Fighting agrocolonialism in the Congo

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Our latest comics journalism project is a cooperation with the University of Sussex and the University of Sheffield.

The comic is based on field research conducted around the Feronia palm oil plantation in Tshopo province in north-east DR Congo as part of a British-Academy funded project on “environmental defenders and atmospheres of violence” (SDP2/100278) hosted by the University of Sussex. The research was carried out by researchers from the Université Catholique du Graben, the University of Sheffield and the Organisation Congolaise des Ecologistes et Amis de la Nature (OCEAN).

The story focuses on people living next to the Feronia concession and how they experience and fight against the company. While the names in the comic are fictional, the described events are based on testimonies we gathered during our field research. This includes accounts of repression and heavy-handed responses by the security services, which highlight the dangers faced by those defending their land, their livelihoods and the environment.

You can download the PDF here.

 

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Review: Front Lines

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Front Lines: Political Cartooning and the Battle for Free Speech
The Editorial Cartoon Initiative and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
102 pages
2019
$15.00

 

After doing a review of Red Lines this summer, Politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker contacted us to see if we would be interested in doing another book review. Wuerker is the editor of Front Lines, a book about (American) editorial cartoons and freedom of speech. It was published in 2019 by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) and contains several essays by cartoon experts and by American cartoonists, including Matt Wuerker himself, Joel Pett, Rob Rogers and Ann Telnaes. Of course, the whole publication is liberally illustrated with many cartoons not only from AAEC members, but also historical cartoons from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century.

All the essays make the argument that cartoons are a vital part of democracy. In the first essay, Joel Pett laments the decision of the international New York Times to stop running political cartoons. In the wake of Charlie Hebdo, the profession of cartoonist seemed to be elevated, Pett argues, with thousands rallying to defend cartoonist and the right to free speech. But the NYT seems to feel differently (even though they shouted 'Je Suis Charlie' just as hard back in 2015), which is inexcusable in world that needs more cartoons, not less.

I found the second essay, by Lucy Shelton Caswell, to be very interesting, because it goes into the historical relationship between political satire and the First Amendment (which guarantees US citizens the right to free speech). The essay is illustrated by many historical samples, including the work of Thomas Nast (the godfather of American political cartooning) and Bill Mauldin (a soldier who drew cartoons from the front lines of World War II).
It also contains probably the most captivating quote from the book, from 1954:

'Only a generation or so ago almost every self-respecting daily newspaper had its own political cartoonist. Usually he was the highest paid member of the editorial staff, and his work was invariably displayed in the most prominent section of the front page. Today, few of these papers such cartoons at all and if they do the panels are likely to be hidden away in the back pages. Even when such offerings appear with any regularity, they are of the "canned" or syndicated variety.'

 

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Bors_ThomasNast_Getty-800Cartoon by Thomas Nast from 1900.

It seems that concerns about the future of political cartoons have been around for a long time. The good news: we're not dead yet. The bad: things have not improved since 1954.

Another really interesting essay is written by Roslyn A. Mazer, about a landmark court case, Hustler V. Falwell, that saved political cartooning in the US. In 1984, Jerry Falwell, an ultra-conservative religious leader, sues Hustler magazine over a satirical piece. The piece was a spoof ad for Campari, containing a fake interview about Falwell's first time (which in the piece includes an outhouse, his mother and a goat).

 

CampariLThe parody ad published in Hustler.

 

Falwell was awarded $200,000 in damages for emotional distress by a lower court. The AAEC took the case to the Supreme Court, in the hope of getting it overturned. If this verdict was allowed to stand, it would mean all targets of satire could now sue cartoonists for causing emotional distress. The AAEC was set to fight an uphill battle, as the majority of judges serving on the Supreme Court were conservative at the time.

Surprisingly, they won the day. In his verdict, Chief Justice Rehnquist stated that 'The art of the cartoonist is often not reasoned or even-handed, but slashing and one-sided. [...] our political discourse would have been considerably poorer [with political cartoonists.]

Rob Rogers' contribution to the book is about drawing Trump. And although the orange menace is no longer in office, there is a good chance we haven't seen the last of him, so the topic is still very relevant. And it's an interesting read (with, again, a lot of cartoons), especially since it was written by the guy who was fired because of his Trump cartoons.

 

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In the penultimate chapter, Wuerker muses about the future of the art form, now that staff jobs at newspapers seem further away than ever for most cartoonists. Will (professional) political cartoons survive beyond newsprint. Only time will tell. Wuerker does a good job in arguing why they should.

Ann Telnaes summarizes all the arguments in the book in the last chapter, which is a tribute to the cartoon in the form of a graphic narrative.

So, what's the verdict? Should you read this book? You should, if you are at all interested in US political cartoons. Although many of the points raised were familiar to me, I did enjoy the brush up on history of political satire in America.

The only thing I did not enjoy (most likely because I'm European) was the continuous emphasis on American exceptionalism when it comes to free speech. Yes, the First Amendment is great, but free speech is not a uniquely American invention or accomplishment. The last time I checked, there are numerous countries listed higher in the Press Freedom Index (the US is currently at number 44). And the First Amendment doesn't preclude the existence of red lines in US society. Try publishing a cartoon with any form of nudity in a US newspaper, or on (US owned) Facebook for that matter.

With that minor side note out of the way, I do recommend you check out the book. The US has one of the best traditions when it comes to political cartooning, and I am still frequently in awe of the skill and wit of US cartoonists. The book should still be available at the AAEC (you can email them at editorialcartoonists@gmail.com) and with the $15 you will be supporting their work, making sure political satire stays alive and well in the USA.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor


A creative journey

Making a cartoon mural in Johannesburg, South Africa

 

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In a unique project that is a first for Cartoon Movement, we were asked to create a mural in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa. Although many of you will have followed along with the project through our regular social media updates, we feel the need to document this story on our blog as well. So here you will find a day-to-day report of how the mural came to life, accompanied by many photos.

Working with our sister site The Next Movement, the Embassy of the Netherlands in South Africa, the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership (JICP), we decided the mural design should be based on what young South Africans think of the future. The catch of the project was that we needed to pull the whole thing off in just two months, with just a week to be on site to create the mural.

With the help of SAIIA Youth, we scrambled to organize two workshops for young people, to hear their ideas and to teach them how to capture these ideas into a cartoon. Next, we asked our cartoonists to pick the best ideas and turn these into professional cartoons (they only had a couple of days to do so). You can see all the submissions here.

While this was going on, we also needed to pick a wall. The JICP had compiled a list of potential candidates. The side wall of the Downtown Music Hub became the preferred choice, both in size and location. The DMH is a 90-year old recording studio that has hosted musicians like U2 and Paul Simon (not to mention a long list of legendary African artists). Its side-wall is four stories high; and it's located in a rough part of town, but near an area that has been renovated recently. Plans are to extend the renovation, and a mural would fit right in with giving the neighborhood a much-needed upgrade.

 

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The wall picked, it was time to vote for the winning design. All the partners agreed that the mural should convey a message of hope for the future. And most agreed that the sketch by Zaheer Sooliman captured this message. Zaheer states that we might not be able to change the past, but we can start the change now. Cuban cartoonist Osval turned his sketch into a beautiful cartoon, capturing our hope for the future not only in the extended hands, but also by adding the earth surrounded by a loading sign. Change might not be here yet, but it's on the way.

 

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The wall and the design were now sorted, so we could get the mural underway. Through coincidence we got into contact with street artist Ras Silas Motse (one of our partners literally met him on the street in Cape Town), and his experience and style seemed a great fit for this project. In addition, his studio had recently burned down, so he could use a new project. Early on we decided to give Ras some creative freedom with the final design. He wanted to extend Osval's cartoon by painting a full figure with hands raised. Since human figures are Ras' specialty, we were quick to agree.

Day 1 - Saturday

The day before we were scheduled to start working on the mural, there was some stress about the delivery of the cherry picker, which was absolutely essential given the fact that we were going to paint a very tall wall. But arriving at 9am, the cherry picker was there and we could start as scheduled. The first step was preparing the wall, scraping it down and repairing any cracks.

 

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Next, our artist Ras went up to cover the wall in what he calls 'doodles', a process that helps him to determine the proportions of the figure on the wall. For him the doodles work like a sort of grid, telling him where and what size arms legs and head will need to be, to be in proportion. He also made a start of the geometric design that will feature on the lowest part of the wall. One of the coolest things that happened was a girl that came up to us to see what we were doing; she had seen us from the balcony of her house nearby. She joined in to paint a little bit of the artwork!

 

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Day 2 - Sunday

Ras started out really early today, hoping to finish the outline of the figure and to start with the geometric shapes that would surround the it.

 

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Unfortunately, a zealous official of the Johannes Road Agency happened to drive by, and decided to throw his weight around. If we did not have a permit, the cherry picker was not allow to be used in the road. We had to stop work immediately, or risk having our cherry picker towed away.

In a project where the City of Johannesburg is one of the sponsors, nobody involved thought that a special permit was necessary. Moreover, the cherry picker took no more space that two parked cars, so other traffic could pass by quite easily. Frustratingly, this was a Sunday, meaning that we had to wait until Monday to sort it out. Until then, we had to pack away the paint and park our cherry picker.

 

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Day 3 - Monday

After scrambling to get the necessary documents and delivering them to the JRA, we were good to go! Except...it had started to rain. Painting an artwork on a wall when it's pouring isn't really an option. So again, we had to wait. From the initial five days we had to complete the mural, it now looked like two were lost. We would have to work really hard to finish in time.

Towards the end of the afternoon, the rain finally stopped, and we could start again. Working until after dark, Ras managed to finish the bottom part of the African geometry.

 

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Day 4 - Tuesday

Another early start for Ras, on the penultimate day of painting (if we were to finish by end-of-day on Wednesday). The sketch outline was finished, and after that Ras started filling in the colors. Sounds simple, but with a wall four stories high, this is actually quite challenge.

 

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Day 5 - Wednesday

A lot of time is spent on creating shading and detail, bringing the figure, and especially the face, to life. The first layer of details is done with spray paint, followed by even finer detail applied with the airbrush. The background is also mapped out, with Ras adding blocks of color in the first stage of creating the geometry. This pattern, and the color used, are not planned, but created spontaneously.

 

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Ras used all the available daylight to finish the figure. After that he still had to finish the entire background of African geometry, not to mention the globe on top. To finish everything, Ras worked until 4.30am to get it all done.

Day 6 - Thursday

Thursday at 9am, the mural was unveiled by none other than legendary South African cartoonist Zapiro, in the presence of all the partners. It was absolutely great to see everyone responding with awe to what Ras had created.


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We hope and expect it will grace the wall of the Downtown Music Hub for decades to come, inspiring those who walk by to aspire to a better future.

 

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If you are interested in seeing more, you can view the recording of the event that took place after the unveiling, where we talk to the young people who came up with ideas for the mural; also, special guest Zapiro tells about his work and the trouble that it caused him.

All photos by Marjolein Klare.


Mural in Johannesburg: the cocreation process

Yesterday, we unveiled our mural in Johannesburg, South Africa. After 5 days of blood, sweat and tears (and holdups because of permit trouble and rain), we are immensely proud to present the final result! Here you can see the entire co-creation process. From a sketch by Zaheer Sooliman (from Joburg, South Africa)…

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…to a cartoon by Osval from Cuba…

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….to the design of the mural, painted by Ras Silas Motse from Cape Town.

 

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After the unveiling, we had a dialogue session at the #cocreateSANL event, where Zapiro spoke about his work and the young people who had submitted sketches talked about the themes they think are important to address. You can see a recording of the event here:

 

 

Check back on the blog next week, when we'll be posting a full report of the creation of the mural, including lots of photos!