Morrison was an accomplished mid-20th century cartoonist and book illustrator. Her cartoons, published in Man and Smith's Weekly, were populated by sassy glamour girls that came to be known as 'The Morrison Girl' and during WW2 they were a popular pin-up among the troops. In 1929 she and Mollie Horseman were the first female cartoonists to be appointed to the permanent staff of Smith's.
cartoonist, was born in Wrotham, Kent, England (with a Danish grandmother). The family moved to Tasmania when she was three. She had juvenilia published in local newspapers, notably the Tasmanian Mail , to which she is said to have contributed an annual decorative panel for years after leaving Tasmania. The Triad published a piece by her in its Children’s Page before she moved to Sydney to study art under Rayner Hoff at East Sydney Technical College [ESTC], specialising in sculpture. 'The Revival of Sculpture’ in Art in Australia (March 1927) mentioned that Morrison’s scultpures – along with works by Vic Cowdroy , Mavis Mallison, Mollie Rohr and Coral White – 'had a fresh and original outlook which invested it with considerable interest’, although Eileen McGrath was the star.
At ESTC the 15-year old Morrison met Norman Lindsay , who encouraged her to illustrate her first book. Her illustrations to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales were published in the Triad in April 1927 (then being edited by Norman’s great friend, Hugh McCrae). A serial, 'Little Bo’ by Madeleine Honey illustrated by Morrison, began in Australian Childhood on 20 June 1930. By 1930 she was also doing humorous drawings for the Sporting and Dramatic Magazine and illustrations for the Sydney Mail . She also contributed to Smith’s Weekly . Her (first?) cartoon, published on 5 January 1929, 12, was typical of the direction her work was to take: She: “Your face seems familiar. Haven’t we met before?”/ He: “Rather! I was the second co-respondent in your first divorce case” . With Mollie Horseman , she was appointed to the permanent staff of Smith’s later that year.
Morrison drew a few joint 'Smith’s Sisters’ strips with Horseman, e.g. showing them together (i) shopping and (ii) refusing to do a strip for the editor. Her own cartoons for the paper came in two different styles, comic dolls (like Mollie’s English style) and more US-inspired glamour girls. Sometimes the two are mixed, as in an early example with a stereotypical caricature of a hen-pecked husband on the beach clutching a giant fish toy beside a glamorous young wife (published 3 February 1934). The glamour style that became her trademark was evident a couple of months later in a rear view drawing of a glamorous beach couple, with him saying, “What would you do if you had a face like Mabel’s?” and her replying, “I’d start saving up for my old age” (14 April 1934).
Other Smith’s Weekly cartoons by Morrison include: TEACHER: Why has Australia a wonderful future before her?/ JOHNNY: Because Bradman’s still young” published 20 May 1934; (rear of woman in backless dress looking into mirror beside husband dressing) WIFE: “I have to have decent clothes.”/ HUSBAND: “What, are the police complaining?” 26 May 1934; SHE: “How do you account for your success as a futurist painter?”/ HE: “I always use a model with St. Vitus’s dance” 2 June 1934, 2; (three women in boudoir) BETTY: “There was something about the party I don’t understand.” / MOLLY: “What was that?”/ BETTY: “How I got home from it “ 16 June 1934; (two cheerful fat, working class women on husband being cremated in order to ensure that at least his ashes will do some work – in an hour glass) 30 June 1934; (glamour girl in charge of exercising four fat females) She Knew a Fat Lot 7 July 1934; (very Virgil-like glamour girl on couch) Some Body 11 August 1934; (comic English) AUNT: “What sort of sports do you go in for?”/ FLAPPER: “The ones who give you a good time” 25 August 1934; YOUNG WIFE: “I used to cook for an hotel before you married me.”/ HUSBAND: “I suppose the bar trade pulled them through” 15 September 1934; (beach) Girls of the wide, open spaces 29 September 1934; LODGER: “Ah, Mrs. Mangle, half the world is ignorant of how the other half lives.”/ LANDLADY: “Not in this boarding 'ouse, miss!” 15 December 1934; one-page spread 16 April 1938, 3; (old comic woman and glamour gal) “She doesn’t seem to take marriage seriously.”/ “Well, it’s only her second wedding” 18 August 1934; (two showgirls) “I can’t decide to accept this year’s contract or get married.”/ “Well, which do you think would last the longest?” 25 August 1934; [strip cartoon of woman doing exercises] 6 January 1940; [ Chorus Girl 1 ] “I had chapped lips all last winter.”/ [ Chorus Girl 2 ]: “Who was the chap?” 1941. Her original cartoon “All men are the same to me.”/ “It’s a wonder your husband stands it” was donated to ML (PXD 840) in 1999 by the wife of a former Smith’s Weekly reporter along with 20+ works by other artists and a copy of the final issue (28 October 1950) signed by all the cartoonists.
In the 1930s Morrison briefly drew theatrical caricatures in Smith’s , e.g. Highspots from the Shows , published 3 March 1934, 16. Along with other Smith’s artists, she illustrated Ken Slessor’s later verses after Virgil ceased drawing his girls to accompany them. A selection collected by Julian Croft containing a couple of Morrison girls was belatedly published in book form as Backless Betty from Bondi (Sydney, A&R, 1983). Morrison trod a fine line between pandering to her audience’s prejudices and sending them up. The results are certainly of their time, yet her best cartoons survive despite radical changes of attitude towards her subject matter over the years.
Her work was rarely treated seriously, either at the time or retrospectively, mostly because she drew cartoons, but also because she was a woman whose glamour-girl subjects were identified with her. Pretty, 'with a rounded figure and fluffy dark hair, readers were convinced she was her own model and she received a large fan mail’, Blaikie remarks. When Morrison, a member of the Black and White Artists’ Club, was reported at the 1937 Black and White Artists’ Ball, it was as wearing 'a frock of baby blue georgette… among her guests were Miss Olive Cleveson wearing gold lame, Miss Sybil Winter in violet taffeta, and Pixie O’Harris [q.v.] wore black velvet and a shoulder spray of clover-pink carnations’. Quoted by Vane Lindesay in his 1994 history of the Club (p.21), this is his sole mention of Morrison apart from a brief biography in the footnote appended to the quote. In fact, Morrison was an active member of the Black and White Artists’ Association and was (gently) caricatured by Kirwin Maegraith in the Sydney Mail (11 August 1937, p.32) among Some Sydney Artists responsible for organising the 1937 Artists’ Ball – the only woman among 25 men.
The 1940 Smith’s Weekly Christmas holiday number featuring Morrison cartoons (28 December 1940), was reportedly censored. On page 1, the artist was reported to be in the West Indies:
The gifted young artist – herself as pretty as a picture – took her sketch book with her. She will draw and air-mail to “Smith’s” her studies of American and West Indian feminine types. These alluring girls will appear in “Smith’s” at an early date.
Shortly before she left on her flying holiday Miss Morrison received Mr. Neville Cardus in her studio at “Smith’s”, and gave him tea. In the opinion of Mr. Cardus, who is a connoisseur in art, Miss Morrison ranks high with the black-and-white artists of the world. “She has depicted the Australian girl in all her grace as no other artist has succeeded in doing,” he said.
Blaikie comments that she continued to draw her 'dainty damosels’ at Smith’s until Virgil Reilly tired of drawing 'The Virgil Girl’ and 'The Morrison Girl’ was born. During World War II 'Morrison Girls’ were favourite pin-ups with the troops. Their primary appeal was certainly as objects of male desire, but Morrison Girls were nevertheless independent beings: powerful, funny, amoral, greedy and in control of most situations.
Morrison married a sea-going captain, Paddy Wilkinson. From the early 1940s, she drew cartoons for Man , e.g. undated wartime Man Annual (evidently 1944) with two full-page cartoons in crude colour. A red and yellow “What the heck are you looking at, stupid?” shows a brunette displaying a lot of leg at a bus stop with a man looking at her hat. The other depicts a fisherman saying to a glamorous brunette coming up from the water at the end of his boat, “I must be mad, but go away, you’re scaring the fish”.
Other Man cartoons include (old gent in tropical paradise surrounded by gorgeous women) “They won’t let me go. At nights I lie awake… it fills my thoughts… it’s becoming an obsession… supposing they change their minds?” February 1949, 24-25; night-club scene with female photographer snapping glamour girl and hidden sugar daddy, cover of issue for June 1951 (used in Heritage ); full-page colour cartoon of smooching blonde and indiscreet parrot, September 1952 (still ed. Greenop and same art staff). Man Annual 1952 contains five full page colour cartoons: (1)”...watch it fetch”; (2-3) “Why, I’ve practised self-control for years. Mind you, I’ve never been any good at it…” (repeated about 20 pages further on); (4) [old man with blonde on knee in solicitor’s office] “...and being in full possession of my faculties hereby bequeath”; (5) [male reporter to beauty contest winner] “To what do you attribute your success?”
Morrison also painted murals, including several at Gordon East Public School on topics like Enid Blyton’s Magic Far-a-way Tree . All are now painted over, although her mural of Christ with the children of the world reputedly survives in the old hall of St John’s Church of England, Gordon. She married and had at least one son, David Wilkinson, a professor of Environmental Engineering at UNSW later in New Zealand (Christchurch?). She continued to work as a freelance illustrator throughout the 1950s but was then was forced to retire through illness. Her last known work was to illustrate Ronald McCuaig and Isla Stuart’s You Can Draw a Kangaroo/The Poems Tell You What to Do , published by the Australian News and Information Bureau in the early 1960s and reprinted as a supplement to the Australian Woman’s Weekly on 30 December 1964. This charming booklet for children was recently reprinted and has sold well at the Museum of Sydney Booksho
A self-portrait simply captioned 'Morrison, Joan’, shows her holding a drawing of a man with a gun, Smith’s Weekly 15 April 1933, 3, plus joke biography evidently by Kenneth Slessor, which includes: 'Is dangerous when roused; killed her first editor, 1927’. Another caricature is included in a line-up by Frank Dunne , 'Seeing’s Believing – “Smith’s” Artists On Parade’ (30 July 1932, 7) with the description:
First there’s JOANMORRISON. She wears three-quarter skirts without any visible reason. Apart from that, she has a proper sense of man’s ugliness (she’s only seventeen) and of woman’s dependence upon foundation garments. Above all, she’s a First Impressionist, though she’s open to argument.