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Free will and cartooning

October 30, 2012 in Comment, General

Bill Stott avatarAn opinion piece by Bill Stott

Free will and cartooning: is this a no-brainer? Or will I realise hitherto unseen and earth-shattering truths whilst typing? A eureka moment like finally figuring out what the symbol on your car’s dashboard resembling a tap-dancing flukeworm represents.

In some countries, drawing cartoons, usually political ones, which laud the state and lampoon the running dogs of whatever the state doesn’t much like (this will inevitably involve Obama’s ears) is a pretty safe bet.

Veer towards graphic criticism of the home side though, and you’re in deep doo-doo. Persist in veering and big blokes appear in the night and break your hands. No free will there then.

Bill Stott cartoon

Cartoon © Bill Stott @

And the hand-breakers don’t just practice their painful ways within the borders of their own country either. They internationalise their state’s repression by blowing you up in the comfort of your own home (given half a chance) thousands of miles away because you disrespected their religion, which IS their state. This is a fairly effective way of severely curtailing the free will of say, a cartoonist in Berkhamstead who comes up with a goodie involving Mohammed and brainwashed bombers.

Of course, we in the developed, civilised world, when not busy invading places a long way away, of which we know little, or selling them arms so that the pro-USA side wins, luxuriate in free will – cartooning and otherwise.

It tends to be the political cartoonists who come to mind if we think about free will, and they do a great job, pushing it to the wire in some eyes, especially if those eyes belong to somebody with broken hands in Longwayawayistan.

Thing is, ours is an old country. Our government rolls with the blows, safe in the knowledge that having the doughty Steve Bell draw you as a shiny condom probably won’t force a general election. And yet that resilience, confidence and apparent belief in the freedom of the press – excepting naughty phone-hacking types – is probably not underpinned by a simple, ingrained sense of fair play.

No, it is maintained by a secret service – a very necessary part of our free world, we are told (often by the secret service), who spook about the place causing things to happen, like one of their own turning up inexplicably dead in a gym bag and now conveniently forgotten by the free press. I don’t recall seeing too many cartoons about that.

Cartoonists and freedom of speech

September 12, 2012 in Comment, General, News

Picture from The Hindu - Protest in Mumbai about the arrest of Aseem Trivedi

Protest in Mumbai about the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi. Picture from The Hindu newspaper @

The late editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette described the job of the cartoonist as follows:

“Good cartoonists are also the point men for the First Amendment, testing the boundaries of free speech.”

In his home country of the United States, the first amendment to the national constitution famously guarantees this right. It also does in India, one of the world’s other great democracies.

Of course, national jurisdictions vary in how they apply their laws, but Marlette’s assertion notes a role that editorial cartoonists tend to fulfil wherever and however they deliver their work.

This is why the news from India about the arrest for sedition of the Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi  is worrying. Trivedi is a campaigner against corruption who works digitally and deploys social-media distribution tools that are principally made by US corporations.

We include the specific cartoon that brought his arrest below (the translation on the plinth is “Corruption alone triumphs”,  a parody of the original text.) Trivedi’s  drawings also frequently visually reference national Indian symbols and it seems that it is the offence derived from this that triggered his original arrest.

Trivedi corruption cartoon @

It appears this morning that Trivedi is now to be released on bail, but as the conflict between national jurisdictions and pervasive digital distribution of words and pictures continues we can expect to see more of this sort of event even inside what is sometimes described as the “largest democracy in the world”.

We’d like to encourage all friends of cartoonists to note the petition organised here on behalf of Trivedi. Many of our members have already signed it.

If you have anything to add to our knowledge of this please do use the comments facility below. We expect to be returning to this subject.

Update: 14th September 2012. The Indian High Court has according to this report in The Hindu newspaper rebuked the police for the arrest of Trivedi.

Our friends at English Pen have different information and a drawing about the issue.

Updated: 14th October 2012. The BBC reports charges against Aseem Trivedi have been dropped.