As most of you will know, 2014 is 100 years after the commencement of World War I. New Zealand was a nation influenced by the vigour of the still burgeoning British Empire, the isolation of islanders and possibly even an inferiority complex of a small nation.
So it’s no surprise that 100 years ago the young men of New Zealand joined up in their droves to fight and die on foreign soil.
Kiwi’s my age have been blessed. We’ve avoided disruptions to our benign and peaceful lives. Which makes it easy to get cynical about War, whichever side of the fence you fall upon in heated debates over wine or whiskey.
Without dispute though, New Zealand has a particular place in WWI. We had one of the war’s highest per-captia casualty rates, extraordinary considering we we’re an invaded country in Europe, but instead an island on the other side of the earth with no borders or enemies. WWI wiped out how generations of men in some of our small towns.
With the inundation of centenary media happening this year it’s hard to find a new story from war times.
That’s why I was so happy to be offered a job drawing a short comic with a new perspective – the tunnerlers of New Zealand. These men slogged underneath the shells and wire of the battleground above, risking cave-ins, gas leaks and opposing sappers to undermine enemy fortifications. Mining men from small towns like Waiha or Reefton dug in the soil of Europe, scrawling New Zealand’s place names on the walls of their work.
The fact that the work would be published in a bona-fide New Zealand establishment, The School Journal, sealed the deal. Filled with facts, diagrams and drama I was addicted to them as a child. Then and now, The School Journal showcases the lost art of creative collaboration – editors, designers, writers and illustrators communicating stories of worth to our nation’s children.
I hope the School Journal continues to feature the work of kiwi comic artists or writers, as the publication has a strong tradition of combining words and pictures, surely the chief preoccupation of the New Zealand comic community.
I also got to try out some new inking brushes and colouring techniques – always a perk!
The included images are from ‘Sky-High’ The School Journal, Level 4, June 2014 and are published with permission from the Ministry of Education, Lift and Bolster. Editor: Susan Paris, Lettering and Design: Jodi Wicksteed, Writer: Robert Sullivan and Illustrator: Tim Gibson