Although the best response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo is in the form of cartoons, here's a recap of last week by Cartoon Movement editor Tjeerd Royaards.
First, there was shock. A brutal and senseless murder of 12 people and a vicious attack on freedom of expression. Then there was indignation and anger. An overwhelming conviction that violence cannot and will not stop satire. This emotion was not just felt by me, but by many, many cartoonists around the globe.
Within hours of the attack, the first cartoons were uploaded to our newsroom. A trickle soon became a flood, and that flood has been going ever since. It is my sincere hope we can keep this momentum going, because that's how satire will not only overcome this tragedy, but will come out stronger on the other side.
If there is to come any good out of this terrible tragedy, it should be a reaffirmation of the importance of social satire. And social satire cannot exist without the freedom to provoke, the freedom to insult. The feeling of unity among cartoonists has been wonderful, as has been the massive support for cartoons throughout Europe and throughout the world. Last Thursday, Cartoon Movement had over 1.5 million visitors, proving to us that we are not alone in our belief that cartoons matter. We even received cartoon submissions from non-cartoonists, stating that, despite not being able to draw, they felt the need to make a cartoon to show their solidarity. Many of our cartoonists shared their view on events in the media, including artists from the Arab World, like Sherif Arafa on CNN and Khalid Albaih on Al Jazeera.
Sherif Arafa on CNN.
Political cartoons are in the spotlight now, but we must work to keep them on the agenda. For it is when we, as a society, do not continue to reaffirm the importance of satire, that the risk of censorship, self-imposed or otherwise, is greatest. A cartoonist will be most courageous if he or she feels supported by the media and by the rest of society.
Although the media certainly seemed to wholeheartedly support cartoonists in the wake of the attack, this support proved to be dubious, and might even be considered a greater threat to political cartooning than any terrorist attack could ever hope to be. US cartoonist Ted Rall was the first to point this out in an excellent piece that appeared on the website of the LA times. In their search for ever more clicks, news websites quickly realized the potential to post Charlie Hebdo tribute cartoons to generate huge traffic streams. Lots of cartoonists posted their work on Twitter, and the majority of media websites simply embedded the cartoons from the Twitter feed, forgoing the courtesy of asking the artists for permission to show their work, let alone pay for it.
Support for cartoons is great, but it does not pay the bills. If media truly care for political cartoons, then the best way to show their support would be to allocate some of their scarce funds to pay cartoonists for the work they do, instead of trying to find every conceivable way of publishing cartoons for free.
For the purpose of full disclosure: we also have allowed some of the cartoons that were posted in our newsroom to be republished elsewhere without compensation, because we felt the need for these images to reach the broadest audience possible outweighed our usual strict policy of never giving away cartoons for free. In the long run, however, supporting cartoonists should mean also supporting them in their livelihood. Because however large the threat of a terrorist attack looms, chances are that the mortgage payment that's due at the end of month looms larger.
The Amsterdam Press Museum is hosting an extensive exhibition on comics journalism, featuring Dutch and international examples. The exhibition is one of the first in the Netherlands to focus exclusively on comics journalism as a distinctive from of journalism, an indication that this branch of reporting is gaining ground in the Netherlands and in Europe.
Cartoon Movement is also represented. On display is Dan Archer's interactive comic on the 2007 Nisoor Square shootings. Published back in 2011, this comic still is a great (if experimental) example of what is possible through graphic storytelling.
The exhibition will be on display until March 1st. The Press Museum is located here and is open daily (except for Mondays).
Documentary on Controversial Cartoonist Mr. Fish
Mr. Fish (Dwayne Booth) is an American cartoonist whose work can most regularly be seen on Harpers.org and Truthdig.com. His work truly pushes the envelope as he mixes fine art with political cartoons to create some of the most hard-hitting and visceral cartoons to be found in the US, and indeed the world.
Pablo Bryant decided to make a documentary on this remarkable artist and his work. The principal photography for the movie is done, and the team behind the documentary has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to edit the movie. Their pitch starts with:
You might not be right for this film. I'm going to be honest, this is a short documentary about an outspoken artist, with some very controversial and outrageous art, a lot of which could be offensive. So if you're easily offended read no further. Some people do not understand subversive, satirical humor or why it's important, but if you're still reading this, than I doubt your one of them.
That should be enough to at least convince you to watch the Indiegogo promo where director Pablo Bryant explains why this documentary is important:
And if you need further convincing, here's the trailer:
Now, head over to the campaign page to support this awesome project!
The second edition of Sketch Freedom, an international cartoon expo, will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden in early 2015. Organized by exiled Iranian cartoonist and activist Kianoush Ramezani, the expo is an official event of the Gothenburg Film Festival, and brings together the work of many great cartoonists from all corners of the globe.
The 'Sketch Freedom' movement started in 2013 in Normandy, the same place that thousands of humans sacrificed their lives to end the Second World War and give freedom to the people of Europe. It’s a world movement for exiled cartoonists that is proudly hosted by Le Mémorial de Caen. The movement, founded by Kianoush Ramezani, premiered last year in Gothenburg.
The second Sketch Freedom Expo, officially sponsored by Le Mémorial de Caen, will show artworks that manifest the value of freedom of expression, by the world's top cartoonists. Their cartoons are published in the major world journals like the New Yorker, the Washington Post, Courrier International, the Moscow Times, El Universal, Le Droit, etc.
Participating cartoonists (inclusing more than a few CM members - click on their links to view their portfolio on our site) are:
Adjim Danngar - Chad
Angel Boligan - Mexico
Ann Telnaes - USA
Assad Binakhahi - Iran
Ayako Saito - Japan
Bernard Bouton - France
Cristina Sampaio - Portugal
Damien Glez - Burkina Faso
Daryl Cagle - USA
Elena Ospina - Colombia
Eray Ozbek - Turkey
Guy Badeaux - Canada
Hassan Karimzadeh - Iran
Jaume Capdevila - KAP - Spain
Jim Morin - USA
Kianoush Ramezani - Iran
Liza Donnelly - USA
Mohammad Saba'aneh - Palestine
Peter Broelman - Australia
Phil Umbdenstock - France
Riber Hansson - Sweden
Tjeerd Royaards - Netherlands
Victor Bogorad - Russia
Vladimir Kazanevsky - Ukraine
Xavier Bonilla - BONIL - Ecuador
Zulkiflee Anwar Haque - Zunar - Malaysia
The Malaysian government is causing trouble again for cartoonist Zunar. Last month a Malaysian appeals court overturned a government ban on two of Zunar’s books, but last week three of his assistants were arrested for selling his cartoon book. Yesterday, he informed us the police has open up new investigation against him under The Sedition Act:
12 Nov 2014 (8 pm Malaysia time): I received a call from a police officer in Kuala Lumpur to inform that they are investigating me under The Sedition Act. I need to report to the police station next week. According to the officer the investigation is relating to my latest cartoon book, but he did not say which one.
Earlier today, my webmaster who helps me operate my official website, www.zunar.my was summoned to the police station. Last week, three of my sale assistants were arrested for selling my latest cartoon books "Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar" and "Pirate of The Carry-BN".
I will call for a press conference tomorrow and will issue a full statement after that.
Needless to say we will continue to follow the case.
Cartoon Movement is based in the Netherlands, a good place for a media organization, as it's one of the countries that has been in the top 3 of the Press Freedom Index for years. Yet this freedom remains precious, a fact proved by a recent verdict forcing a Dutch cartoonist to rectify his work. This verdict could threaten all political cartoonists in the Netherlands.
In October, cartoonist Ruben L. Oppenheimer published a cartoon about a lawyer (named Theo Hiddema). In his cartoon, Oppenheimer called Hiddema a 'shifty lawyer'. Upon publication of this cartoon, Hiddema decided to sue Oppenheimer, claiming this cartoon would do damage to his personal reputation and business.
Translation top text: Shifty lawyer sued over book.
Translation speech bubble: But I'm not gay
Context: the cartoon refers to the autobiography published by Hiddema, in which a private investigator is accused of extortion. The private investigator has sued the lawyer for defamation, and in turn accuses Hiddema of extortion. The cartoon ties this to another part of the autobiography, where Hiddema states people often think he's gay, but he's not.
Whether or not Mr. Hiddema is indeed a shifty lawyer with ties to criminals is not the interesting part here, but the verdict in this case is, because it has far-reaching implications for political cartoonists and satirists in the Netherlands.
The court decided that Oppenheimer should rectify his cartoon, removing the word 'shifty', because he has no evidence to back up this allegation. This verdict (available in Dutch here) is remarkable, because it sets a precedent that anything in a political cartoon should be backed by facts. A political cartoon, like other forms of satire, uses exaggeration, distortion, humor and shock to make a point. It is often a derivation of facts, but can also be based on facts that are not yet known to be true, or portray a hypothetical situation. Because its satire, the rules of journalism (fact-checking, listing your sources) do not apply. But this verdict seems to suggest they do.
Although Hiddema has announced he no longer wants rectification of the cartoon, claiming he made his point, Oppenheimer has announced he will appeal the verdict, to the European Court of Human Rights if need be, because of its implications for cartoonists.
We will continue to follow the case.
Comics journalism is doing well. More and more media organizations realize the potential of this form of storytelling. Last week, Al Jazeera America published its first comic, a 46-page graphic novella titled: Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data. The comic is a joint venture of Al Jazeera America reporter Michael Keller and comic artist Josh Neufeld and is freely available online. According to Al Jazeera, the comic sets out to 'a thought provoking, entertaining field guide to help smart people understand how their personal, and often very private, data is collected and used.'
We can only applaud Al Jazeera's decision to produce a comic. It's great to see a major news outlet recognize the power of comics journalism and use it to tackle a serious issue like big data. Neufeld's artwork is excellent and the story has a nice flow. It touches upon a number of serious and complicated issues connected to big data and how big data could shape the future society we live in. Part of the aim of the comic is to provide people with a foundation to ask their own questions.
That goal is certainly fulfilled, but the downside is that the comic touches on so many important issues that you sometimes feel you are left with more questions than answers. Some of the subjects the comic deals with are definitely worthy of a more in-depth analysis, such as the way insurance companies use data to fundamentally transform the way they work, or the way data is used (also by journalists) to create narratives that might be faced on facts, but are not always true. We hope this piece will be a proof of concept for Al Jazeera, so that they might produce more comics that will deal with these issues in more detail.
Another interesting aspect of the comic is how the story is told, through the characters 'Josh' and 'Michael'. Josh and Michael travel the country to talk to experts about big data; as they travel, their interaction provides the backbone of the story. This works very well, at times it feels like your watching a good documentary instead of reading a comic. Sometimes, however, the interactions feels slightly too whimsical, as if Al Jazeera thought that comics absolutely need to be funny. As a result, the comedy feels a bit forced here and there. But it might just be a matter of personal taste; maybe comics journalism needs to incorporate more humor to reach a mass audience. Time will tell.
These slight drawbacks notwithstanding, we can highly recommend the read. The comic does what it sets out to do: it educates, it stimulates you to ask questions and it's entertaining.
We can only hope this is the first of many comics to be produced by major media organizations.