Influential mid 20th century political cartoonist. Tanner worked as a cartoonist for the Melbourne Age for 30 years as well as contributing to a number of other publications. The controversial 1967 Bulletin issue which attacked the Victorian Government's decision to hang criminal Ronald Ryan, and which featured a cartoon by Tanner, was pulped on the orders of Sir Frank Packer.
cartoonist, was born in Redfern, Sydney, on 15 June 1927. He was drawing caricatures of his family and visitors from the age of five. He attended Glebe Primary School and North Newtown Intermediate High where he drew for the school paper. Lindsay Foyle noted in his obituary ( Australian 27 July 2001, 12) that he 'read voraciously from the age of 12 and there were visits to the Art Gallery of NSW, “mainly to perve on the Norman Lindsays”.’ Elsewhere it is mentioned that he studied part-time at ESTC in 1943, although Foyle claims that
His first formal art training was at the Julian Ashton School. His mother got him in at a reduced rate because he showed talent. He was working night shift [as a compositor] at the [ Daily ] Telegraph and attending art school during the day. It proved too much for his health. Something had to go, so he moved to the mail room and from there into the art department.
Tanner did illustration and design at the Telegraph ; his first cartoon was published in 1944. Initially, he was influenced by WEP ( Bill Pidgeon ) who told him not 'to be afraid to try something new you don’t think you can do. You make a mess and then you clean it up.’ Tanner said it was the best advice he ever received, says Foyle, who also notes that when They’re a Weird Mob was published in 1957 with WEP’s illustrations Tanner was proud that nobody noticed that he had drawn the illustration on the dust-jacket.
Tanner was with the Occupation Force Newspaper BCON ( British Commonwealth Occupation Newspaper ) in Osaka, Japan in1946-47, returned to Sydney in 1948 and joined the Communist Party (which he left in 1956 after Hungary and moved to the right). He became a full-time Repat. student at ESTC and joined AM magazine as an illustrator. He also met Margaret (Peg) King (1925-1996) in 1948, when both were amateur actors at Sydney’s New Theatre. They married the following year and had a daughter (Judy) and two sons (Mark and Michael).
Though a member of the Communist Party, Tanner worked as a political cartoonist on the Daily Telegraph in 1952 and on the Sunday Telegraph in 1954-60. [Dates differ according to writers; Foyle says began full time on the Tele in 1954, Petty says he was there only 1956-60 etc.] He used to submit three roughs to the editor each day, says Foyle, 'one for the money, one for the show and one for himself – but he soon realised that it was the one for himself that generally got in’. Bruce Petty comments on his 'elegant free-form pencil roughs’, followed by 'a stylish pen-and-wash drawing’.
He left for London in 1959 and worked on the Daily Sketch as a gag artist for a year (1960-61). He won the London Cartoonists’ Club award for the most promising newcomer in 1961. Then he returned to Sydney. He spent seven years (1961-67) as art director and cartoonist with the Bulletin after it was purchased by Frank Packer’s ACP; Donald Horne was the first editor, then Peter Hastings and Peter Coleman. Examples of his Bulletin cartoons include: (disgustingly fat beach inspector to slim woman in two-piece bathing costume) “Get off the beach! You’re obscene” 1961, used to exemplify his work in the Foyle obituary (and ill. Rolfe 297). Cf his NLA original (?), “I don’t care who you are, you’ll have to get off the beach”, showing a policeman on Cyprus talking to Boticelli’s Venus rising from the sea.
Peter Coleman, with whom Tanner wrote Cartoons in Australian History (1967), mentioned in Voices 1997 (p.93) that Tanner opened up 'other lines’ when he was at the Bulletin , including a plaster bust of Menzies ('which sold well among the great man’s critics’) and a popular coffee mug in the shape of Sir Henry Bolte (NPG), cf Frith 's toby jugs. (Under Coleman’s editorship the Bulletin also put out records, notably collections of 'naughty’ songs by Barry Humphries and Will Rushton , and published Len Evans’s first book on wine.) Coleman resigned in 1967; his final editorial in February attacked the hanging of Ronald Ryan was accompanied by a Tanner cartoon of Bolte the Hangman. The issue was pulped by Packer. Soon afterwards editor Graham Perkin (who became a close family friend) offered Tanner twice the salary to work on the Age , where he moved in 1968 [in July 1967 according to Petty, who had been given work at the Bulletin by Tanner]. Foyle notes that he had been at the Age for only a week 'when the acting editor rejected one of his cartoons. After a blazing argument involving the editor and managing director, it was agreed Tanner wouldn’t be asked to do an alternative cartoon if another were rejected. Tanner wasn’t going to be censored at the Age .’ A Roman Quarrel , published in the Age on 7 November 1975, was included in Christine Dixon’s exhibition. From 1978 he again contributed from time to time to the Bulletin (Rolfe, 271). Altogether, he wrote in 1989 (?), he worked under some 16 editors.
Cancer caused him to have his larynx removed and for a time he communicated only by notes – an affliction that is said to have caused him to take up drinking seriously, according to Foyle. Later, he acquired an electronic voice enhancer that allowed short comments.
By 1973, when he was aged 45 and again living in Sydney, Tanner had won two Walkeley Awards for Best Cartoon of the Year (one in 1962) and was writing a weekly column as well as drawing cartoons in the Age . Rolfe states that he is best known for his defence cartoons of the 1960s and his joke blocks of patio intellectuals, the latter virtually an extinct [cartooning] genre now when politics is all. Travel broadens the mind (on Senator Colston), published in the Age on 6 March 1997, was exhibited in the National Museum of Australia/Old Parliament House exhibition Bringing the House Down: 12 Months of Australian Political Humour (Canberra, 1997), cat. 73.
Tanner retired from the Age in 1997 after three decades working for the newspaper. A member of the Black and White Artists’ Club, he lived at Nicholson Street, Fitzroy. He died of a heart attack in his sleep in Melbourne on 23 July 2001, aged 74. His colleagues Petty, John Spooner and Foyle, who all wrote obituaries, emphasised his compassion for the poor and rejected of society and his hatred of power, pomposity and hypocrisy. 'During the Cold War’, said Spooner, 'he managed to antagonise both the Left and the Right.’
A respectable historian of cartooning, Tanner donated a good collection of his own cartoons to BFAG in 1983, as well as a collection of early Bulletin originals he had found round the office when he was Art Director in 1971 (see Filmer). Indeed, the donation of various old Bulletin original cartoons to art galleries around Australia after Packer purchased the magazine seems to have been solely Tanner’s work.
When the Victorian Government hanged Ronald Ryan [prison escapee who had murdered a warden], the whole issue [of the Bulletin ] of February 9, 1967, with a leader, 'Day of the Quicklime’, and a cartoon by Tanner showing the Victorian Premier Sir Henry Bolte holding a rope and saying “I do not bow to mob protest – only mob support” [reproduced by Coleman in Voices article] was pulped on the orders of Sir Frank Packer’ (Rolfe, 305, also Coleman, 12). Coleman notes that Packer did this shortly after he had resigned and it was not the reason for his resignation, despite stories to the contrary: see P. Coleman, Voices , pp.94-95, ill.).