Paul Crispin Rigby

Born Melbourne, Victoria 1924
Died Margaret River, Western Australia 2006

By Lindsay Foyle

Paul Rigby and Pat Oliphant were Australia’s two most internationally acclaimed and widely syndicated cartoonists. At the Daily News in Perth, Rigby won five Walkley awards in the 1960s before drawing for Murdoch papers in Sydney, London and New York. His 1976 book Paul Rigby’s Course of Drawing and Cartooning influenced hundreds of other cartoonists and for years it seemed editors expected cartoonists to draw like Rigby. He estimated he drew 15,000 cartoons. He won a New York Press Club Award in 1982 and the US Newspaper Guild’s Page One Award four times in the 1980s as well as an Order of Australia.

Only two weeks before he died, Paul Rigby had been a star attraction at the 22nd Australian Cartoonists Association Stanley awards and conference in Ballarat, Victoria where he had talked for almost two hours about cartooning and his life.

That night the ACA presented Rigby with the "Uncle Dick" - more properly known as the Jim Russell Award - for his contribution to cartooning. It is the highest honour the oldest cartooning association in the world can bestow.

Mark Knight, editorial cartoonist for the Herald Sun said, "It was the only time I had met Paul, yet I had known his work all my life. The first book my father bought me was Paul Rigby's cartoon annual of 1967. I was six years old. I still have the worn-out tattered pages of this much-loved and influential paperback on my bookshelves."

Rigby received many awards over the years. He won Walkleys in 1960, ‘61, ‘63, ‘66 and ‘69. Back in those days, many editors thought if a cartoonist did not draw like Rigby, then they could not draw cartoons. There was also the New York Press Club award in 1982. In 1983, ‘84, ‘85 and ‘86 he was the winner of the Page One Award for Cartoon of the Year. And in 1999, Prime Minister John Howard presented him with the Order of Australia while on a trip to New York saying quietly to him, “Thank goodness you haven’t been in the country during my leadership!”

Born in Melbourne in 1924 Rigby grew up in Sandringham. After leaving school, he studied art while working as a commercial artist. During World War II, he served in North Africa and Europe with the Royal Australian Air Force. After the war he returned to Melbourne and completed his studies in commercial art and took on teaching art.

In 1949, he decided to go to Europe, only getting as far as Perth before running out of money. He played tennis in the West Australian championships and took a job in commercial art, and was soon illustrating for the Daily News and Western Mail. In 1952, he became the first editorial cartoonist on the Daily News, and from 1959 his cartoons were syndicated all over Australian.

In Perth his cartoons were run on the back page along with a column written by Kirwan Ward. The two soon developed a symbiotic relationship that took them on many adventures that were reported in the Daily News. Rigby would convince pilots or cabin crew to take his cartoons back to Perth, or just post them. He only had one no-show - he slipped an envelope with a cartoon in it under the door of a post office early one morning and it never arrived. Many years later, he received a letter from a builder who was demolishing the post office. He had lifted the floor covering near the door and found the cartoon under it with Rigby's note and money for postage still attached.

While in Sydney Rigby teamed up with Ron Saw and Steve Dunlevy, then reporters on The Daily Mirror. Together, they pioneered “limp falling”, an activity preceded by the consumption vast volumes of beer followed by spontaneously dropping to the floor – either singularly or in a group – to the embarrassment of onlookers. While venues often were bars, they were known to include official functions.

In 1968 Rupert Murdoch took control of The News of the World in London, a Sunday newspaper with a circulation of six million. In November the following year he also acquired The Sun, then a struggling London daily. As part of his revamp of these papers, he convinced Rigby to move to England to draw cartoons for them. Originally it was for six months, but he stayed five years.

Rigby's style, drawn in pen with black ink on Duo-shade board, with lots of shading and jam-packed with detail went over well. He always drew a small boy and a dog somewhere in his cartoons. It became a game with the readers to find them. In some pubs the cartoons were cut up into 200 pieces and sold, with a prize going to the person with the piece that showed the dog.

Rigby's cartoons were also syndicated by the German Springer group and were run in many European newspapers. In 1974, Rigby returned to Perth, syndicating cartoons back to Europe and North America and also contributed to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney.

In 1977, Murdoch convinced Rigby to move to New York to work for six months on the New York Post, America’s oldest newspaper. The happy relationship lasted until 1984, when they had a falling out over working conditions for Australian employees, and Rigby packed up his paintbrushes and departed. There was talk of returning to Australia, but he moved to the New York Daily News instead.

Rigby returned to the New York Post in 1992, and in 1995 the Australian Embassy in Washington hosted an exhibition of his and Pat Oliphant’s cartoons. Dr. Don Russell, the Australian ambassador said at the time, “Both gentlemen are widely known and recognized not only in Australia and the US, but also internationally.”

After drawing an estimated 15,000 cartoons over 50 years Rigby retired in 2000. He settled in Florida, but it was not as idyllic as he and his wife Marlene had hoped, and they returned to Australia in 2003, settling in Margaret River in southwest Western Australia and opening a gallery there. Rigby enjoyed living there where he pained, sketched, and drew, exhibiting his works and making numerous public speaking appearances.

On the morning of November 15, Rigby suffered a mild heart attack at his Caves Road property. His condition worsened in the afternoon and he was taken by ambulance to Busselton hospital where he suffered another heart attack and died at 7.10pm.

Paul Rigby entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2011.

Further reading