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Report from Caen

BoardCaen, in Lower Normandy, France. Between 8 and 13 April, 23 cartoonists from 11 countries met here to discuss taboos, censorship, the differences in humor between countries, and the future of the profession. The event is organized and hosted by Le Mémorial de Caen, a museum dedicated to the memory of the invasion of Normandy in 1944, World War 2, and the Cold War, but also to freedom in general.

This 3rd edition was less a festival, and more a meeting of minds, with daily debates and plenty of time  in between to come together to discuss editorial cartoons. The central question: 'Can we really say all we want to say?' Cartoons are a reflection of society, and as such, they are bound to the context and culture of a society. This means a type of censorship exists, even in free societies. If one compares France and the Unites States in term of humor, what is acceptable in France would be unpublishable in the US. The work of Berth and Jiho, two French cartoonists that were present, would for instance be difficult to publish outside of France.

What becomes apparent on an international event of this kind, is how many kinds of cartoons there are. The humor of French cartoonists in often hard and confronting, while cartoonists from other countries use more subtle ways to make their point. See, for instance, this cartoon reacting to the bomb explosions in Boston by Liza Donnely, an American cartoonist (also present in Caen) who has mastered a quiet reflective form of cartoons.

In free societies, there are two main kinds of censorship: self-censorship and censorship by the editor. The editor can kill a cartoon because he thinks it will offend readers or advertisers and therefore he will lose subscribers or ad income. Self-censorship applies when an artist doesn't do a particular cartoon because he knows it will probably not be published. Editorial cartoonists work in a market of supply and demand, so the question is whether this really is censorship or just business (or maybe both). The one place where cartoonists can publish anything is of course the internet, but cartoonists (like any other person) have bills to pay and mostly focus on making work that will generate income. 

There is a third, and more insidious form of censorhip present in society today: to begin lawsuits against cartoonists and newspapers that publish an offending cartoon. Fines, but also just the legal fees involved in going to court, can put publications that do not have deep pockets out of business.

The Festival featured the first showing of Fini de Rire (No Laughing Matter), a documentary that explores the boundaries of freedom of expression  through cartoonists and their cartoons. The story takes place in Israel, Palestine, Germany, Tunisia,France, Belgium and the United States, and asks the following central question: where does freedom of expression stand today? The documentary will be aired (with French subtitling) by Arte on May 7 at 22:40 (CEST). We hope there will be a lot of interest from other TV stations to air the documentary as well. It is a challenge to present the difficult issue of taboo and censorship  in such a way that is interesting to watch for 90 minutes. Director Olivier Malivoisin has acclomplished this, turning a series of interviews into an engaging story with broad appeal.

Logo_enThe TV documentary is coupled to a webdoc that uses testimonies from cartoonists from all four corners of the globe to create a world map of taboos and barriers to the freedom of expression in the 21st century. The map is intended to be an updatable and sustainable tool which maps freedom of expression and taboos around the world. The webdoc is available in French, German and English. Cartoon Movement is official partner of the webdoc, and we'll do our best to help promote it. One of the most interesting features of the webdoc is the button 'themes'; if you press this, the world map shows the different subject that are censored in different parts of the world.

In addition to all the talking, the festival also featured cartooning. The most interesting even was perhaps drawing cartoons on a section of the Berlin Wall. This section was brought from Germany to be placed in the entrance hall of the Memorial, and cartoonists were invited to leave their mark on the wall.

Berlin_wallCartoons on the Berlin Wall - check the full photo set on our Facebook page.

Cartooning is a solitary profession. These events are important because they offer the connection between the cartoonist and their audience. France has a strong tradition of cartoons and also of cartoon events, such as RIDEP and St. Just le Martel; what makes the Festival at Caen extra special is that there is a lot of time and space for informal discussions between artists. At Cartoon Movement, we believe it is vital for the future of cartooning that cartoonists come together to discuss what editorial cartoons contribute to society. The fate of our work is mostly decided by editors and, ultimately, the public, but it important to have a continuing debate on why we are relevant. 


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