Sad news out of Port Moresby, as cartoonist Bob Browne has passed on well before his time:
He was the creator of Mr Grass Roots, perhaps Papua New Guinea’s most loved comic character, which the magazine Islands Business once called “the social conscience of PNG”…
Roots became the Papua New Guinean Everyman, the knock-about character with a heart of gold, a belly full of beer and a thick skull where his long-suffering wife, Agnes, berated his foolishness with her famous “sospen”.
Through Roots – who started as a character called Lu promoting Isuzu trucks – Browne was able to reflect on PNG life through an eerily indigenous perspective and criticise its shortcomings in a gentle but incisive way.
The great strength of cartooning is the ability to take pot-shots at the gross, the venal, the dishonest, the lazy or the plain foolish from behind the protective ramparts of humour. Browne seldom let this advantage descend into bitterness or cruelty, thanks mainly to Grass Roots himself, a man both naive and aware, a hale and hearty innocent wandering through a confused and confusing world. In Australia, Roots would be called “a good bloke”, in the US “a good ol’ boy”, someone you felt drawn to protect even though you’d also harbour the suspicion he was in some mysterious way already ahead of you.