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Editorial: a new House of Cartoons in France

Power of Press BAstonCartoon by Miguel Morales Madrigal

Last week, French president Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a European House of Press and Satirical Cartoons in France. Good news for editorial cartooning, of course. I am of the opinion that every country should have a center for political cartooning, or a center for journalism and press freedom, with a section dedicated to political cartoons.

But controversy has arisen as to the location of the new House of Cartoons. Not surprisingly in a country as centralized as France, Macron has designated the new center will be located in Paris. France-Cartoons, the association of French cartoonists, has protested against this decision. They would like to see the new center located to Saint- Just-Le-Martel, a small village in the French countryside which is famous among cartoonists.

Saint- Just-Le-Martel already has an international cartoon center. They organize a yearly festival, which is hugely popular among cartoonists. All of the village is involved in this festival, which brings together cartoonists from all over the world. France Cartoons has called upon cartoonists to sign a protest letter to the French government. You can read more about this on the blog of US cartoonist Daryl Cagle, who is also disappointed by Macron's decision.

To be honest I'm not sure how I feel about this issue. In the spirit of full disclosure: I've never been to the annual salon in Saint- Just-Le-Martel. I've intended to go many times, but life has got in the way. Maybe if I had seen the festival in action, met the villagers and felt the atmosphere, I would also call for a reversal of Macron's decision.

But looking at it analytically from an international perspective, the benefits of locating the new center in Paris seem to outweigh the infrastructure and goodwill of people already present in Saint- Just-Le-Martel. As I see it, one of main problems facing political cartooning today is a lack of prestige. What I mean by that is that political cartoons are no longer taken as serious (which sounds like a paradox) as they once were. Sure, dictators and extremists still take them quite seriously, and still go to great lengths to silence cartoonists. But, with the exception of a short-lived 'je suis Charlie' in 2015, the general audience doesn't seem to care that much about political satire anymore.

I do not believe this is because political cartoons are becoming obsolete, or have any less (potential) impact than they had a century ago. Rather, I think this has to do with other factors, a lot of which I (and others) have written about before: the precarious economic outlooks for cartoonists as media continue to pay less and less, the tendency of newspaper editors to choose timid cartoons over sharp ones and fact that cartoonists fall between being an artist and a journalist, but are not quite either.

An international House of Cartoons is a great way to bring back some of the shine that cartooning has lost. Exhibitions, lectures and debates to put political satire on the agenda of journalists, policy-makers and the general public. And to me, at least, Paris seems a logical choice for a truly prestigious House of Cartoons.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor


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