cartoonist, was born in Noumea, New Caledonia, on 10 August 1901, son of a French baker. He spent some of his boyhood in Sydney and briefly attended Darlinghurst Public School. Aged eighteen, he came back to Sydney and took a clerical position doing translations in order to study art at Julian Ashton’s Sydney Art School at night (1919-20). He returned to Noumea to serve with the French Colonial Army then came back to Australia permanently. His first cartoon was published in 1923 – in Smith’s Weekly acc. 1965 Yearbook, elsewhere Aussie . [Macqueen says: 'Mercier sold his first cartoon to Smith’s Weekly in February 1923, using the tired formula in which a householder asks: “What are you doing there?” to which the burglar in front of an open safe replies: “Struth, yer not blind are yer?” After that triumph, Mercier sold nothing for six months, surviving on odd translating jobs. He freelanced for much of the next twenty-five years.’] From then on Mercier drew full time, more or less freelance until 1945 (acc. 1965 Year book) though apparently briefly employed by Sir Keith Murdoch at the Melbourne Herald office in the 1920s – presumably for Melbourne Punch – where he reputedly horrified his employer by drawing dirty dust-bins in back alleys. Typically, Murdoch’s reaction led to Mercier making them a speciality.
Although a prolific cartoonist, Mercier was unable to make a living from his work for many years. While employed in a variety of casual jobs in the 1920s, he contributed drawings to Mustard Pot , e.g. illustrations of scantily clad females, and to Beckett’s Budget , e.g. EXHIBITOR: [re bunch of flappers at an exhibition] “Ah! I see that at least one of my pictures attracts attention.”/ FRIEND: “That’s not a picture, Aristol, that’s a looking-glass” (2 August 1927, 19). He had cartoons in the Bulletin and contributed to Man in its palmy early days (late 1930s). His glamour girls were never much good, but his depictions of the unexpected, often maniacal, activities by tiny bearded old men, often mad scientists, and large fat old ladies were good-natured and utterly distinctive, e.g. “Amskra!” [old lady to boys stealing fruit as a policeman approaches in the distance], Man June 1937, 96.
With the profits of the 1927 Black and White Artists’ Ball and the Club’s American Fleet Souvenir book (see Harry Weston ), the Black and White Artists’ Club purchased an etching press and offered classes conducted by Henry Fullwood . On this press Mercier subsequently produced several small editions of fine plates on satirical subjects – with admirable skill and delicacy, acc. Lindesay 1994, 10, who reproduces a dull etching of three mice attracted to a cheese trap (p.11).
Mercier joined Smith’s Weekly as a staff artist c.1937 (c.1940 acc. to Blaikie, 93, who tells the story of a raised cat’s tail that offended Claude McKay). He was one of the artists who illustrated Lennie Lower’s comic writings in Smith’s . Vane Lindesay owns his header for Lower’s 'Detour of Art!’ column (in S.H. Ervin exhibition and Joan Kerr book, 1999). Cartoons for Smith’s include: (arguing couple) “All right! All right! Don’t let’s have a row in the street, let’s go home!” 1 May 1937 (sic), 20, and the undated “Look, Jim can you do this?” (ML PXD 840, donated in 1999 by the wife of a former reporter).
He was political cartoonist for the Sydney Daily Mirror and Truth during WWII (from 1940). He created several comic strips for the latter, including 'News Splashes’ and 'Week Spots’. He drew 'Pen Pushers’ for the ABC Weekly in 1941. From 1949 (1945 according to 1965 Year Book) until his retirement in 1971 (1968 acc. Shiell & Unger) Mercier had daily cartoons in the Sun and Sun-Herald , e.g. [trumpet player to other members of orchestra] “Rest assured there will be many orchestral concerts in the new Opera House. After all, it’s not being built merely for a song, you know”, Sun 1964 (reproduced Grollier Year Book, 1965). ML has the original 1964 cartoon (PXD 764).
“Gravy speciality!” The peak of his career was the 1950s in the Sun , according to McQueen.
Many of Mercier’s cartoons reappeared in anthologies published annually by Frank Johnson in the 1940s, e.g. Supa Dupa Man , Wocko the Beaut (originals ML Px*D69 vol.2) and Krazy Kracks – 'The funniest collection of drawings and humour ever crammed into one book’, according to the publisher’s ad. in Lock (1941). Humphrey McQueen says he collaborated with his first wife, Flora, on a couple of kids’ alphabet books for Frank Johnson Publications c.1941 as well as doing other children’s books (see Muir). Angus & Robertson took over publication of the cartoon anthologies, resulting in Wake Me Up At Nine! (1950), Sauce or Mustard? (1951), Gravy Pie (1953), Hang On Please! (1954), My Ears are Killing Me (1955), I’m Waiting for an Earthquake! (1956), Follow that wardrobe! (1957), My Wife’s Swallowed a Bishop (1958), Is My Slip Showing? (1959), Hold It! (1960) and Don’t Shove! (1961).
Mercier contributed to the annual 'Salon Internationale de la Caricature’ at the Pavilion of Humour inMontreal,Canada, until his death in 1981. His favourite hobby was collecting native plants [acc. 1965 Year Book] and he was an avid North Sydney Bears Rugby League supporter. He died on 17 March 1981, survived by his second wife, Pat, the two sons from his first marriage and three step sons from his second marriage.
Original images include: Mercier originals in Frank Johnson papers: Two women at a 'sale of masterpieces’ – Hals’s Laughing Cavalier , Ingres’ La Source , a Claude landscape, a Crome windmill, a Gainsborough lady in profile with black hat and, in upper left corner, the edge of a painting labelled 'Unk’ (i.e. his fellow cartoonist 'Unk’ White ) – with one woman saying: '“Mere imitations some of them, my dear. Why, my grocer has a calendar with the identical picture of one here.”’ undated (ML Px*D68/387); Artist kissing man offering him a £50 note – '“Three hundred quid for my painting, ah, you’re a man after my own art!”’ – annotated as having been published in the Daily Telegraph on 11 April 1938 (ML Px*D68/405). Other originals in the Frank Johnson Papers include “Look Bert, I caught a Jewfish” n.d. (two fishermen with fish with nose and black hat) annotated verso 'It’s a Beaut’ (ML Px*D69/no.1110). There are lots of Mercier original cartoons with wartime joke subjects in vol.10 of the Johnson Papers (ML Px*D68) plus cards and notes by and from Mercier et al. ( Broadley , Cook , Jessup , Lock , Weston, Unk White).