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September 2011
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November 2011

Occupy Comics Journalism

Our comics journalists in America have been busy covering the Occupy movement. Susie Cagle has been heavily covering Occupy Oakland, which recently turned violent during a police crack down. She is funding her project, a series of comics documenting Occupy Oakland, through and has a short interview up over at Daily Cartoonist.

Dan Archer has also posted some work from Occupy Oakland and Stephanie McMillan is working on a comic from the Washington DC protests that will run on Cartoon Movement in a few weeks.

Arab Election Tour 2011

On October 23, the first free elections were held in Tunisia since the overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. During the last month, we ran a special project (in collaboration with Radio Netherlands Worldwide) that focused on the Tunisian elections. The outcome of the project: six cartoons that were published by Cartoon Movement and by RNW. (You can see all the submission that came in here.)

The project was such a success that RNW has asked us to set up a similar project for the elections in Morocco on November 25. Once again, our cartoonists are coming up with some great cartoons, and although we started the project a few days ago, the newsroom is already full of pitches. Some of the issues at stake in Morocco are freedom of the press, the role of the police and army, corruption, and the relationship with Europe. 

You can help us decide what to publish by voting for your favorites, and by letting us know what you think about the current cartoons, and which subjects you would like to see cartoons on. After the elections in Morocco, we're planning to continue this project with the elections in Egypt, which are scheduled for December.

Green River Killer

Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case
Dark Horse
$24.99, 240 pages

by S.I. Rosenbaum

GreenriverThere's nothing remarkable about Jeff Jensen's father. He's an ordinary guy. He has a wife and kids. He's into home improvement. As far as we know, there's no great tragedy or trauma in his life.

But he's a homicide cop in Seattle, in 1983, when the corpses of young women are starting to turn up along the banks of the Green River. Some of them are buried, some not. Some of them are naked, some are clothed. Some have been dumped haphazardly; others are carefully arranged.

Someone is killing young women in Seattle, and Detective Tom Jensen is drawn into a mystery that will consume his career.

The graphic memoir Jeff Jensen wrote about his father's quest for the Green River Killer - elegantly drawn by Jonathan Case - is subtitled A True Detective Story, but it's not a whodunnit. Not far into the book, we skip forward  to the surreal endgame of the case, as the cops install the serial murderer known as Gary Leon Ridgway in a makeshift safehouse inside their own headquarters.

Ridgway wants a plea bargain; the cops want a full confession and the bodies of victims who were never found. But as the narrative jumps back and forth in time, it becomes clear that for Tom Jensen - who spent decades as the sole investigator working the long-cold case - the object is something deeper and more elusive. He wants to know the truth at the dark heart of Ridgway, which even Ridgway doesn't seem to know.

As a kid, Jeff Jensen - now a journalist with Entertainment Weekly - wasn't privy to his father's professional life. He starts the book with a dedication: "For my father, with love, admiration, and deep gratitude," followed by the addendum, "This is what you get for teaching me how to read with Batman comics." The elder Jensen has the mustache and smoking habit of Batman's Commissioner Gordon, though if the resemblance ever occurred to young Jeff he doesn't say so. It was only in the early 2000s, when genetic sequencing broke the case open and Ridgway was finally convicted, that Jeff found out about his dad's work.

The book is written and drawn in a kind of uninflected deadpan.  Case's art recalls Mazzuchelli's Batman work: no greytones, strong lines, and a flatfooted realism in his draftsmanship. There's no narration until the epilogue, when Jeff Jensen briefly lets us in on  the story behind the story. Otherwise, events are presented without comment or sentiment. The effect is compelling. There are long wordless panels where we're left to decipher the expression on a character's face; the directness of the presentation preserves the ambiguities of real life.

I would have liked to see some kind of appendix, explaining how the story was reported and rendered into comics. This kind of thing has become popular at papers like the St. Petersburg Times, where I worked and experimented with comics journalism. On long-form, narrative stories, the paper often runs a "How the story was reported" box explaining briefly how the reporter knew all that stuff. It's a good way to maintain transparency without damaging the flow of the narrative.

So it seems that it would not be a bad idea to explain the reporting process - are the words in those speech bubbles approximations, or actual quotes? What visual references were used for all those supporting characters? Jeff Jensen offers only one comment, in the epilogue, saying that his father still doesn't like to speak about a certain part of the case - the part which forms the book's climax. "The details he gave me were few, and offered reluctantly."

It almost echoes the scenes in which the elder Jensen is interrogating his serial killer. So how did Jeff reconstruct that searingly dramatic scene? Alas, it's just another mystery.

S.I. Rosenbaum is a journalist and cartoonist from Boston.

Inside The Favelas

Today we publish a 12-page piece of comics journalism by Brazilians Augusto Paim and MauMau. 'Inside the Favelas' takes a critical look at life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in the wake of massive police actions to sweep out drug cartels.

In preparation for hosting the World Soccer Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Rio launched heavy-handed police raids in 2010 to begin clearing out the slums--or favelas--where the most impoverished citizens live. But how successful is this clean-up, and how does it affect the average resident?

This is the first in a two-part comic. The second installment will be published in two weeks and will find Paim and MauMau delving even deeper into the favelas.

Preview: Inside the Favelas

This Wednesday we will publish a new piece of comics journalism by Augusto Paim and MauMau of Brazil. The 12-page comic, 'Inside the Favelas,' will be the first installment of a two-part report exploring the slums (or favelas) of Rio de Janeiro. In preparation of hosting the World Soccer Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, Rio is clearing the drug cartels from the slums, which they have controlled for decades. But how successful is this clean-up, and how does it affect the average resident?


A Tribute to Tribute Cartoons

It's probably no surprise that at Cartoon Movement we talk a lot about editorial cartoons. Although the editors agree on the importance of cartoons, they have different outlooks on what he role of a cartoon should be, and what constitutes a good cartoon. The death of Steve Jobs renewed the discussion, and sparked the idea to use the occasion to write opposing columns about the role of tribute cartoons. Matt Bors wrote a critique of tribute cartoons, titled 'Pay No Tribute'. The following is in defense of tribute cartoons.

By Tjeerd Royaards

As one commenter of Matt's column 'Pay No Tribute' noted, it is quite a mountain for me to climb coming up with a defense for tribute cartoons, especially in light of Matt's superb critique. I've been thinking on this 'tribute' to tribute cartoons for some time, the more so since I agree with many of the concerns raised by Matt. Initially I planned to show the value of tribute cartoons by showing some of my favorites that have been done over the years. However, this approach would rely on the reader sharing my taste in cartoons, and taste is rather subjective. Instead, I've chosen for a slightly more objective line of reasoning, exploring the role of tribute cartoons within the field of editorial cartooning.

Let me start by stating the obvious: I agree with Matt that cartoons should be original; I also agree that the main role of cartoons is to be check on power, and to bring to light the wrong-doings in society. I'd rather see cartoons poke fun at those in power than commemorate celebrities. The added value of the editorial cartoon (at least, in my opinion) is to be a striking visual that makes you look at an issue in a new way, not a visual that has been done a thousand times before.

That said, I also believe that if you want to avoid clichés, you should avoid becoming an editorial cartoonist. Clichés are an indispensable part of editorial cartoons. Before I start talking about tribute cartoons, let me explain why I think clichés play such an important role in cartoons. To do this we need to take a look at the very essence of cartoons.

At the core of cartoons is the idea of shared concepts. The beauty and power of visuals is that they have the ability to transcend the language barrier. A language is an shared concept in itself, an agreement about attaching meaning to certain groups of letters, or even more basic, attaching meaning to certain signs. Cartoons, instead of using language, use symbols. These symbols make up a common language, one that is not bound to a certain territory, but which is understood throughout the world. Cartoonists expertly use this common language to offer visual commentary on what's happening in the world.

Here are some examples of this common language. In cartoons, characters wearing suit and tie (often combined with a top hat) are almost always representations of corrupt politicians or evil capitalists. Chimney stacks always represent pollution, and any person wearing an oversized military cap or a military outfit with lots of medals is most likely a tyrant. In the case of tribute cartoons, Pearly Gates and clouds are the universal depiction of Heaven.

The list of visual elements that make up this language of universal symbols is extensive, and it consists, for all intents and purposes, entirely of clichés. Yet these clichés are essential to any cartoonist trying to get a message across with visuals. Although cartoonists in some parts of the world (notably the US) rely more heavily on text than others, I think all cartoonists agree that some of the best (if not the best) cartoons are those that don't need text. And whether you use text in a cartoon or not, at the heart of every cartoon is the premise that the visuals are understood by the reader. It's not a matter of not using clichés in cartoons, but in what way they are employed by the artist.

Tribute cartoons are always full of clichés. So what is their added value? The answer lies in the relation between editorial cartoons and the news, and more importantly, the complex relationship between cartoons and public opinion. Cartoons cannot ignore the important events of the world, or they run the risk of becoming irrelevant. They are tied to the news, and also to the public opinion they are trying to shape.  Although the most important role of a cartoon is to offer critique, they have the unique ability to underline the importance of an event, whether it be the death of an important person, or an occasion of historic significance. This ability is demonstrated by how strongly tribute cartoons resonate with the public. In the case of Steve Jobs, the number of cartoons shared on Facebook was overwhelming. Cartoons shouldn't be about popularity, but all cartoonists realize they need an audience for their work to have any worth.

Tribute cartoons demonstrate the power of the visual, and as powerful visuals they are a necessary part of editorial cartooning. They illustrate what's important. In doing so, tribute cartoons set the agenda and pave the way for cartoons that do what they undoubtedly do best: expose arrogance, ignorance, corruption and abuse while making you laugh, think, or both.

What events are worth tribute cartoons is a separate discussion, as is the tendency of many cartoonists to come up with the same concept when doing tribute cartoons. Being original, thinking outside the box, and coming up with new and inventive visual solutions should be at the creative core of any cartoonist, whether he or she is doing a tribute cartoon or commenting on any other news event. Every cartoonists is free to decide whether to do a tribute cartoon or not, but not doing tribute cartoons because you think they are are unoriginal is the same as not doing cartoons about politicians, corruption or power abuse anymore because you fear all the ideas have been exhausted. If you do, it's probably a good time to switch careers.

Pay No Tribute

It's probably no surprise that at Cartoon Movement we talk a lot about editorial cartoons. Although the editors agree on the importance of cartoons, they have different outlooks on what he role of a cartoon should be, and what constitutes a good cartoon. The death of Steve Jobs renewed the discussion, and sparked the idea to use the occasion to write opposing columns about the role of tribute cartoons. Matt Bors is up first; the opposing column by Tjeerd Royaards will follow on Monday.

by Matt Bors

Someday you will die.

It's impossible to predict when and where, but, if you happen to be a well-known figure, it won't be hard to predict with startling precision what the world's editorial cartoonists will work up for your obituary cartoon. You will no doubt be found at the Pearly Gates uttering a variation of your most famous phrase, drawn tastefully with the dates of your birth and death underneath, or gone entirely, represented by an item closely associated with you--a product, a logo, a cartoon character--inexplicably shedding a single tear.

The illustrated tribute to the dead celebrity remains alive and well, especially with artists who have to pick the kids up early from soccer practice.

In over 800 editorial cartoons I have only noted the death of someone twice, one of whom I respected and the other I loathed. So I rarely venture into this territory, finding it almost completely unnecessary. For many cartoonists it has become an easy out for a work day. For me, there are are simply so many other things I'd rather cartoon about than marking the death of some poor schlub.

It's not the paying tribute to important figures that I object to so much as the sheer predictability of almost every one. The cliches are as certain as death and taxes and almost as infuriating. And their relevancy and power has diminished along with shifting attitudes about humor and reverence.

We live in the age of instant reaction--and instant mockery. The celebrity death cycle now shifts from shock to fond remembrance to snark before the body gets cold. Illustrations still have the power to bottle any one of those sentiments for preservation, but a tribute that adds nothing to the conversation is as disposable as a tossed-off Tweet. Within thirty minutes of finding out about the death of Steve Jobs, I predicted he would be depicted arriving at the Pearly Gates of heaven telling St. Peter "There's an app for that" as he flipped through his book of whatever that book is.

That cartoon did materialize multiple times and Jobs was depicted at the Pearly Gates or in heaven (the "iCloud") in no less than twenty cartoons. Jobs was a Buddhist, but don't let that get in the way of a bad idea. There's something about marking the passing of an innovator with an interchangeable cliche that really speaks to the current vitality of the field.

The imposition of a literal heaven by editorial cartoonists (a generally godless bunch) upon anyone of any religion is often defended as a simple tradition: the way we tell jokes 'round here. Perhaps Pearly Gates cartoons are a bit like the traditions of human sacrifice and bloodletting--best left to historians who specialize in cataloging Things That Seemed To Make Sense At The Time.

The single tear drop is another trope that will puzzle future generations of tasteful humans. Meant to elicit a deep loss, the Apple logos crying for Steve Jobs only reminded me I need to get my MacBook to a Genius Bar before the crack in the screen gets any bigger. The most famous single tear ever teared was featured in the American anti-litter Public Service Announcement, "The Crying Indian," where a Native American was shown with a single tear tracing down his face. Litter made him sad. It quickly became one of the most widely parodied and ridiculed ads in American history. The somber teardrop rolling solo down a sullen face sort of did a switcheroo after that and became more an ironic thing used by hip youngsters. The year was 1971.

I often hear that tribute cartoons are some of the most popular cartoons out there, which I think is similar to the argument Michael Bay used while pitching his third movie based on toy robots.

Editorial cartoons must strive for much more than popularity--they must address the issues of the day, not just mark the passing the time with illustrations of news events. They must confront the public with the thing that isn't being said. They must prove they are still relevant. While the maudlin tributes and cheap jokes poured in on Steve Jobs, The Onion carried the torch for satire with the article "Apple User Acting Like His Dad Just Died." It could have been about my peers.

Cartoonists are supposed hold a public figure's life up to the light and scrutinize them, not draw them heading towards the light while glorifying them. Yet not a single cartoon critical of Jobs emerged. Maybe he is an unassailable genius after all. Chinese factory owners certainly appreciated him.

Editorial cartoons work best when they are dishing out biting humor. (A Buddhist CEO, say, who might be reincarnated as an iPhone factory worker.) They can do somber, or powerful, or sad, but the situation has to be right, the execution all that more perfect for it not to collapse under the weight of its own seriousness. The automatic churning out of tribute cartoons for even the most minor celebrities is born more of laziness than respect for the dead.

In a world with so many outrageous things to be made fun of, I can't find it in me to stop and pay tribute publicly in a cartoon. Not when I'm racing towards my next target for satire while eyeing the one after that. So many deserving topics. So little time.

Someday I will die.

Read the opposing column 'A Tribute to Tribute Cartoons' by Tjeerd Royaards here.

Making a Statement

By Tjeerd Royaards

Remember this cartoon? I made it during our stay in Haiti as a response to the massive amount of missionaries that come to Haiti to save souls. It turned out we were not the only ones who were annoyed by these groups of Americans overflowing with righteousness. We met with Leonie Hermantin, a Haitian living in Miami and working for the Lambi Fund of Haiti, an NGO focusing on sustainable development in Haiti. Leonie shared our dislike for missionaries, and when I showed the cartoon I did, she immediately said she wanted it on a T-shirt.

A month ago, Leonie informed me she would be traveling to Haiti again, and she would like to wear the shirt to make a statement. I made the design for her, and asked if she could send me a photo; she replied she would try to get  picture of herself, posing with a missionary. And she succeeded:



In cooperation with Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), we're currently a project focusing on the election coming up in Tunisia on October 23. The popular uprisings demanding more freedom and democracy that have became known as the 'Arab Spring' began in Tunisia and can still be heard loud and clear in a number of Arab countries. The developments of the past year provide a fascinating context for the Tunisian elections. RNW has developed a Vote Compass that maps the political landscape in Tunisia and helps Tunisian voters to decide how to cast their vote:

Some of the issues at stake in Tunisia are the role of Islam, the relationship with the West (the United States in particular) and the position of the army.  The dedicated newsroom has been open for a few weeks now, and we've gotten some great submissions so far. Here's a few of them:


Toonisia    Artwork by: (clockwise) Arcadio Esquivel, Ramzy Taweel, Richard & Slavomir Svitalsky and Enrico Bertuccioli


The cartoons are used to promote the Vote Compass and to create awareness about the Tunisian elections. Other Vote Compasses are being created for the upcoming elections in Morocco and Egypt.