We are very happy to welcome another female artist from Iran to our community. Mansoureh Fatemi Qomi is a cartoonist and caricaturist from Tehran; she is also a teacher at several art universities in Iran.
By Tjeerd Royaards
While editorial cartoonists arguably have been producing excellent work in recent years, the environment in which we do our job is becoming ever more challenging. This article was sparked by the decision of the Pulitzer Prizes not to hand our an award for editorial cartooning this year.
No prize was awarded in Editorial Cartooning.— The Pulitzer Prizes (@PulitzerPrizes) June 11, 2021
Why would a European cartoonist have an opinion about an award for US cartoonists being awarded or not? Because this latest development seems to fit in a trend of several developments that reinforce each other and have one thing in common: they are all detrimental to political cartooning. Most of these developments have already written about, by us and by others, but I feel it's worth mentioning them again.
Many in the field were outraged by the decision of the Pulitzer Prizes not to award a cartoonist this year. The American Association of Editorial Cartoonists issued this statement. US cartoon platform Counterpoint also issued a statement. Micheal Cavna of the Washington Post responded with this article. He makes it clear that the decision not to hand out a Pulitzer in a particular category isn't unprecedented, but after a year in which so many outstanding cartoons have been made, it feel unjustified and, even worse, adds to the loss of standing of political cartoons within the field of journalism.
Timid cartoons and no job security
The number of staff positions for cartoonists has been dwindling for years. As more and more of us are forced to go freelance (or have been freelancing our entire careers), the field becomes ever more competitive. Nowadays, many newspapers and magazines select cartoons from a large pool of freelance cartoonists sending in their work. Following the tenets of neoliberalism, this increased competition should lead to a better product. In the field of cartooning, it does exactly the opposite. Daryl Cagle, who runs a US syndicate of about 70 cartoonists, has written many times about timid editors shying away from hard-hitting political satire. The cartoons that get picked most from his syndicate are the ones that do not express an opinion; harmless jokes about the news do well, and cartoons about celebrities. The incentive is clear: if you want to sell your work, you need to pander to these editors; don't be hard-hitting, don't make people angry, don't draw anything controversial.
Freelancing has not only lead to more watered-down cartoons, it has also significantly weakened the job security of cartoonists. In 2019, the international edition of The New York Times decided, on the basis of one controversial cartoon, to stop running cartoons altogether. As a result, two of their regular cartoonists, Heng and Patrick Chappatte, lost their jobs over a cartoon they did not even draw.
Over the last ten years, this kind of response seems to have become the norm; when a cartoon sparks outrage, fire the cartoonist. And with more and more cartoonists working freelance, this decision is easier than ever. If we've published one of your cartoons and it makes people angry, we'll just never publish your work again. There are several examples of this, both in the US and in the rest of the world. They seem to have become more numerous than examples of newspapers standing with their cartoonists. Here are some examples from the US, Australia and most recently, India, where well-known cartoonist Manjul was fired after making the government tried to take down his Twitter account because of his critical work.
There is irony in this. In most professions, when people make mistakes we would say that to err is human; but for a cartoonist, whose job is to provide sharp critique, one mistake is unforgivable.
Please note that in the case of the US and Australian controversy, I do not agree with the cartoons published (which I think were bad and insensitive), but I take issue with the knee jerk reaction of getting rid of the cartoonist. And it's also important to point out that, despite these trends, many cartoonists are continuing to produce amazing, scathing, sharp, hilarious and downright brilliant cartoons. It just keeps getting harder and harder to find placed to publish them. Even social media is getting increasingly sensitive when it comes to satire.
Within this context, it is more important then ever that a renowned institution recognizes the responsibility they have to recognize the work being done by cartoonists under ever more difficult circumstances. Instead, they decided they could not agree on a winner and not to hand out the prize at all. The decision of the Pulitzer Board is not only an insult to this year's finalists, it also contributes to the weakening position of political cartoons in general.
The Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) is an editorially independent, authoritative and evidence-based annual report published by UNESCO. Its mandate is to monitor progress towards the education targets in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework.
The GEM Report team has worked with cartoonists for several years to illustrate the various topics being analysed in its annual publications. Deemed by the team as a thought-provoking communications tool, the cartoons are commissioned as an original way to tease out the multiple themes in each annual report.
This year, for the first time ever, the GEM Report is launching a cartoon competition in partnership with the Cartoon Movement. The competition is focused on the theme of the forthcoming 2021/2 GEM Report covering the role, influence, benefits and concerns about non-state actors in education. The competition is to draw the best cartoon depiction of the issues around school choice and the impact of non-state actors in access, equity and quality in education. The winning submission will receive $500. Read the full brief and information on how to take part here.
To give you an idea of what they are looking for, here are some of the artists they have worked with in previous years:
In 2020, Anne Derenne, a cartoonist and illustrator with Cartooning for Peace from France worked with the GEM Report to create cartoons illustrating the many different faces of inclusion in education.
The competition will culminate at the end of July 2021. Cartoons submitted will be voted on by the public via the GEM Report’s Facebook page. The winner will see his/her cartoon feature in the 2021/2 GEM Report on non-state actors in education, in all public facing events for the Report held around the world.
Mariana García (pen name Magalú) is an award-winning cartoonist from Argentina. Her work ha been published in Puntal newspaper, La Mosca Muerta, a supplement for Humor con Voz (La Voz del Interior), Umbrales, La Ribera, Polosecky and El Sur. She has also illustrated several books.
After three episodes of Cartoonist 2 Cartoonist, where Emanuele Del Rosso and I analyze submitted cartoons and give (hopefully) constructive feedback, I think we can identify some general points that seem to apply to most, if not all, cartoons. If you are looking to improve your work, we do recommend you take a look at one or more of the episodes, but in this article we list some general tips and tricks that will help you make your cartoons better. To illustrate, we are using some of the cartoons we discussed in the episodes.
1) Make a good scan
This tip only applies if you are working on paper and scanning in your work as a digital image file, either as a finished cartoon, or to apply color digitally. The first thing to do, is to make a professional scan, so that you do not immediately see it's a scan of a drawing, like in the example below.
As you can see in the image, the bottom right corner is darker than the top left corner; what you should be aiming for a a solid flat white background. You can achieve this by playing around with the contrast with just basic image editing software. And also be sure to crop the image to remove any black edges that mark the end of the scanned paper. Here you can see them at the top and at the left of the cartoon.
This is the same cartoon with a better contrast. It's not perfect yet (which has to do with the original scanning), but you can see the improvement:
If you do not have access to a good scanner, there are some decent free apps available that will turn your phone into a scanner. And if you don't want to blow your budget on a Photoshop subscription, there are also free programs to edit images.
Remember, the presentation of your work matters. If it looks sloppy, it will go into an editor's trash folder without a second glance. This also goes for digital cartoons, so make sure your cartoons look professional.
2) Think about your lettering
If you use text in your cartoon, there are a number of things to consider. One of the most important questions: do you go for lettering by hand, do you choose a digital font? Both are valid options, but the style of lettering you choose should fit with your style of cartoons. If you draw and color by hand on paper, your best option will probably to letter by hand as well. This cartoon, discussed in our most recent C2C episode, uses a digital font, but both me and Emanuele felt the style of the cartoon would benefit from hand-lettering:
Take a look at the shop names on the awnings for instance; if these would be done by hand, they would look more like a part of the image, instead of a layer that has been added on top.
Other cartoons might actually work better with a digital font. The cartoon below has a style that would work well with a (well-chosen font), that would improve the readability of the text in the speech bubble.
If you choose to use a digital font, choose wisely. There are thousands upon thousands of fonts available, so it's worth taking your time to find something that really works with your style. And please, stay away from Comics Sans or Papyrus... Also make sure you use a font that free to use (in the public domain) or that you purchase the appropriate license.
It's also worth thinking about the amount of text you need and where you place it in the image. In general, you should only use text when it is absolutely necessary for understanding the cartoon, or for providing the punchline. And think about where you position the text; do you want people to read the text first and then look at the image, or do you want people to look at the image first? This also relates to the next tip, where we discuss the way people navigate your image.
3) Is your message clear?
This is probably the most important condition for any cartoon to be successful. Some things to consider:
-Think about the composition, not only aesthetically, but also as the means you have to guide viewer through your cartoon. A cartoons tells a story; think about how you want people to navigate your story. People in the West tend to navigate from left to right, same as reading. People from the Middle East do the exact opposite, so it might be worth considering your target audience when designing the cartoon narrative.
-Think about the elements you have in your image. Do you need them all? If not, scrap the ones that are not necessary, it will make your message clearer. The rule of thumb is that every element you draw needs to contribute to the story that you are telling.
-All the elements that are necessary need to be understandable as well. If your unsure, check with your friends, family or colleagues. Things might make perfect sense in your own head, but that is not a guarantee that the cartoons will be easily understood by everyone.
-Think about how people will journey through your cartoon. Where should they start looking? Where should they end? Make sure your composition and arrangement and size of elements encourages people to navigate the cartoon in this way.
We discussed the cartoon below by Vincente Corpus from Mexico based on these points:
In essence, this is a great cartoon. It shows how the pharmaceutical industry cashes in on the pandemic. But was it immediately clear to you? Ema and I think the scared Uncle Sam is actually the same person as the man behind the till in the bottom panel, but we're not sure. Providing more visual clues (such as still having him ware the red-striped hat) would have been helpful. A different composition could have worked here, with a similar position of Uncle Sam in the top and bottom panel. Also, you have to make an effort to read the text on the costume of the salesman.
We hope some of these tips will help you in your own cartoons. And remember, if you would like the chance to have your work discussed in Cartoon 2 Cartoonist, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Amany Alali is a Syrian cartoonist. She has lived through the war. Published on social networks and in the Arab press, her caricatures deal with what surrounds her on a daily basis: bombs, terrorism and misery. The young cartoonist (she was born in 1984) is fighting a double battle, to remind people about the horrors of war, and for women's rights. For this, Amany Alali is regularly threatened.
Evergreen satire is a partnership with the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision to give new relevance to historical cartoons. Join us on Instagram on June 8 at 6pm CEST for episode 2 as to talk with experts about the history of satire. The topic for this episode is war: how have cartoonists visualized violence and conflict through the years?
Guests in this episode will be Paule Jorge Fernandes, Assistant Professor at NOVA University of Lisbon, specializing in 19th Century History, Political History, Humor, Satire and Editorial Cartoons, and Jop Euwijk, conservator at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.
Nani has published cartoons since he was 20 years old. He made his career in Rio de Janeiro publishing in newspapers like Tribuna da Imprensa and the historical satirical tabloid O PASQUIM, among others. He now publishes cartoons in Piauí magazine, Supapo and +Humor. Visit his website to see more of his work.
Another month has passed, so time for an update from us! Read our newsletter here. This month, we took part and hosted several online events, launched our new educational branch together with an exhibition in Lithuania and published loads of cartoons. The dominant topic this month was of course the escalating violence between Gaza and Israel.