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Editorial cartoons and AI

Illustrators around the world are concerned about the impact Artificial Intelligence might have on their profession. How do political cartoonists feel about AI?


002_0Cartoon by Keyvan Varesi


Much has been written about AI in recent weeks. After ChatGPT, which can whip up written text in the blink of an eye, the focus has now shifted to image-generating AI such a Dall-E and Midjourney. Illustrators are in an uproar, both because they feel their livelihood is threatened and because the AI programs are using the work of millions of illustrators to learn how to produce compelling visuals. Many illustrators feel this is a clear violation of their copyright.

While all this has been going on, political cartoonists have stayed remarkably quiet on the subject. We wanted to find out why that is, so we sent a short survey (created by Emanuele Del Rosso) to our cartoonist community earlier this week, asking them how they feel about AI.

Cartoonists aren't that worried about AI

Over 50 of them took the time to fill out the survey. From their responses we might learn something about how editorial cartoonists think about AI in general. We first asked them how much they knew about what AI can do in relation to art, on a scale of 1 to 5. A minority of 14% confessed to know little or nothing about AI, while most cartoonists ranked themselves 3 or higher on the AI knowledge scale.

Next we asked them if they ever had used AI generated visuals for their own work. 92,6% had not. The few cartoonists who had mostly used it just to try it out, although one cartoonists used it to create reference material.

After that, we went on the the most important question: do you feel threatened by AI in your profession?


'I asked AI to draw a cartoon in the style of Plantu.
It gave me sketches of plants!'


In general, political cartoonists are not all that worried. We again used a scale of 1 to 5; no one of the respondents marked the perceived threat higher than 3, with a majority scoring it a 1, stating they weren't worried at all. We also asked them to motivate their answers. One unworried cartoonist commented: 'I asked once to an AI to draw a cartoon in the style of the French cartoonist Plantu. It gave me various sketches of plants! So I'm not worried so far.'

The ones who do see AI as (somewhat of a) threat worry about AI getting better and better and eventually replacing human artists as editors at newspapers and magazines opt for the probably cheaper option of using AI-generated illustrations and cartoons.  As one cartoonist puts it: 'Although artificial intelligence cannot do as effective things as we do, it is at a level that can satisfy the needs of people. For this reason, I think people may prefer to get free or cheaper AI products instead of investing in our work.'

The unstoppable march of technology

There is some division in how cartoonists think about the issue of AI. There is a camp that doesn't see a threat at all, as AI is not -and will never be, in their opinion- capable of creating humor and satire that way that humans can. Opposing this view, other cartoonists believe that technology will continue to improve to the point where AI will be able to create political cartoons that are as good as the ones made by humans. Most cartoonists agree, however, that the march of technology is unstoppable. Some of them express the hope that AI will be regulated, providing some measure of protection for human creators. A few point out that it might become a useful tool in the creation of cartoons.


'It’s a development that’s here to stay.
Be creative, work around it, deal with it.


01-Thinker-OSVAL-CUBACartoon by OSVAL


I'm not surprised by the outcome of the survey, which mostly align with my own thoughts about AI, and with my expectations of other cartoonists' perceptions. I think most cartoonists don't feel threatened (yet), because AI is currently not able to produce satire. One could argue that drawing is not our core business; the core of political cartoons is the idea, which we then translate into a visual metaphor.

While illustrators probably have reason to be worried about the ability of computers to generate images on command, I expect there is some way to go before AI is able to match a skill and wit of a good cartoonist. That said, there the possibility that people without drawing skills might use AI to produce their own editorial cartoons, supplanting the need for us political artists. But we've already seen this with memes, which have added to the field of satire, but certainly haven not replaced editorial cartoonists. I suspect this is because creating cartoons requires a rather specific skill-set, one you only get by doing it, a lot.

But perhaps the main, and most cynical, reason most cartoonists do not fear AI is that being a cartoonist isn't much of a business model anyway. Since making money in our little niche of the labor market is already so incredibly hard, how much worse could AI make it?

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor

New cartoonist: Custódio


Custódio is a cartoonist, illustrator, caricaturist and writer from Brazil. He has published cartoons in more than 50 Brazilian magazines, has created animations for television and theater, and participated in several comic book albums. He is the author of 8 books (graphic novels, comics, humor texts, graphic biographies, children book), 6 published in Brazil and 2 in Italy.

Online event: Can we laugh at 2022?

Entering_2023_-_Del_RossoCartoon by Emanuele Del Rosso

Our publishing partner VoxEurop looks back on 2022 in the company of two cartoonists, the Dane Niels Bo Bojesen and the Netherlands-based Italian Emanuele Del Rosso. You can meet the two cartoonists on 24 January at 12.30 p.m. CET, for an hour of conversation in English. They will comment on the news of the past year, suggest some ways to approach the year to come, and talk to us about their profession and passion. You can register for free to attend the online event here.

Pseudo-journalism puts cartoonist in danger

By Emanuele Del Rosso

This is an editorial about poor journalism and Charlie Hebdo. But - sorry to disappoint - it is not another rant against the French satirical magazine. The story is another, and it takes place in Italy.

The Mullahs Get Out contest

On January 4, Charlie Hebdo published a special number dedicated to mullahs, targeting in particular Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader since 1989. The issue contains, next to the usual staff content, 35 cartoons, the winners of a contest called Mullahs Get Out.


One of the 35 selected cartoons was realized by a fellow Italian artist, Paolo Lombardi. The cartoon appears in the front page of the issue as well, as it is quite a punchy work, in line with Charlie’s style. I then saw Paolo’s work go viral, posted and reposted around the web, used both to support the Iranian protesters’ cause and to pillory Paolo and Charlie Hebdo.

Obviously, the publication of those cartoons didn’t sit well with the Iranian regime. Official statements and threats of retaliation were made. We all remember what happened in 2015 at the Charlie Hebdo’s offices and, before that, in 2005, the controversy sparked by the Jyllands Posten for the series of cartoons against the Prophet Mohammed.

The situation is tense and quite volatile.

Riding the news for a bunch of clicks

In the midst of such polemics, Italian newspapers and TV channels like La Stampa, SkyNews24, Open, La Nazione, and other minor media outlets, published articles explaining that Paolo Lombardi received threats and that he is now under police protection. 

I naturally reached out to him to offer my support. Moreover one of my cartoon was selected by Charlie Hebdo as well, and my family was worried about the situation. I felt like talking about it with him, to hear how things were going and maybe ask for advice. I also suggested him to reach out to Cartoonists Right Network International, a non-profit that works on the safety of cartoonists.

To my great surprise, Paolo told me it is all false.

He was never threatened and he never spoke to the newspapers that published pieces about him being in danger. But there are statements from you, I said! He told me they took them from an interview he gave yesterday for a small local newspaper, during which he absolutely never said he was threatened.

He is now trying to make the media outlets retract or modify their pieces, clearly written for clickbait and to ride a polemic that - if it ever existed - doesn’t even belong to Italy.

From our Facebook conversation: “I told the journalists that called me that they need to publish I was never threatened, but they didn’t do that… They only care about interviewing the cartoonist in danger… they are putting me in danger with their articles.”

This pseudo-journalism puts cartoonists in danger

Being a cartoonist is difficult, it is a tough profession.

Media outlets regularly publish cartoons but don’t hire staff cartoonists anymore, so they are not there to help, in case a cartoonist is threatened or attacked - physical or verbally. Cartoons go viral, sometimes they even get modified, they are sometimes posted and discussed in platforms populated by radicalized individuals. Pays are low, protection is non-existent. In many countries cartoonists are not considered journalists, although they are exposed to all the risks journalists face.

And then, on top of all this, there is shitty journalism. The one that invents news to ride waves of media virality, to bring a little more users to the newspapers’ websites, to sell some more copies, to gain some more visibility. And on top of shitty journalism, there is journalism that picks up fake news and republishes it to piggyback on possible exposure. I don’t even know how to call that.

Paolo was never threatened, and he never spoke to the newspapers that published pieces claiming he is in danger. He tried to make them change their articles and they are not listening.

The juicy news is that an Italian cartoonist is at the center of a situation involving press freedom and a regime and a country that are easily hashtaggable, with a very clear potential for going viral.

It doesn’t matter if Paolo, or any other cartoonist, is actually put in real danger by fake journalism. His name and face are now everywhere, and this can definitely attract the attention of radicalized individuals.

He is now potentially in danger because of this pseudo-journalism.

Someone should do a cartoon about this. Or even better, we should launch a contest: Pseudo-Journalists Get out.