The Herald Sun Premiers poster featuring a cartoon representation of the winning team’s emblem is a long tradition of Grand Final day. Drawn by cartoonist WEG for fifty-four years, they have been taken over in 2009 by political cartoonist Mark Knight on WEG’s death.
It is usually overlooked that two of these are invented per year; one for each grand finalist. There is no more poignant commentary on the sadness of failed dreams than the brief but continued existence of the losing team’s cartoon.
Counting both winning and losing grand finalists, WEG drew a million Tigers, Blues and Hawks in the pre-equalisation era, so when he was given the opportunity to branch out with St Kilda in 1997 and Melbourne in 2000 he made a disappointing fist of them both.
St Kilda’s 1997 Premiers poster appears less of an angelic, actual saint than a random dude merely donning Saints’ garb. Was WEG making a commentary on St Kilda’s workmanlike team that year, a one-year wonder who just about came out on top in an almost random fashion?
He does not look so different from Melbourne 2000 Premiers, a square-headed demon who does not capture the imagination, much like the club itself. The lost demon who does capture that imagination is that of Melbourne’s 1958 Premiers poster, counting off a fourth-consecutive premiership on his pitchfork, but in real life succumbing to the proudest boilover of all time in the 1958 grand final.
WEG was obliged to draw four consecutive lions last decade as Brisbane reached four grand finals. A win in the fourth, like Melbourne in 1958, would have equalled Collingwood’s consecutive premiership record on 1930. WEG, no doubt at wit’s end on how to tweak a lion yet again, produced a masterpiece to celebrate a historic occasion: four lions celebrating four premierships. But it was not to be. Port Adelaide trumped them, a somewhat forgettable premier supplemented with a forgettable WEG poster.
I will describe Knight’s eerie influence on this decade’s grand finals since he has taken the job on.
His first tryst was the 2009 grand final, producing a fabulous muscular cat and an apologetic saint. He was surely provoking karma with these two contrasts. Sure enough, against the vibe of the overall 2009 season and St Kilda’s 19 consecutive victories, the Cat poster survived for posterity and the sad-looking Riewoldt-ish saint was consigned to landfill, St Kilda producing a dribbly performance in front of goal to match the poster.
2010 was a unique outcome, cartoon-wise. Knight was obviously feeling repentant for single-handedly costing St Kilda the 2009 premiership, and drew a fine saint in flight the year after. He also produced a genius magpie, replete with Dane Swan-like tattoos. With both posters as good as each other, neither was there separation of the clubs on-field, and a draw resulted in a fusion of the two posters to produce Draw 2010, St Kilda’s only official moment in the cartoon sun. But while both are ‘equally good’, the Dane Swan magpie was at the same time also clearly superior, as proven in the replay a week later.
Knight was clearly refined regarding drawing Cats, and he had to be in this era. His Geelong Premiers 2011 is a beautiful work of art. But the now lost Back-to-back magpies poster is also a quality work. Two high-quality posters produced two high quality teams in the 2011 grand final, who produced a gem of a match.
Likewise, his sedate Hawk and Docker attempts in 2013 were matched by a very average 2013 grand final. The Docker, fun, bright but somewhat featureless, resembles Saint and Demon posters of the past, giving us an ability to imagine a fantastical world in which these teams emerge with the premiership. It is a bittersweet drawing.
Despite countless opportunities to practice, Knight never really got the hang of drawing Hawks. The best of them, in every sense, was the 2014 Premiers, in which freed from the Docker shackles of the year before, the Hawk takes flight both in football and poster form. By 2015 it was all getting a bit ridiculous, as illustrated by Knight.
Knight, a more precise artist than WEG, has endeavoured to differentiate the various birds that WEG drew ad hoc. He focuses on standout species characteristics, such as the very clever Swan neck in 2012 and the Bulldog tongue last year. But, like WEG, there are only so many ways to produce a Swan (3) or a Hawk (4) this decade even for an artist as gifted as Knight.
This directly decided last year’s grand final, the dynamic Bulldog outshining Knight’s rather tired 2016 Swan.
Thank goodness the Dogs’ Premiers 2016 survived past October 1, 2016. It is a wonderful work that aptly celebrates a wonderful event.
The lesson Knight gives us would be to not make a grand final tip based on your head, like the Hawk successes, nor your heart, like last year… but on the evidence of your eyes.
Marty Gleason 2017
I do not own the rights to these works, but they have been included for the purposes of discussion and comparison. This is a non-profit blog.