two surrealists exclaim he is a genius? Baffled themselves? Neither of these, nor several other variants, quite worked. Finally I hit on the angle of the final version above. All Magritte has said is that it isn’t a crack-pipe. By saying this the cop has a revelation about the Treachery of Images, Dali is bowled over by Magritte’s ingenuity in getting them out of a tight spot and Magritte doesn’t have a clue what’s gone on.
It’s a good solution and the artoon is possibly my favourite. It is also is one of those few cartoons of mine that takes the meaning of an artwork and adds another layer. It took a lot of rewrites to find the right angle, and as it was one of the first artoons I ever drew, it was a good lesson to learn. Don’t settle if you are not satisfied. The only thing that ever prevents me doing this is the roaring, ravenous face of a fast approaching deadline.
In case anyone has missed the references, here is a picture of Dali’s flaccid clock, and something Dali designed to be sat on.
A little aside about cruelty in humour: 
I remember seeing an interview with John Cleese where he talked about writing A Fish Called Wanda. He said he was struck by a comment by Paul Hogan (this was the time of Crocodile Dundee) that he didn’t like Monty Python humour because it was emotionally “cold”. This really affected Cleese. It struck him to be true, that the English were, he felt, too reserved, and he made a big effort with A Fish Called Wanda to make the characters and their interactions a lot warmer.
I remember being surprised that Cleese didn’t realise that Monty Python humour was ‘cold’ (The Meaning of Life?). It’s a fairly obvious observation I guess that if characters are emotionally closed off from each other they can, and do, treat each other in a colder, crueller manner. The whole essence of Hogan’s humour was warmth between the characters. People who are real fuck-ups are still your good mates, and treat each other with equal respect. That’s a funny scenario and the humour of the situation is inextricably tied up with human warmth. It gives you a warm glow.
Anyway, perhaps because I grew up watching The Paul Hogan Show, perhaps just because there’s a difference between the Australian psyche than the English one, but I find a mocking type of humour just not quite as funny. As you grow up your tastes expand and the initial cringiness of Fawlty Towers becomes hilarious. However I still retain that initial prejudice.
Oh don’t get me wrong. Times have changed. The English are less tightly buttoned up than they were decades ago, and there are plenty of Australians who are absolute pricks. Just ask my mates.

2 thoughts on “This is not a knife

  1. Paul Hogan nailed it when, after his achievements, the Australian Tax Office tried to nail nail him to the wall 20 years later. His reply? ‘Ive paid so much tax to these bastards they should have a statue of me in the reception area’. More or less what Tony Abbott should say about Kevin Rudd. Difference being, Cleese and Hogan were a lot smarter than Abbott or Rudd.

  2. however, Hogan was Aussie Benny Hill? Nothing wrong with that. Theres a triangle – Cleese, Hogan, Benny.

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