Vince O'Farrell's cartoons among nation's best

Former Illawarra Mercury cartoonist Vince O’Farrell has received national recognition after being published in a book celebrating the year’s best satirical political illustrations.

O’Farrell, who retired in July this year, said he was ‘‘always honoured’’ to have his work included with the best the nation had to offer.

He has made the cut each year since Best Australian Political Cartoons was first published in 2003.

‘‘It’s always good recognition for the paper to get that kind of stuff put in a collection of Australia’s best cartoons,’’ he said.

GALLERY, VIDEO: The rebel behind the Mercury's cartoons

‘‘I’ve always been honoured to get into the book every year.’’

O’Farrell began his career 36 years ago at the Innisfail Advocate in North Queensland, before progressing on to the Cairns Post and eventually settling at the Illawarra Mercury in 1986.

He was also part of a syndicate that created cartoons for hundreds of North American, British and Irish newspapers.

During his time at the Mercury, O’Farrell battled mental illness, suffering from bipolar disorder.

He said while debilitating, the disease had also provided him with inspiration suited to his craft.

‘‘Bipolar disorder is something that can make your mind very foggy,’’ he said.

‘‘But at same time ... the dark side of an illness like that, that’s where I always found the poison pen could come out in satire.

‘‘I was able to look at things in a dark kind of way which works well with satire rather than doing squeaky clean kind of American cartoons.’’

Like any satirist, O’Farrell found his critics often seemed to outweigh  fans of his work.

He said there were times during his career that his email inbox would fill with hundreds of complaints each day, and he even received a death threat during his first week at the Mercury in response to a cartoon poking fun at a truck drivers’ blockade.

Rather than let it get to him, O’Farrell said he had learnt to take criticism as a compliment because people were ‘‘reading my stuff and it was making an impact’’.

‘‘You very rarely get emails from people who appreciate your work, you tend to get the opposite,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s like driving. 

‘‘The American stuff, I got a lot of hate mail. I was very anti Iraq war and I did a lot of anti George Bush cartoons and the emails just flooded my inbox on a daily basis.’’

O’Farrell has seen the role of a cartoonist change dramatically over the years.

Whereas once he would sit down with a full collection of pens, pencils and paint brushes, he now draws an outline before adding colour using a computer tablet device.

Since leaving the Mercury, O’Farrell has completely embraced the digital revolution, and plans to have his own satirical website, complete with articles and cartoons, online in the next few months.

‘‘It’s going to be an experiment,’’ he said.

‘‘It’ll either take off or crash and burn but there’s only one way to find out and that’s to give it a go.’’

See more of Vince O'Farrell's work on his Facebook page.

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