In a 2007 Vanity Fair article entitled 'Why women aren't funny', well known atheist and curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens asks: 'Why are women, who have the whole male world at their mercy, not funny?' 'Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women?'
In a riposte to Hitchens, Eureka Street cartoonist Fiona Katauskas retorts that he 'must hang out with the wrong kind of chicks. I know many enormously funny women and men. The difference between them is that the men constantly tell you how funny they are and the women don't — some even clam up entirely around their male counterparts rather than compete for the limelight.'
While she doesn't necessarily clamour for the limelight, the feisty Katauskas is not backward in coming forward — and she's funny. In this interview, part of a series marking the 20th anniversary of Eureka Street, she talks about the art, craft and inspiration of the cartoonist, and reflects on the significance of Eureka Street.
The daughter of a Lithuanian immigrant father, and an Anglo-Australian mother, Katauskas says on her website she 'became a cartoonist quite accidentally'. At university she studied politics and journalism, then travelled extensively before working in overseas aid and human rights.
After being made redundant in late 1996, she writes that she 'despaired a bit (as you do) then decided to embrace the Personal Reinvention zeitgeist and became a cartoonist. I'm bloody glad I did. Cartoonists are lucky folk indeed — able to take all their experiences, beliefs, bile and passion, wrap them in a metaphor and get their fingers inky in the process.'
Since then she has worked full-time as a cartoonist, her work appearing in a range of publications including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, the Australian Financial Review, The Bulletin, The Chaser and New Matilda. She has also illustrated books, and designed cards and T-shirts.
In 2009 she won the New Matilda Prize for Political Cartooning, and her work has been hung regularly in the National Museum of Australia's annual collection of political cartoons.
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Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.