At the end of an hour of tea and storytelling at Clarks Cafe in Wellington City Library, I've got to admit to myself. I might have a bit of a bit of a crush on Tom Scott.
I suspected as much would occur before I even came face to face with him. After all, anyone who's dedicated their life to their love of creativity, and namely drawing (my own first love), has already stolen my heart (here's looking at you, Kelly Thompson). Tom Scott agreed to meet not because he needs more fans but because he's written the book everyone will be reading this Summer (so you'd better go and buy it too so you're not left out). It's called Drawn Out - the story of his life as one of New Zealand's best-known and best-loved illustrators.
Long before Drawn Out, Tom Scott wrote and illustrated a weekly column on politics for the Listener for over a decade in the 1970s and early 1980s. Since 1988 he has been the editorial cartoonist for Wellington's Evening Post and its successor, the Dominion Post. I can remember learning about Tom Scott around 2005 when I was studying New Zealand History when I was just 15. It is clear to see from looking at his cartoons, that with every flick of his pen, from 1970's to the present day, he's helped New Zealand to laugh at itself - and so become more conscious of who we are as a nation.
And the book itself? Drawn Out is a hilarious, heartbreaking, heart-warming account of Tom Scott's tragicomic childhood, his manic student-newspaper days, his turbulent years stumbling through the corridors of power, his fallings out with prime ministers, his collaborations with comic legends John Clarke, A.K. Grant and Murray Ball, his travels to the ends of the earth with his close friend Ed Hillary, and more. So, just a few famous friends then.
I wanted to understand how Tom Scott became so damn-well-loved, whether he'd had failures and how his career evolved, and why he's remained a resident of Wellington. Over tea, and a wobbly table sitting high above the books on the mezzanine cafe Clark at Wellington City Library, Tom shares a snippet of his life adventures with me. Won't you join us?
How did he get here?*
"My mother met my father, who looked like a young Bill Clinton, and he had had his way with her and all of a sudden she got pregnant" Tom Scott explains of his family. He was born in Hammersmith in London to an unmarried Irish mother in 1947. "She fleed from Ireland to London to save us and gave birth to my twin sister and I, during the coldest Winter in London. It was just after the war so it was a broken city at the time. After my father was dragged kicking and screaming to the registry office, they married and then he moved to New Zealand with the Airforce. My mother followed him not long after, with us two small children" he says.
Tom's father had to work doing rough work, spraying crops in his plane. "He used to try and get rid of the chemical taste in his throat by drinking it away, and as a result became a terrible alcoholic," Tom says. "He was an intelligent man and he'd been caught up in the second world war. As a result he became very frustrated." Tom's home life wasn't a happy one, and he remembers hanging round school just before the holidays, wishing he could stay at school rather than go home for the next 6 weeks.
At school, Tom was precocious. "I don't know what I did to quite have the confidence I would. I had been drawing since I was three. I drew to win approval from others" Tom says. "As soon as the teachers made a fuss of me, I was terrible. The teachers would send for me to do drawings. I could do caricatures, and would get people to say 'Oh little Tommy, he's amazing!'. So I got all of my approval from drawing. It made me a little show off, but I was really good."
Tom quit art at High School because he didn't think he had anything original to say. "I didn't have an inner voice that could be developed at art school" explains Tom "I see my son, who is Samuel Flynn Scott from the Phoenix Foundation, and he has such a strong inner voice. He'll run off when his child falls asleep and start composing music. I didn't feel the same compulsion."
Tom thought he'd finished school certificate, but he remembers hearing his father wailing 'Egghead's failed' when he thought his school results came in as he was lying in bed one morning. "I thought 'I'll go work in the freezing works. I'd buy a house in Feilding. Suddenly, my horizon's collapsed" Tom says. Fortunately, he was accepted into Massey University in Palmerston North - a chance to escape.
Tom studied Veterinary Science and admits that while he made many good friends, his animal related studies were not for him. "I've told my kids that if they're not enjoying something, chuck it in as quick as possible. There are only 2 things you need to keep going with. One is childbirth and the other is if you're climbing the Himalayas - then you have to keep going." Eventually, he was asked not to reapply to veterinary school and finished his degree with "a crappy BSC" Scott says.
Scott found his feet drawings cartoons in the capping magazine at University. However, despite this glorious entry into cartooning, he didn't leave University with glowing marks. He accepted a lecturing job straight out of university, teaching physiology and anatomy at a local Polytech. "I was a crappy teacher. I had to put in huge hours but was still only mediocre" Tom explains. "I used to gaze across from Petone to Wellington during my lunchtime, and think to myself that I'd love to be a proper cartoonist working in Journalism."
Tom had been drawing anti-apartheid cartoons all the while. "One day, I was home being a house husband to baby Sean [my son], and I drew a picture of Norman Kirk. No one else could draw him. I walked in off the street to the Sunday Star Times and they accepted it" Tom says. "They ran my cartoons for 7 weeks after that and then the Listener called. They wanted me to be a political journalist. I'd never been a journalist. I didn't own a typewriter or anything! Suddenly, BANG! I'm down at Parliament writing about the halls of the Beehive - I had my own column. 'Tom Scotts Parliament' in the most read magazine in New Zealand!" Safe to say, Tom was the most shocked of all.
Tom ended up leaving The Listener over a squabble and burn out. "Towards the end of my days at the Listener, I felt like I was starting to get creative burn out. After doing it for 20 years, you start to feel like you're repeating yourself. The content isn't as fresh as it was the times before. I started up making fictitious stories. It was around then I knew I needed to move on." Despite leaving the Listener, Tom continued to do his cartoons and to write anything and everything.
After writing a play called 'The Caffeine Wars', inspired by the way men sit beside each other and might never really know about one another for years, Tom was looking for a sponsor so approached Havana Coffee founder Geoff Marsland. Tom ended up writing Marsland's biography and was then approached by the publisher, interested in finding out whether he'd like to write his own autobiography. After an advance was waived before him, he said yes.
Why are the arts still important?
"The first thing humans could do in history was to create cave art. All art, from knitting, sculpture, pottery is answering a calling we have inside" Tom says. "I'm so lucky I get to do it as my job."
And what does he think of the new government?
"FINALLY, someone new to draw!"
"I can fly into New Zealand over Marlborough and twice now I've burst into tears. I can't explain it but I love it. I was so proud of the country when we took a stand on marriage equality and the nuclear-free policy. By and large, we've been an egalitarian nation. We're a well educated, caring and considerate society by and large. While my wife might want to go to Auckland permanently, where I'll be spending the next 6 months working, I always love being in Wellington. I know I'm fortunate."
* Obviously for the full story you'll need to buy the book, avaiable from Unity Books or online here!