Cartoon competitions are a great tourist draw. In lands where overt or even covert censorship persists, an appearance is given that freedom of speech is encouraged. It isn’t.
The exhibitions are usually broad generalisations filled with visual euphemisms: there are countless brick walls, endless rolls of barbed wire, and doves of peace in need of a vet.
Words are not wanted here, so that the cartoons can speak to everyone. But not everyone appreciates the same visual language. UK cartoonists contribute to many of the exhibitions but their work is in a minority and is markedly refreshingly different to that from most European cartoonists.
Brits like humour, Europeans appreciate wit. Wit is serious stuff, humour is fun. They are two different worlds. Both worlds, the witty and the humorous, are limited by the subjects that are set: global warming, freedom of speech, pollution, sexual liberation, female emancipation, domesticity in today’s world … and on and on.
The cartoons are not only wordless, they are timeless – immediate topicality is not an option – and there must be nothing directly political. The ingenuity of the cartoonists is stretched to the limit and the limits are much the same as those felt by the surrealists: there is only so much symbolism to go around.
Eventually the terrain looks all too familiar. Beautiful draughtsmanship can’t hide threadbare ideas.
What do you think about what John is saying? Have your say in the comments below. The final part of John Jensen’s article will appear on Bloghorn soon.