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Can cartoons be both funny – and diverse?

September 16, 2021 in Comment, General

Cartoon © Nick Newman

By Nick Newman and courtesy of The Spectator. 

Of the many challenges cartoonists face — rejection, money, drink, or lack of — one of the trickiest is the growing pressure to depict diversity. Nowadays readers often write to publications complaining about the dearth of ethnic minorities in our drawings and demand for cartoons to be more inclusive.

It’s like being trapped in a bad political cartoon, walking a tightrope above a minefield. A quick survey of my colleagues in the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation highlighted the following:

  1. Cartoons involve laughing at someone. If that person is black, you risk appearing racist; even including a BAME character in the background of drawing can lead to accusations of tokenism (‘background box-tickers’).
  2. Including any minority character in a cartoon can run the risk of implying that the cartoon is about race and so can inadvertently politicise the cartoon.
  3. At the end of the day, it’s safer to make the pale, male and stale the butt of the joke.

Gag cartoons are about speed and recognition. Stereotypes are a form of visual shorthand designed to get an idea across quickly. The French? Man in stripy shirt. Teacher? Mortarboard. German? Fat man with sausage. Cartoons amplify for comic effect, which runs the risk of promoting race hate when depicting BAME characters. ‘I draw a lot of idiots saying daft things and don’t want any accidental inference that it is because of their race,’ says PCO chairman Clive Goddard. ‘Better to stick to white idiots than be misunderstood.’ British newspaper and magazine cartoonists are predominantly white, which can make any joke about ethnicity feel awkward or patronising. Cartoonists may be cowards, but we are not afraid to admit to our cowardice in avoiding the issue.

Cartoonists’ drawing styles present another problem. Characters with big noses can lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. One political cartoonist has been told to reduce the size of all Middle Eastern noses. Attempts to make cartoon characters more diverse can be tricky. Kathryn Lamb likens ‘inking in’ her cartoon faces to ‘blacking up’.

For caricaturists whose stock-in-trade is exaggeration, the problem is, appropriately enough, exaggerated. Morten Morland, The Spectator’s cover artist, says that whenever he draws Diane Abbott or Priti Patel, someone always complains. ‘It’s usually because they disagree with the cartoon itself,’ he says, ‘and need something to hit back with. So by hinting that the caricature is racist they aim to discredit the whole cartoon.’

In 2018, a caricature of Serena Williams by the Australian cartoonist Mark Knight of the Herald Sun was reported to the Australian Press Council for depicting her with ‘large lips, a broad flat nose… and [being] positioned in an ape-like pose’ while throwing a tantrum on court. The National Association of Black Journalists said the caricature was ‘unnecessarily Sambo-like’ and even J.K. Rowling weighed in, tweeting: ‘Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes.’

Accusations of racism in cartoons stretch back to Gillray and beyond. The Georgian cartoonists depicted Africans as threatening and comical, with grotesque features and appetites. Cruikshank’s ‘The New Union Club’ (1818) is one of the most racist prints of the 19th century, depicting a debauched dinner held at the African Institution and attacking abolitionists such as Wilberforce. Two hundred years later the Commission for Racial Equality called for Hergé’s 1931 comic Tintin in the Congo to be withdrawn from sale because of its depiction of black Africans as simple, childlike and uncivilised. The New York Public Library locked its copy away. ‘Tintin in the Congo is a racist book,’ says the FT’s Jeremy Banx, ‘but Hergé was on a long journey, from King Leopold II to the Beatles, in which he ended up in a very different place to where he started.’ In later life Hergé himself referred to his early books as ‘youthful sins’.

There are lessons to be learned from history. In 1925 a glib cartoon by David Low portrayed England cricket’s run machine Jack Hobbs as a colossus compared with figures from history, including Caesar, Charlie Chaplin and a caricatured Muhammad. It led to rioting in Calcutta. As the staff of Charlie Hebdo found out, these days a cartoon of the Prophet is likely to get you cancelled — permanently.

We live in a sensitive age. Cartoonists agree on the need to promote diversity, but the complications are endless. Diversity itself is becoming a dirty word, suggesting ‘diverging from the white mean’. Meanwhile ‘inclusive’ is said to imply whites doing the including.

As the Sun’s Steve Bright says: ‘You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you don’t, you’re racist on the grounds of exclusion. If you do, unless there’s a perfect balance, you’re accused of tokenism, which is also racist. And if you achieve that mythical perfect balance — you’d have to draw 100 people in every cartoon, and colour them according to percentages of population — you’re obsessive, and quite possibly insane.’

Unfortunately, deconstructing cartoons also sucks all the fun out of them. As the great Barry Cryer says: ‘Analysing comedy is like dissecting a frog. Nobody laughs and the frog dies.’

This article first appeared in the 11 Sept 2021 issue of The Spectator

You can see Nick interviewed about this piece by Spectator TV here. Bonus points to Nick for sporting his PCO badge.

Knokke Heist 2017/8 cartoon festival

June 27, 2019 in Events, General

Des Buckley writes:

“It’s all doves with laurels flying over a tank.CCGB doyenLes Lilley.

The Knokke-Heist Cartoon Festival sets up camp on a Belgium beach promenade each Summer. On display are two major exhibitions including their International Competition. Knokke & Heist are conjoined seaside towns on the sandy channel coast. In recent years Ive dropped by their shiny plastic tent to dawdle & gawp. Last year, perhaps unsurprisingly no Union Jacks adorned the flag poles outside. Indeed in the last two years only two UK Cartoons were on show, both from the same artist. I’m genuinely unsure whether this reflects recent spats with FECO, indifference or nothing in particular. Alas I’ll miss this years 58th show as my annual road trip falls after it closes. A couple of visits to Cartoon Fest does not a critic make, I’m no Brian Sewell, though I do have a red face & talk bollocks…

The Festival features 2 x shows. A selection of Belgian editorial cartoons & the International Gouden Hoed’ (Golden HatCartoon Exhibition. Facsimiles of the cartoons are interned within the fabric of plastic panels in the marquee.

1. Belgian Cartoon Exhibition

The Belgium press cartoons are helpfully translated into English, French & Flemish. Our European pals across the Channel share our liberal sensibilities & disdain for authority. In the wake of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ & outrages in Brussels Belgian Cartoonists seem less ‘sensitive’ in their representations of terrorism, terrorists & sexual politics. I’m aware there are fault lines between Belgium’s French & Walloon populations but lacked the nous to spot evidence of this in this display. The Politico-Social Cartoons were lively & vibrant. The impudent pocket cartoons almost poke you in the eye. Whilst I can’t be sure, my impression is the cartoonists aren’t entirely on the same page. I found this refreshing & imagine them (perhaps unfairly) as dysfunctional hissing cats. The general direction was ‘look at what those prat politicians are doing’ but, there were a couple taking wicked potshots at demented demonstrators. The sexual quotient was more muted than I anticipated but in the shop there were postcards that would have Donald McGill gagging on his little stick of Blackpool rock.

2. Gouden Hoed’ (Golden Hat) Int. Cartoon Exhibition

Linguistic gymnastics are almost superfluous in the larger International show. Most artwork carries no captions and little text. In attempting to reach out to all, artists opt for high visual impact and political caricature.

Cartoon by © Kanar (Belgium)

We in the West seem to be indulging in bouts of self flagellation & unseemly flirtations with shameless snake-oil salesmen. I like Rich Hall (Melty faced US Comedian) but don’t agree with his tirade against Political Cartoons. Much on display at Knokke-Heist is absolutely glorious. But however gorgeous the artwork or compelling the theme, viewing multiple Donald Trumps somewhat dulls approbation.Some International Contributors whilst happy to take a swipe at his Orangenessmay be transmitting more nuanced messagesabout repression. In the UK our ability to lampoon without fear of grim consequence was hard won.

Cartoon by © Josef Parchal (Spain)

It’s foolish to draw conclusions about a show chosen by panel from global Cartoon submissions. One embarrassing anomaly being the Brazilian cartoon that appeared inthe 2017& 201catalogue! It is remarkable however, that so much content comes from countries that might euphemistically be considered to haveauthoritarian regimes.Whilst Mr Putin was another predictable ‘aunt Sally’ other obvious brigands & despots were noticeable by their absence. My prejudice on this was informed by remarks made at a recent PCO hosted event. The fear of giving offence is not just about personal safety but genuine anxiety about the implications for family members, even if that cartoonist is exiled. Cartoonists elsewhere may live with harsher sanctions than an ugly Twitter-storm.

Cartoon by © Nicola Listes (Croatia)

Visiting this exhibition is a rewarding & enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Humour is subjective & was not entirely obligatory. The artworks went from animated squiggles to epilepsy inducing tapestries of colour. There were a sprinkling of earnest graphic statements but most works had humorous intent. Cartoonists from Iran & Turkey were especially numerous with an exquisite variety of work. We all understand that an apparently tossed off doodle can take hours! Some of the carefully crafted Iranian Artwork was Herculean in ambition & execution. I loved the exhibition.

Les Lilley’s quote (above) was made in jest but there is truth in it. Perhaps a lack of embarrassment when illustrating occasionally naive political statements confers gravitas. If a cartoon dares to be serious it may persuade viewers to take cartoons seriously. This could explain why Continental Cartoonists can be afforded respect as artists & why ruthless regimes harass them. Me, I prefer cartoons to be funny too!

Name check: The singular British contributor was Jason McClarnin, top marks to him.

Information

The Knokke-Heist Festival’s event is popular & well resourced. The coastal towns heavily promote it on the web, in their literature & tourist office. Cartoons seems to enjoy a cultural prestige which is absent in the UK. Belgium has surrealism ‘form’ and a fine cartoon legacy from Herge (Tin Tin) through Peyo (Smurfs) to Bob de Groot. For those grumbling about lack of markets, check out the cash prizes & consider entering by December 2019 in time for 2020!

Web: myknokke-heist.be. Address: Strand ter hoogte van het Heldenplein

Exhibition: 29 June – 1 September 2019 

Opening times: 10am to 7pm Entry: Free

Prizes: 1. Gold €10,000 2. Silver €5,000 3. Bronze €1,000.

All photos by © Des Buckley

The Round-up

April 12, 2013 in General, Links, News

© Ed Fisher/Cartoon Bank @Procartoonists.org

Cartoon captions are a major theme in this week’s Round-up. Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, looks back at the work of Ed Fisher (including the excellent meta-cartoon above), and also recalls some of the best caption contest entries by Roger Ebert. Both Ebert and Fisher passed away recently.

Over at The Telegraph, editorial cartoonist Christian Adams has unveiled his first caption competition, and is offering the original artwork as a prize for the best suggestion. Each contest will be topical, and this week’s features the late Baroness Thatcher. Head over to his blog to enter.

Unsurprisingly, Thatcher has been the subject of many cartoons in the past week or so. Gerald Scarfe, a cartoonist famous for his savage depictions of the former PM, talks about his relationship to his subject in this Q&A for the BBC. Elsewhere, David Ziggy Greene posts a piece he wrote and drew for French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo back in 2010. Read it here.

One of our members, the delightfully talented Gabriel Alborozo, has launched a new project. Simple Pleasures celebrates those small moments in life that make everything a little better. Alongside his own ideas, Gabe is taking suggestions from visitors to the site. You can also follow the project.

A new documentary film, Dear Mr. Watterson, celebrates the world of Calvin and Hobbes, while the strip’s creator, Bill Watterson, is also discussed in this article from Salon which argues that we should all respect the great man’s privacy.

The Round-up

September 21, 2012 in General, Links, News

© Patrick Chappatte for Le Temps (Geneva) @ procartoonists.org

While the latest Charlie Hebdo controversy continues, editorial cartoonists Patrick Chappatte (above) and Kevin Kallaugher comment on the responsibility that comes with cartoonists’ freedom to insult.

Mike Peyton, who has carved out a long and specialist career as a ‘nautical cartoonist’, tells CNN about his work and how he started cartooning in a German POW camp. Read more here.

The Eye Candy festival, to be held in Birmingham next month, will feature “a drop-in sketching session for illustrators, artists and drawing enthusiasts”. See inkygoodness.com, which is organising the session, for more details.

Remember the lady who ‘restored’ a Spanish fresco recently? Like any good commercial artist, she is now demanding royalties.

Finally, there’s just time for a quick plug, as Hunt Emerson – that well-known cartoonist and member of Procartoonists.org – presents his lampooning take on a classic religious allegory

 

Round-up: What the Bloghorn saw

November 17, 2011 in Links

Bloghorn from the UK Professional Cartonists' OrganisationPublisher Jonathan Cape is celebrating five years of its Graphic Short Story Prize by releasing an e-book compilation of the winners and some of the best also-rans. Forbidden Planet has a sneak peak, and plenty of related links, here.

After the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were firebombed over the publication of a front-cover cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad, journalist and academic Victor S Navasky asks why cartoons have the ability to make people so angry. See The New York Times for his conclusions.

The New Jersey Hall of Fame has included 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast on its list of nominees for possible induction in 2012. Voting is ongoing, but the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic imagery in some of Nast’s drawings has led to a call for his exclusion.

Elsewhere in the US, The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna considers the difficulties faced by cartoonists when responding to tragic events. Read his thoughts here.

What the Bloghorn Saw…

November 4, 2011 in News

Foghorn Bloghorn for The UK Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation Rob Murray writes:

Bloghorn is sad to note the death of Tony Reeve, the much-loved gag and strip cartoonist for Private Eye, Punch, The Spectator and others. He was joking to the end, contributing a gag to the Eye as recently as last month that was drawn up by his friend Steve Way. Another of Tony’s friends, Geoffrey Notkin, has written a touching tribute over at the Tucson Citizen.

After its offices were firebombed following the publication of a front-cover cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has reprinted the offending image in a supplement distributed with a leading newspaper. Reuters has more here.

In the US, cartoonist Mort Walker – creator of the long-running newspaper comic strip Beetle Bailey – is to receive a military award.

Having brought the Smurfs to cinemas earlier this year, Sony Pictures is mining comic strips once more, with a 3D animated Popeye movie. With any luck the character design will stay true to the established version of the cartoon sailor, and won’t strive too hard for realism.

Bloghorn is made on behalf of the UK Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation