Tom Scott's cartoons are given a new life in Tom Scott reWorks

by Karl du Fresne / 17 October, 2016
Mardo El-Noor with Tom Scott. Photo/Mardo El-Noor

An unusual artistic collaboration is giving some of Tom Scott’s cartoons a second, hyper-real life.

Mardo El-Noor, 38, is a digital artist. The son of an Iraqi nuclear physicist, he was a child in Baghdad during the 1980s war between Iran and Iraq and recalls going on family outings to see where Iranian Scud missiles had landed the previous night.

Tom Scott, 68, is the son of a Feilding agricultural contractor. He wanted to be a vet, but ended up drawing cartoons and writing TV and movie scripts.

As artistic collaborations go, it’s surely one of the more unusual. But together, El-Noor and Scott have come up with what might be called the Tom and Mardo Show – a striking digital reinterpretation by El-Noor of some of Scott’s cartoons. The resulting exhibition of computer-generated images, entitled Tom Scott reWorks, can be viewed in the ground-floor foyer of Parliament Buildings – Scott’s old haunt in his days as the Listener’s political columnist and cartoonist – until mid-October.

The two were brought together by a mutual friend. El-Noor was looking for a way to promote his work as a digital artist and thought collaborating with someone well known was the best way to do it.

A computer-generated take of a Scott original. Illustration/Tom Scott reWorks

Scott recalls being dazzled by El-Noor’s work when they first met in an Auckland cafe. Evoking memories of another noted partnership, the lifelong Beatles fan stood up, shook El-Noor’s hand and told him: “We have a deal. I’ll be Lennon to your McCartney.”

It helped that the two had compatible political views. They agreed that the despoliation of Planet Earth – the subject of many Scott cartoons, some dating back decades – would make a suitable theme for an exhibition.

Some of El-Noor’s works are faithful to the original cartoons, whereas others take the subject matter into slightly darker, more apocalyptic territory.

In one, Scott’s original – drawn in the 1980s – shows a diver coming across a plaque on the seabed reading “Planet Earth: Best Before Dec 1989”. El-Noor’s reworking shows the same submerged plaque, bathed in an eerie glow from the headlights of a futuristic mini-submarine. There’s a hint of homage to the famous scene from the dystopian sci-fi movie Planet of the Apes, in which Charlton Heston comes across the ruins of the Statue of Liberty sunk in the sand of a deserted beach – the one pathetic remnant of human civilisation.

In another work, astronauts on the Moon look back at an Earth that’s beginning to dissolve as a result of pollution. As great molten globs drip from the base of the planet, one of the astronauts says: “Houston, we may have a problem.”

Scott original. Cartoon/Tom Scott reWorks

El-Noor’s technique gives Scott’s cartoons a graphic power that takes them to a new level. Scott acknow­ledges the artist’s use of digital-design tools achieves a dramatic effect and a sense of scale that wasn’t possible using only paper and ink.

The exhibition is a showcase for a style that El-Noor describes as “hyper-realism”. He uses similar techniques in some of his commercial work, in which he creates whimsical and remarkably lifelike scenes of real people in imaginary situations.

Playfully blurring the line between fantasy and reality, photograph and drawing, the style has obvious links to the great US magazine illustrator Norman Rockwell, whom El-Noor acknowledges as an important influence.

El-Noor qualified as a dentist in Jordan, but never practised. He also worked as a musician, recording five albums of jazz and electronica, before emigrating here with his parents and two sisters in 2003.

He has a master’s degree in art and design from the Auckland University of Technology and speaks precise, grammatically perfect English. He bears no scars from his childhood experience of war and says he thought of it as an adventure.

For Scott, who divides his career between script writing and cartooning for Wellington’s Dominion Post, the partnership has given some of his cartoons a second life. They hope Tom Scott reWorks will eventually be seen in other cities.

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