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Cartoons Under Threat

Although the best response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo is in the form of cartoons, here's a recap of last week by Cartoon Movement editor Tjeerd Royaards.

Cartoon by Arcadio Esquivel

First, there was shock. A brutal and senseless murder of 12 people and a vicious attack on freedom of expression. Then there was indignation and anger. An overwhelming conviction that violence cannot and will not stop satire. This emotion was not just felt by me, but by many, many cartoonists around the globe.

Within hours of the attack, the first cartoons were uploaded to our newsroom. A trickle soon became a flood, and that flood has been going ever since. It is my sincere hope we can keep this momentum going, because that's how satire will not only overcome this tragedy, but will come out stronger on the other side.

If there is to come any good out of this terrible tragedy, it should be a reaffirmation of the importance of social satire. And social satire cannot exist without the freedom to provoke, the freedom to insult. The feeling of unity among cartoonists has been wonderful, as has been the massive support for cartoons throughout Europe and throughout the world. Last Thursday, Cartoon Movement had over 1.5 million visitors, proving to us that we are not alone in our belief that cartoons matter. We even received cartoon submissions from non-cartoonists, stating that, despite not being able to draw, they felt the need to make a cartoon to show their solidarity. Many of our cartoonists shared their view on events in the media, including artists from the Arab World, like Sherif Arafa on CNN and Khalid Albaih on Al Jazeera.

Sherif Arafa on CNN.

Political cartoons are in the spotlight now, but we must work to keep them on the agenda. For it is when we, as a society, do not continue to reaffirm the importance of satire, that the risk of censorship, self-imposed or otherwise, is greatest. A cartoonist will be most courageous if he or she feels supported by the media and by the rest of society.

Although the media certainly seemed to wholeheartedly support cartoonists in the wake of the attack, this support proved to be dubious, and might even be considered a greater threat to political cartooning than any terrorist attack could ever hope to be. US cartoonist Ted Rall was the first to point this out in an excellent piece that appeared on the website of the LA times. In their search for ever more clicks, news websites quickly realized the potential to post Charlie Hebdo tribute cartoons to generate huge traffic streams. Lots of cartoonists posted their work on Twitter, and the majority of media websites simply embedded the cartoons from the Twitter feed, forgoing the courtesy of asking the artists for permission to show their work, let alone pay for it.

Support for cartoons is great, but it does not pay the bills. If media truly care for political cartoons, then the best way to show their support would be to allocate some of their scarce funds to pay cartoonists for the work they do, instead of trying to find every conceivable way of publishing cartoons for free.

For the purpose of full disclosure: we also have allowed some of the cartoons that were posted in our newsroom to be republished elsewhere without compensation, because we felt the need for these images to reach the broadest audience possible outweighed our usual strict policy of never giving away cartoons for free. In the long run, however, supporting cartoonists should mean also supporting them in their livelihood. Because however large the threat of a terrorist attack looms, chances are that the mortgage payment that's due at the end of month looms larger.


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Cartoonist John Kennedy

Well said!

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