Stefano Savoldelli, better known as Scescio, is an Italian cartoonist and lawyer. He has been publishing in Italian media for over 30 years.
Congratulations to Miguel Morales Madrigal who has won the UNESCO cartoon competition on global education. His winning cartoon asks important questions - What are your chances of choosing a good school if you come from a low income family? Do poor and rich people have the same possibilities? If you have the possibility to choose, what should you take into account so as to make a good decision?
For this week's editorial, there was really no other choice than to take a look at how cartoonists visualize the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. As is often the case, we can identify a couple of categories of cartoons.
The first category is the tribute or memorial cartoon: cartoons that commemorate the tragedy of the attack, the loss of life and the emotional impact on New York City, America and the world.
Another perspective shows the consequences of the attacks, especially for the Middle East. Some cartoonists us the iconic image of the smoking twin towers to have something emerge from the smoke (like today's cartoon on our homepage).
Other cartoonists play with the shadow cast by the twin towers, turning this into guns, or jet fighters.
It’s interesting to see the difference here between international cartoonists and US cartoonists. Right after the attacks, it was almost impossible for US cartoonists to draw critically about 9/11 and the US response (there’s a chapter devoted to this in Red Lines, a book on censorship we recently reviewed). But even 20 years later, although a collection on The Cagle Post includes a lot of cartoons that question if America’s intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan was successful, there are very few US cartoons that lament the loss of lives (of non-US citizens) due to these military operations. Meanwhile, this cartoon by Dan Murphy draws a rather grim picture.
Another popular category of cartoons connect the 9/11 attack and the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Several cartoonists have drawn the gruesome parallel of people jumping from the twin towers to escape the fires with people falling of the US military plane they had clung onto in a desperate attempt to escape Afghanistan.
Visit our newsroom for even more 9/11 cartoons.
We want to invite you all to our first official online event of Evergreen Satire on Wednesday September 15 at 4 pm CEST, live from the Beeld & Geluid media museum in The Hague, The Netherlands. It’s free!
Evergreen satire is a network of institutions across Europe that house historical cartoons or have have expert knowledge in the area of editorial cartoons. In our first event we will bring together several guests to explore how war has been visualized by cartoonists through the years.
September 15 is the International Day of Democracy and September 21 marks the International Day of Peace. We therefore thought it fitting for our first event to explore how cartoonists have drawn about war & peace in the last century. Can we compare cartoonists drawing anti-Nazi cartoons in the 1930s to Syrian cartoonists that protested against the regime with their work? And can we see similarities in cartoons about the Vietnam war and the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Guests will include: Jürgen Kaumkötter, director of the Center for Persecuted Arts in Solingen, Germany; Rob Phillips, Head of Archives and Manuscripts Section and the Welsh Political Archive at the National Library of Wales; and Jop Euwijk, curator News, Current Affairs and Information at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. And of course Emanuele Del Rosso and Tjeerd Royaards from Cartoon Movement.
Political cartoonists have a problematic relationship with being woke. I decided to make this the topic of this week's editorial, because the 10 finalists of the Cancel Culture and Political Correctness cartoon competition were announced this week. The competition is organized by Librexpression together with Cartooning for Peace and VoxEurop and asks the question if the legitimate protests against the many social and racial injustices that exist in Western countries today (the comeptition calls this woke culture) is now overshadowed by the rise of cancel culture and online outrage.
You can see the 10 finalist cartoons below (I am honored to have one of mine included), but I also wanted to share some thoughts on the topic, as it relates to cartoonists. I remember getting the invitation to send in my work for this competition, and then pondering for a long time if I had any work that would actually fit the theme. I tend not to draw about woke culture because I am ambivalent about it, and I think my ambivalence is shared by many cartoonists.
On the one hand the term woke originates in the awareness about racial prejudice and discrimination, and later came to include many other forms of social inequality. These are precisely the topics many cartoonists address in their work. Our profession is all about shedding light on (social) inequalities, and mocking those who are responsible for perpetuating these inequalities. Most cartoonists like to see themselves on the side of the oppressed, fighting for social justice with every stroke of their pencil. In short, most cartoonists consider themselves to be woke.
But cartoonists also like to see themselves as champions of freedom of expression. And this is where tension arises. Because being woke has at times (d)evolved into cancel culture, with large groups of people protesting as certain speakers where invited to speak at universities, or going after people with certain opinion on social media, with the purpose of censoring or publicly humiliating these individuals. And cartoonists have not been spared this fate; often using stereotypes as part of our visual language, the way we portray certain groups or ethnicities in our work has sparked numerous incidents in the past few years.
One that comes most readily to mind is a cartoon from 2018 by Mark Knight about Serena Williams. Another example is this cartoon by Antonio from 2019 that sparked worldwide accusations of antisemitism and caused the New York Times to stop running cartoons altogether.
The point here is not to argue whether these cartoons crossed a line or not, but the way that online public outrage makes any meaningful discussion impossible. Yes, cartoonist have a responsibility and definitely should be called out when they unfairly portray ethnic or other groups in their cartoons. But they are also human, and make mistakes. In both these cases (and many others), an online mob screamed for blood, the polite people calling for the cartoonists to be fired and never hired again, the not-so-polite ones calling for a lot worse. I could even argue that this mindless public outrage made the NYT editors so afraid it caused them to make their decision not to print any more cartoons, ever.
Cancel culture makes the life of cartoonists more difficult, because we continually have to be weary of not accidentally insulting people or groups of people. In the two cartoon examples above, I am pretty sure the cartoonists did not intend to cause the controversy that they did. I do have to poutn out that this caution is not wholly a bad thing, because it forces us to think about how we draw women, migrants, ethnic minorities etc. But when the consequence is total public humiliation when you get it wrong, it might be time to consider if things haven't gone a bit too far.
What's arguably even worse, it that cancel culture and social media outrage is making editors afraid of satire, reducing the number of paid spaces political cartoonist have to publish their work, or watering down the cartoons that are published. Both not good for the profession.
So it might a good time for cartoonists to explore the issue. An exhibition of 56 cartoons will be on display from 20 September to 31 December in an exhibition in the cloister of the Monastery San Benedetto in Conversano in Italy. And as promised, here below the 10 finalist cartoons (which are presented in random order).
Cartoon Movement editor
Izabela Kowalska-Wieczorek - Poland
Yoemnis DelToro - Mexico
Niels Bo Bojesen - Denmark
Marco De Angelis - Italy
Tom Janssen - The Netherlands
Tjeerd Royaards - The Netherlands
Raul Alfonso Grisales, better known as Guaico is a caricaturist, illustrator and humorous cartoonist from Bogota, Colombia. Guaico's work has been exhibited in different countries around the world.
Over the years, we have done numerous educational projects. Editorial cartoons work well in the classroom, because they teach students to think about what's going on in the world, about thinking critically and about the power of visual communication.
In this week's editorial, I wanted to share some cartoons from the project Cartooning the future in Lithuania that is hosted on our sister website The Next Movement. Cartooning the future challenges students from different schools throughout Lithuania to think about human rights issues, and to come up with their own cartoon ideas on the subject.
The best student sketches are then turned into professional cartoons by our global team of cartoonists.
Here is an idea by Austėja from Merkinė Vincas Krėvė gymnasium: 'My sketch portrays people who are pushing alcohol bottles off the cliff. When they push the bottles away they stay in a bright, beautiful world.'
And the resulting cartoon by Marin Chren from Slovakia, with a slightly different take on the idea:
Love is Love, by Kamila from Merkinė Vincas Krėvė gymnasium.
This idea was picked up by Zach from the Philippines.
Here's a sketch by Kęstutis from Merkinė Vincas Krėvė gymnasium.
And the cartoon by Amorim from Brazil.
Be sure to check out the project page on the TNM website. Not only can you find many more ideas that were turned into cartoons, the website developer added some nice features to navigate the project and compare the sketches to the cartoons.
Cartoon Movement editor
Red Lines - Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship
Cherian George & Sonny Liew
The MIT Press
The number of (international or English) books that deal with political cartoons are few and far between. We did our last in-depth book review in 2016, on a book about comics journalism. Either we have missed some titles - unlikely, as we keep a sharp eye on anything and everything related to editorial cartoons - or there's just not that much being written about cartoons. All the more reason to give some attention to the upcoming publication Red Lines by Cherian George and Sonny Liew. This 448-page behemoth not only gives a broad and comprehensive overview of all forms of censorship, it does so in style, as the authors opted to present their book as a graphic narrative.
And it couldn't have come at a better time. The number of functioning democracies around the world is dwindling, and press freedom is caught in the wake of this trend towards authoritarianism. At the time of writing, the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan and I know of at least two cartoonists that are desperately trying to flee the new (and likely) oppressive regime. The author of the book, Cherian George, is a Professor of Media Studies at Hong Kong University; based in Hong Kong, he himself is witnessing the potential collapse of democracy first-hand.
The book gives a thorough account of cases where cartoonists have been harassed, threatened and murdered for the drawings they made, most frequently at the hand of oppressive regimes or extremist (religious) groups. But the book has a scope beyond the censorship of violent dictatorships. It promises a 'grand tour of censorship', looking at cases of censorship all over the world. The book was over three years in the making, during which time Cherian George traveled across the globe to interview over 60 cartoonists about their experiences with different forms of censorship.
The scope is, I think, the biggest achievement of the book. George effective shows that violent censorship is actually a small percentage of all cases of censorship. In our interconnected world, total censorship isn't practical anymore for oppressive regimes, so most have opted for new strategies of soft censorship (George calls this 'Post-Orwellian strategies'). These strategies include discrediting the cartoonist or threatening to punish (by either removing funding or access to government) the publication in which the cartoon appeared. He then moves on to market censorship, showing how capitalist forces have both decreased the possibility for cartoonists to publish their work and get payment for it and pressure cartoonists to draw or not draw about certain topics. In addition, the book also deals specifically with censorship on the internet, gender-based censorship and censorship in wartime (taking a look at the political climate for cartoons in the aftermath of 9-11).
One of the most scary things for cartoonists is that you often cannot predict what cartoon will get you in trouble. Most cartoonists are familiar with the red lines of the country and society they live and work in, and adhere to these when drawing cartoons, but that does not prevent from sparking controversy by accident. An Iranian cartoonist drew a cockroach for the children's supplement of a government newspaper, and ends up being accused of targeting an ethnic minority. A Venezuelan cartoonist draws a gag cartoon of a rat funeral two weeks before a politician is assassinated, but the cartoon is published after this murder (the magazine was already at the printer at the time of the murder): controversy and accusations ensue, forcing the cartoonist to leave the country.
A lot of attention is of course devoted to the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Over six years after the attack, the book not only provides historical context for the attack, with a thorough account of Charlie Hebdo's track record of controversial cartoons and various lawsuits before January 2015, but it also opens a frank discussion on where and how the cartoons that Charlie Hebdo publishes fit in with press freedom. Immediately following the 2015 attack, it was almost impossible to condemn the attack while also being critical of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. George does not shy away from this question, giving equal attention to defenders of Charlie Hebdo cartoons and to people that argue that the anti-Islam cartoons targeted an already stigmatized and discriminated group, French muslims.
This, perhaps much-needed, discussion of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is preceded by a chapter in which cartoonists talk about how they 'censor' themselves to avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes and offending people for the wrong reason. Because political satire isn't about offending just because you can; it's about using satire, which definitely includes the right to offend, to hold those in power accountable and expose their wrongs. But, to use a cliche, cartoonists should always punch up, not down. And there is nothing wrong with a degree of self-scrutiny to make sure the imagery and symbols you use as a cartoonist mock those that should be mocked without collateral damage.
I cannot review this book without saying something about the form. The graphic narrative is designed by Sonny Liew, an Eisner Award-winning cartoonist and illustrator. Presenting the narrative as kind of a graphic novel not only sets the tone and atmosphere of the different chapters, it makes the narrative engaging and accessible.. For those who find reading a book of close to 450-pages challenging, I can promise the graphic novel approach makes all the difference.
So, all positives. If I would have to mention something negative, it would be that I was familiar with the majority of the cases being dealt with by the author. This is to be expected, as I deal with cartoonists from around the world on a daily basis, and keep a keen eye on cartoonists getting in trouble. If you are either an internationally oriented cartoonist or a well-informed cartoon aficionado, this book might not hold much secrets for you. That said, I did discover some new cases, and, perhaps more importantly, I did gain new insights along the way. In conclusion, I would recommend this title to anyone with an interest in political satire.
The book is on sale August 31st. More info here.
Cartoon Movement editor