The protagonist problem in cartoons

By Tjeerd Royaards

3299-240308 Gender equality (Ahmadi)_small
A recent cartoon about gender equality by Monireh Ahmadi


We have written before about the lack of women cartoonists. Our first editorial on this, by US cartoonist Jen Sorensen, was published 13 years ago in 2011. Sadly, the profession is still very much skewed towards men. Gender inequality also shows in the types of cartoons that are being made, and in the main characters and what role they play in the cartoon.

Earlier this year, we updated a booklet we made for the UN some years ago about human rights to make it more inclusive, and I was having a hard time finding cartoons that didn't feature (white) men as the leading character. The same point was brought to my attention by a (female) jury member in a recent cartoon competition we organized about media freedom. 'Why', she asked, 'are all the journalists in the cartoons men?' The few women journalists that did feature in the cartoons were portrayed as victims.

This got me thinking. Browsing Cartoon Movement's database of nearly 90,000 cartoons soon confirmed my suspicions. Sure, there are lots of cartoons featuring women: cartoons for International Women's Day, gender inequality, the wage gap, domestic abuse. But even in cartoons about these topics, the woman is more often drawn in the role of the victim than as someone who fights back. With some notable exceptions, such as the 2022 women's protests in Iran, it was surprising to see how often women are powerless victims in cartoons. The main reason, I suspect, is that while cartoons often address inequalities, they also tend to reflect, emphasize and often exaggerate the existing stereotypical views. And it probably doesn't help that most cartoons are drawn by men.

And the problem of misrepresentation doesn't end there. A simple search for terms such as scientist, lawyer, doctor, (for women, search for nurse) hero or business reveals how cartoonists will almost always draw men as the protagonist of their cartoon. When drawing specifically about women, they will draw women, but the go-to character will be male. I could have illustrated this point (and this editorial) with some examples, but I do not want it to seem like I'm calling out specific cartoonists. This is a broader problem, so simply click on the links to get an idea of what I am talking about.

With our international scope and comprehensive database of cartoons spanning almost 15 years, I'm guessing the cartoons found on Cartoon Movement are representative for the wider world of cartooning.

If we view political cartoons as a tool to question the status quo, this needs to be addressed. Stereotypes and cliches are part of the cartoonist's toolbox, but, in my opinion, cartoonists should never willingly help to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and prejudices in their work.

And there is an easy fix, more easy than getting more women to become political cartoonists (which is something we also need to keep addressing). The next time you start a cartoon featuring a surgeon, mechanic, scientist or any other character, consider if it needs to be a man, or could just as well be a woman. And when drawing about gender inequality or abuse, consider not drawing the the woman character as a powerless victim, but giving her control over her situation. While you're at it, why not include some more minorities, such a migrants, refugees, persons with disabilities in your cartoons (and not just when you're drawing about migrants of disabilities)?

Spokes in the pencils. Protecting the hand behind the drawing


By Emanuele Del Rosso

It is a Sunday in January. My wife and I have just returned home to Amsterdam from our usual end-of-the-year trip to Italy. It is evening, almost ten o'clock. The doorbell rings. I answer the intercom.

It's the police. "It's the police," I tell her. She looks at me worried.

I open, and a middle-aged officer comes up, introduces himself, apologizes for the late hour, and then tells me that he was told I published a drawing in a French magazine, the week before.

I nod, "Charlie Hebdo." The name doesn't seem to tell him much. He scribbles some notes, snaps a picture of the magazine, which I produced for him – I had gotten it through friends –  and hands me a business card of the Dutch police.

"The Iranian government has very long arms," he tells me, with a serious expression. He expects me to contact them at that direct number, written on the business card, if I notice anything strange. He hopes, for himself and me, that there will be no need for that. And he leaves.

My cartoon had been published on that January 7th in Charlie Hebdo, in a special issue, dedicated to Iranian mullahs, after the death of Mahsa Amini and the protests that followed it. Forty works from cartoonists around the world, as well as from the staff of the French satirical magazine.

After publication, Iranian religious and government authorities threatened the magazine and, by extension, all published cartoonists.

Without protections

This was just a short, unimportant story. A small scare and nothing more. Fourteen months after that Sunday visit, nothing has happened to me yet.

But the cartoonists who encounter a different, far worse, fate are dozens. And you have to count them one by one, case by case, because there are no reports that give precise numbers.

The organizations Cartooning for Peace, Cartoon Movement, and Cartoonists Rights stated, "2020 could see the global community of cartoonists irrevocably damaged. In part the circumstances are unavoidable; the economic depression will lead to the loss of many, and we have seen that attrition is already underway. But far worse, deliberate repressive action will silence yet more." This was 2020. Things have certainly not improved in the past four years.

If we want to give a few examples, take Gábor Pápai in Hungary. In May 2020, after a cartoon pointed out as blasphemous, Gábor and the newspaper he works for, Népszava, were fined, with the obligation to publish an apology, signed by Gábor, in the same box where the cartoonist publishes his work.

Or, outside the EU, in Jordan, Emad Hajjaj, who again in 2020 was arrested without even knowing why, and then found out that the reason was a simple tweet with one of his cartoons, which apparently could damage Jordan's diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates.

Or in Turkey, Zehra Ömeroğlu, accused of obscenity for one of her drawings, who faces more than six years in jail if found guilty.

And these are just the lawsuits, filed against cartoonists to get them to stop drawing, or against the newspapers that publish them. To push them to fire the cartoonists. To make political satire become a liability.

Then there is the violence. The online trolling, the death threats, the illegal arrests, the disappearances, the kidnappings, the beatings, the torture. The murders.

Such is the case of Pedro Molina, who in 2018 found a stranger trying to write "plomo" on his front door. Plomo means "lead" in Spanish, and it means "death" in Nicaragua, because you angered someone powerful and criminal. Pedro fled to the U.S., on Christmas Day, because there are fewer controls at the airport on December 25.

Worse still was Ali Farzat’s fate. Ali, Syrian, had his hands broken by President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 so that he would stop drawing his subversive satire.

His colleague and countryman Akram Raslan, instead, did not survive torture. He died in prison in the spring of 2013.

These are just some of the many stories of cartoonists unprotected, neither by the newspapers they work for, nor by the authorities, nor by public opinion.

So much success, so much precarity

But why don’t we care about cartoonists? We need to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. The fact is that political satire is like a dying person who has never been better. A real oxymoron.

On the one hand, the number of cartoonists employed by news outlets continues to decline. In the U.S. alone, one of the places where "newspaper" political satire was born, it has dropped from about 150 cartoonists in 1997 to about 20 in 2023.

But at the same time, social media gives a lot of visibility to cartoons, which go viral, passing from eye to eye, from click to click, and going around the world. It happens because satirical cartoons are such a powerful medium. They make us smile, laugh, get angry, and most importantly, they make us think.

The problem is that, if all it takes to attract the anger of the satirized is to be talented and to go strong on social media, deciding who is a cartoonist and who is not becomes problematic – although to me, "cartoonist is, who cartoonist does."

And so it also becomes complicated to define cartoonists as journalists.

What is certain, however, is that cartoonists encounter the same risks as journalists. And journalists have it pretty rough.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 78 were killed in 2023, and nearly 800 were detained, according to Reporters Without Borders. This year instead, in Gaza alone, 95 journalists have already lost their lives, again according to CPJ numbers.

As we said, there is no exact data on cartoonists, but one only has to look at all the cases that Cartooning for Peace or Cartoonist Right cover to see that there are so very many emergencies.

When I attend some event related to the world of journalism – and I often do, since I work for the European Press Prize – I'm always there in the third or fourth row raising my hand to ask the same question to the speakers: "You've talked about the safety of journalists. But what about cartoonists?" And when I then talk to the speakers privately, I realize that the cartoonist category is losing pieces: you see cartoons galore online, but cartoonists are always talked about very little, and those of them who work in the newsroom, on a regular contract, are replaced by freelancers when they retire. Freelancers are easier to dump, in case some drawing sparks controversy-which it certainly can.

This weakens the profession. And if it then happens that someone tries to write “plomo” on the doorstep of the house of a cartoonist, or they arrest another without explanation, or they break his or her hands: who will defend them, if they don't have a newspaper behind their backs, and if they don't have official data to illustrate the dangers they face?

The next time we see a cartoon

I am under no illusion that an editorial is enough to convince us, but if I had to decide where to start I would say: the next time we see a cartoon on social media, or read about some satirical cartoon that has angered someone powerful, let's think about who drew it.

Behind a cartoon is always some cartoonist, sitting in his or her little room, paid perhaps, certainly often alone, even more often precarious. Whether they are journalists or not, cartoonists deserve to be protected when they are doing their job and someone is trying to put spokes in their pencils.

I, meanwhile, continue to raise my hand at events about journalism.


This editorial originally appeared on March 21, 2024, in the Italian newspaper Domani.

The Steve Bell case - Political cartoons versus censorship and propaganda: a lost battle?

By Thierry Vissol, Director of the Librexpression centre, Foundation Giuseppe Di Vagno. This article was originally in Italian on Pagina 21.



On October 9, 2023, Steve Bell, famous editorial cartoonist of the British newspaper The Guardian for 42 years, was not only refused a cartoon considered anti-Semitic, but was notified that none of his cartoons would be published until his contract expires in May 2024. A contract which, of course, will not be renewed.

The reason? A satire of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the one that appears at the top of this article. The latter is a caricature in Bell's usual style, if the reader remembers the way he has portrayed the current king of England or British and international politicians and other characters in the Guardian for decades: big ears, big nose. This is demonstrated by reading his latest book The Windsor Tapestry, which I wrote about with admiration in my article on Pagina 21 of 30 September, after meeting Steve Bell in Saint-Just-Le Martel. This drawing has nothing to compare with the satirical drawings of Jews produced by Nazi propaganda. On the contrary, it would rather look like a quite realistic portrait for a caricature, considering the codes of exaggeration and techniques used in this type of drawing. In his right hand Netanyahu holds a scalpel with which he seems ready to cut a dotted line representing the map of the Gaza Strip on his stomach. However, his hands are wearing boxing gloves, which will obviously make the operation difficult. His determined expression shows that he is ready for anything. The drawing is accompanied by the text 'residents of Gaza Get out now!', echoing Netanyahu's order to half the population of the Gaza Strip, which is under total siege.

Anyone reading this cartoon cannot but understand it as a criticism of the hard-line policy of the Israeli government led for years by Netanyahu and his extremist allies, and of the retaliatory measures chosen after the appalling massacres perpetrated by the armed wing of Hamas. Retaliations that endanger the lives of the entire population of Gaza due to the lack of water, food, medicine, health facilities, and incessant bombardments. A policy that has been criticized for years by the Israeli opposition and numerous NGOs. You may remember the film and comic book Waltz with Bashir (2008) by Israeli director and veteran Ari Folman about the massacre in Shaba and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982, during the Operation Peace in Galilee. Or you may have consulted the website of Israeli veterans about crimes committed at the behest of the Israeli army. Similarly, the first measures taken by Israel provoked a wave of both Israeli and international criticism. B'tselem, an Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories, accused Israel of pursuing a 'criminal policy of revenge', claiming that the scale of the air strikes and the blockade constitute 'war crimes openly ordered by top Israeli officials'. Médecins sans Frontières accused Israel of carrying out ‘unlawful collective punishment' against Gaza. In a joint Carte Blanche, first published in the Irish Times and picked up by the Belgian newspaper Le Soir on 19 October, Daniel Levy - former Israeli adviser - and Zaha Hassan - former Palestinian adviser - call on the EU to end Israel's unjustified destruction of Gaza, writing: 'The priority today must be to end the slaughter and destruction of Gaza. Further shelling and a ground invasion will only exacerbate the crisis and increase the risk of the war spreading to the West Bank (where killings of Palestinians by the Israeli army and settlers are increasing), Israel's northern border and beyond'.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, addressing representatives of some 130 countries at the New Silk Roads forum organized by China, called for ;an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to [...] alleviate the terrible human suffering we are witnessing'. He also stated that Hamas' attack on Israel cannot 'justify the collective punishment of Palestinians' in Gaza. Like many other observers, Archbishop Jean-Paul Vesco of Algiers, writing in the French Catholic daily La Croix, expressed what cannot be denied in the light of recent history (including the bombing of Jenin on 3 July, which left 12 dead, 143 wounded and 3,500 displaced because their homes were destroyed or damaged): 'Hamas's barbaric violence is without excuse, but it is not without reason’. Condemning the Hamas crimes cannot be tantamount to supporting Israel's strategy of retaliation. No historical context can justify the slaughter of hundreds of civilians perpetrated by Hamas, and even less the scenes of jubilation in front of them. However, we cannot but agree with Monsignor Vesco that 'In the Muslim world, indignation to the point of unspeakable, sometimes to the point of excess, has been focused for decades on the fate of the Palestinians. It is visceral'. The rift with the Western world on this issue, as on others, is disconcerting and continues to grow. Those in the Western media, who censor any criticism of the Israeli government's policies, should realize that disregarding and not defending the Palestinians' right to a dignified life, to a territory, and sovereign autonomy only serves to further reduce - if there was any need - the credibility of Western democracies and of their rhetoric on humanistic values and human dignity. It leaves the way clear for the multiple dictators demagoguery who criticize democracy and its values, leveraging on this visceral rejection of the West in much of the world to better dominate it.

How come Steve Bell's criticism of this Netanyahu government policy could be considered anti-Semitic by the Guardian? It interpreted the cartoon as a reference to the 'pound of flesh' demanded by the vengeful moneymaker Shylock, the Jewish father, in Shakespeare's play « The Merchant of Venice ». The editor-in-chief sent Steve Bell, to justify the censorship of his cartoon and of the author himself, the simple and sibylline message: 'Jewish bloke; pound of flesh; anti-Semitic trope'.

Now, Bell's reference was not to Shakespeare nor to Shylock's 'pound of flesh', but to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vietnam. Bell's cartoon reads 'After David Levine', a clear reference to the famous New York Review of Books cartoonist. In 1966, Johnson posed for the cameras, revealing a foot-long scar from a gall bladder operation. David Levine satirized it, depicting the scar in the shape of Vietnam. It was one of his most famous cartoons (see the cartoon below). And, in fact, it is a pertinent analogy: Netanyahu will be defined by what happens in Gaza just as the American president was by Vietnam. A somewhat complex and over-educated reference? Perhaps. But many Guardian readers, certainly those of the print edition, would have understood it. But undoubtedly not the uneducated fanatical users of social networks, feared like the plague by the media to the point of being their succubi and becoming their puppets.

The Guardian in its editorial from 8 January 2015, the day after the deadly terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo wrote: 'We continue to inform, to inquire, to interview, to comment, to publish - and to draw – about every subject that appears to us legitimate, in a spirit of openness, intellectual enrichment & democratic debate. We owe it to our readers. We owe it to the memory of our assassinated colleagues. We owe it to Europe. We owe it to democracy'. An increasingly forgotten profession of faith since the Guardian changed its direction in 2015, causing some of its best editors such as Suzanne Moore or Hadley Freeman, who no longer shared its editorial line, to quit.

439574The controversial cartoon by Antunes that caused the NY Times to stop with political cartoons altogether.

All this is reminiscent of the case of the Portuguese cartoonist Antonio Antunes. The international edition of the New York Times published on 25 April 2019, one of his satirical cartoons of Trump and Netanyahu, after the American President's visit to Jerusalem. It depicted a blind Trump wearing a Kippah, black glasses and holding in one hand the white stick of the blinds and in the other the leash of a dachshund with Netanyahu's head and at the colo a Star of David - that of the Israel flag. This cartoon critical of Trump's policy and of the hazards he was ampifying in the region had been published in the Portuguese newspaper Expresso a week earlier (on 19 April) without causing any problem. After its publication in the American newspaper and the negative reactions on social networks, the NYT decided to qualify this cartoon as anti-Semitic. It apologised to readers and at the same time fired the editor who had decided to publish it, the two cartoonists paid by the paper (Patrick Chappatte who had worked there for years and Heng Kim Song) and promised never to publish satirical cartoons again. L'Expresso instead took up the defence of both Antunes and the satirical cartoons, stating that : 'We have always defended freedom of expression and opinion, principles we will never renounce'. He rejected claims that the cartoon was anti-Semitic and called Antunes 'an internationally awarded cartoonist'.

According to Daryl Cagle, editorial cartoonist and director of Cagle Cartoons, the leading syndication service for newspaper editorial page editors, which distributes cartoons and political columns to more than 800 subscribing newspapers: 'Forty years ago, in the United States, there were about 1,800 newspapers and 150 salaried cartoonists; today (2019), there are 1,400 newspapers and 24 cartoonists employed by a newspaper'.
The contribution of editorial cartoons is as important, respectable and indispensable for freedom of expression and media credibility as that of columnists, whom no newspaper worth its salt - but one may ask if they still exist - would decide to eliminate from its columns. Jason Chatfield, cartoonist and president of the National Cartoonists Society, wrote to the management of the New York Times, after its decision to remove the satirical cartoons: 'We are at a critical moment in history, when political lucidity is needed more than ever. If we stifle the voices of our most respected cartoonists, our most respected artists, we lose more than our ability to debate: we lose our ability to grow as a society'.

An enlightened thought on which all the Western media, those at least who still consider themselves champions of democracy and of its freedom of expression values, should meditate before propaganda and demagoguery definitively replace democratic and therefore by definition contradictory information.

If you want to read more about Steve Bell, check out last week's editorial by Emanuele Del Rosso. You can read our thoughts (from 2019) about the NY times' decision to stop running cartoons here.

The golden middle way, or the highway

By Emanuele Del Rosso

It seems like for a political cartoonist, drawing Benjamin Netanyahu, more than drawing any other far-right leader, means searching for trouble. I learned today that Steve Bell, a long-time contributor of The Guardian, just saw his contract, due for renewal, not being extended after he drew the cartoon you see below.




The cartoon depicts Bibi Netanyahu surgically removing a piece of his belly in the shape of the Gaza Strip, and saying “Residents of Gaza, get out now.” Bell said this cartoon “was inspired by the late, great David Levine's cartoon of President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) showing off his operation scar, which Levine draws in the shape of a map of Vietnam." You can see the cartoon says “After David Levine.”

At the Guardian, instead, they saw in this cartoon a reference to Shylock, the Jewish villain of Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. Shylock demands a pound of his flesh from Antonio if a loan to him isn’t repaid within three months.

Bibi the cartoonist “killer” — whoops, I said “killer,” but that’s a metaphor. Don’t fire me for that!

It looks like whoever crosses Bibi’s path with a cartoon, whoever gets in the way of his specific narrative of the State of Israel, which deploys at any given step antisemitism as a defence tool, will pay dearly, for this insolence.

Cartoonist Antonio Antunes knows that well. In 2019, the New York Times decided to discontinue completely its publication of editorial cartoons in the international edition — the national one was already devoid of cartoons — because of another cartoon, by Antunes, on Netanyahu. Again, to some, the cartoon smelled of antisemitism.




Together with Antunes, off went all the other excellent and renowned editorial cartoonists who published with the Times.

Aurea mediocritas

Shylock or not Shylock? Antisemitism references, or not?

Whether you see in this grumpy Bibi the face of the evil Jew, or you miss — as I did — this possible reference, which would sit in a tradition of antisemitic illustrations, the point is actually quite another.

The point is that, after 40 years of collaboration – 40 years! –- Bell was abruptly laid off  because of the controversy sparked by a cartoon.

It wasn’t the first time this happened – he was accused of antisemitism in 2018, again for a cartoon about Netanyahu, and twice in 2020. But the fact is that this time he was condemned without appeal, and when he tried to explain himself he apparently wasn’t believed. Antunes too, together with all his colleagues, was reserved the same treatment by the NYT.

They were all sacrificed to the altar of the aurea mediocritas.

The “golden middle way” is that doctrine, dear to the Roman poet Horace, that praises a middle way in between opposites, a moderate view on things that rewards restraints over excess. This is a doctrine that fits perfectly the attitude newspapers have nowadays: avoid controversy at all costs.

It is easy to imagine political cartoons constitute a problem for those who follow this doctrine. After all, someone called cartooning the “art of controversy.”

Simply put: “The golden middle way, or the highway.”

Journalists should take responsibility

It seems that cartoonists, often at the front line of controversy, especially when events of such magnitude as a terrorist attack on Israel and a human-rights shattering retaliation on Palestinians unfold, are totally exposed.

Not only do they have to deal with death threats for taking a position — and they have to take a position, since they are editorialists — but the rear guard, while they were drawing, went reading Horace and left them alone.

It is unconscionable that The Guardian decided to refuse to publish Bell’s cartoon to avoid controversy, even deciding to fire Bell frantically, indirectly admitting that yes, the cartoon was antisemitic.

This constitutes a precedent, and it makes it even easier to fire a cartoonist for other newspapers. It sets the tone, it shows contrition towards power — be it the power of a State, an individual or a doctrine. And it doesn’t matter that maybe the idea was not to renew Bell’s contract anyway, This decision came from the fear of controversy over a cartoon critical of Israel and Netanyahu. This is all very sad.

Someone demanded a pound of flesh for this cartoon. And that’s what they got, from The Guardian.

Editorial: political cartoonists versus Meta

Twice in the last three weeks Meta has decided to take down cartoons; first a cartoon by Vasco Gargalo from the Cartoon Movement Facebook page and Instagram and this week a cartoon by me from my personal Facebook profile. Both cartoons dealt with the oppression of women by the Taliban. It seems drawing a person with a beard and a headscarf is now enough to sympathize with terrorism, at least according to Facebook.

Cartoon_CM23__2anos_talibans.3Cartoon by Vasco Gargalo about the Taliban, taken down by Meta from the Cartoon Movement's Facebook and Instagram.

This is not a new problem. Cartoonists see their work taken down frequently by Meta due to a perceived infringement of its policies. It's difficult to predict when cartoons are picked up by the algorithm. In other instances, users that don't agree with the point of view of a certain cartoon can report it and have it taken down.

We cartoonists have a love-hate relationship with social media; I hate giving my work away for free to a platform that makes money off of it by surrounding it with ads, but in all honesty my career would not be where it is today if I hadn't used social media to get some exposure for my work.


230830 TalibanMy own Taliban cartoon, removed from my Facebook profile, but at the time of writing still up on my Instagram.

Protesting Meta's decision to remove content is not oftem successful. However, since a couple of years Meta has established an independent Oversight Board where you can send an official appeal. Although the position of social media is changing (and the influence of Facebook definitely isn't what it used to be), they still play an important role in the public debate. I believe cartoons also have an important role in the public debate, and cartoonists should be able to produce political satire without fear of having it taken down randomly. One solution could be to have a special verification for professional cartoonists; once verified, you could be sure to get a human to review your work if it is reported by the algorithm or a disgruntled user.

To this effect, I've submitted an appeal to the oversight board. I'm not expecting much, as they only select very few cases to make an official ruling, but if the pick this one it might contribute to a better position for cartoonists on Meta.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor

Editorial: the decline of editorial cartoons (and how to stop it)

Rats_leaving_a_sinking_ship__fabio_magnasciuttiCartoon by Fabio Magnasciutti

It's been a while since the last editorial (time is a precious commodity these days), but this week I felt the need to write one. The reason: devastating news for editorial cartooning from across the pond as three Pulitzer-winning cartoonists were fired in one shocking day. Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee, Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer were all let go as the parent company of these newspapers, McClatchy, has decided it will no longer run daily opinion cartoons.

You can read all the details in this article in the Washington Post. Ohman called the event 'another brick in the wall', and I can't help but agree. The last few years have seen many troubling developments that all point in just one direction: the demise of political cartooning. A short recap:

-In 2019 the (international edition of the) New York Times decided to stop running political cartoons.

In 2021, no Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons was given.

-In 222, the Pulitzer Prize decided to change the name of the category Editorial cartoons to Illustrated Reporting and Commentary.

-Also in 2022, Gannett , a large US newspaper company with 250 titles decided that the time for a traditional editorial page (the home of the political cartoon) has come and gone

-In 2023, World Press cartoon announced it wasn't able to organize the prize, due to lack of funding.

This list probably isn't complete, but it already paints a dire picture for the profession. And although it's mostly centers on the US, I fear American cartoonists might be at the forefront of developments that will hit us all. I firmly believe public appetite for good political cartoons is as high as ever, but it seems newspaper editors, for reasons that I cannot begin to fathom, do not agree. I used to think it was mainly a money issue, but cartoonist are not that well-paid, and the list of developments detrimental to cartoonists seems to go well beyond mere cost-cutting. To add to the misery, as the number of newspaper spots continues to decline, online media isn't keen on creating new spots for cartoonists either.

Should we just sit back and watch political cartoonists die out (or, at least, those trying to make a living with it)? Or is there something we can do? I would suggest there is. So are are my thoughts, translated into points of action:

-I've said this before:  cartoonists need to join and become more active in journalistic associations and unions; this will integrate the profession more into the journalistic landscape and will make us more visible as part of the newsroom.

-We need to open up conversations with opinion editors, visual editors, editors-in-chief and publishers. Talking to the people who ultimately decide if and what kind of cartoons will be published will help us understand what their expectations are and will help us explain why political cartoons matter in a publication. These kinds of discussions can be informal, but it would be great to organize public dialogues in different countries and at international events featuring newspaper editors and cartoonists, with newspaper readers in the the audience also sharing their input.

-We need to double-down on the promotion of editorial cartoons. More events featuring cartoonists, more political cartoon exhibitions, publish more cartoon books, create awareness around cartoonists who fight oppression in countries with little or no press freedom. In short, do everything we can to remind people about the vital role of political satire in a democracy.

To stop the demise, we need to make ourselves more visible. We should do this by appealing directly to our audiences with exhibitions and such, but I think it's equally if not more important to remind newspaper editors why cartoons were part of the newspaper in the first place, and to explain to online media and their editors that cartoons have as much relevance there as they do in their offline counterparts.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor

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.

Editorial: the (unstoppable?) demise of political cartoon awards

Medal__gatis_slukaCartoon by Gatis Sluka

A sad announcement from the World Press Cartoon this week, as their main funder has pulled out, making the 2023 edition of the award highly uncertain. This is the second time in recent history that the WPC has had to scurry to find new funding to continue its operations.


In 2021, I wrote an editorial about why awards for editorial cartoons matter. But in these time we live in, it seems not many other people see the need to celebrate the value of political satire. Earlier this year, the Pulitzer did away the 'Editorial Cartoon' category, renaming it 'Illustrated Reporting and Commentary'. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists complained, but I am not sure they ever received a response, nor do I believe the Pulitzer Board will reverse its decision any time soon. The UN Political Cartoon Award died in its sleep a few years ago. One glimmer of light is the launch of European Cartoon Award by the European Press Prize a couple of years ago, but its future is far from secure (which I will get back to a little later on in this editorial).

Should we just accept that (international) awards for editorial cartoons are more and more rare? Or is there a way to increase this number, or at least safeguard the existing ones? Those who've read some of my editorials know I consider political cartooning to be a form of journalism. In my opinion, cartoonists should always be part of the journalistic association or union in their country. They should have a press card. First of all for their safety, but also for how their work is seen and valued. And maybe we should extend this to the way cartoons are awarded.

A simple Google search shows that there's a multitude of awards for journalism. I would argue that we need to integrate political cartoon awards with journalistic awards as much as possible. Although the Pulitzers present a problematic example right now (for the reason given above), the basic idea of having  or political cartoons be a category in a journalistic award is a sound one, for two reasons. One, it would give more value to the political cartoon, as a vital part of journalism. Second, it would present a far more secure situation in terms of funding and continuity. It's easier to defund an award just for cartoons than it is to defund a broad journalistic award.

If we, as cartoonists and organizers of cartooning awards, were to decide this is the right direction, there is still a long way to go. Journalists and journalistic award organizers often do not consider cartoonists to be true journalists. This is probably the reason the European Cartoon Award is separate from the general European Press Prizes. It also makes it a lot easier to discontinue or defund the ECA, as this will not impact the other EPP in any way. On the other side of the spectrum, there are also some cartoon awards have a reputation and legacy that they're not willing to give up by joining a more general journalistic award.

This is, for instance, the case for the Dutch cartoon award (the Inktspotprijs); the Dutch Association of Journalists would be more than happy to make this award part of their annual journalist awards, but the organizers of the Inktspotprijs and cartoonists fear this will mean losing the unique character of the Inktspotprijs. That might be true. But I still believe that, in the long run, editorial cartoonists will be better off joining journalists. Both in general and specifically when it comes to awards.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor

Our editorial line on Qatar (and any other subject)

Javad Takjoo(x1221)Cartoon by Javad Takjoo

It's been another turbulent week at Cartoon Movement, at least if we look at our social media channels. As you'd expect, we've published a lot of cartoons about the World Cup in Qatar in recent days; we've also received a ton of comments on these cartoons, most of them negative. The basic argument of all these comments is the same: we, as a Western organization, are hypocritical for calling out Qatar on human rights when our past and present is full of human rights violations.

Although we do not have an editorial policy that's written in stone, this might be a good time to share some of our thoughts about the cartoons we publish, and what we do with the feedback we receive. For us, there are two major take-aways this week:

1.Whataboutism isn't a valid argument

We already witnessed this issue earlier this year, with the many cartoons drawn about the invasion of Ukraine, and we are seeing the same argumentative trick employed again. Under any cartoon about Qatar, multiple comments will read something like this:
What about the killings in Palestine?
What about Europe's colonial past?

Most of the topics raised are valid, but the comments themselves aren't. Whataboutism is a cheap trick to divert attention away from the injustice the cartoon is dealing with. A cartoon can only deal with one subject at a time (mostly). It's only logical that we cartoonists are currently focused on Qatar and what's going on there. Over the past decade, Cartoon Movement has published cartoons on a wide array of issues, by a wide range of cartoonists from all over the world, including all of the ones raised in the social media comments. A simple site search or a look at are collections would prove this.

Not all arguments that point out hypocrisy are whataboutism. It can be very legitimate to point out a double standard, provided it doesn't try to condone the original injustice, or is only meant to draw attention away from said injustice.

2. Human rights are non-negotiable

Following the statement of the German team, we believe that human rights are not cultural or political, but fundamental. Some of the comments we've seen argue that guests should honor the rules set by Qatar (such the players not wearing the 'One Love' armband). We strongly disagree. Following this reasoning, no one could address the inhuman way Europe deals with migrants and refugees at any European event, or the many human rights abuses of the United States in decades of misguided foreign policy when the Olympics, World Cup or any other major event would take place there. It would severely limit the space of journalists, activists and cartoonists to raise awareness about subjects that need to be addressed, precisely when the world's focus is on the country in question.

Other comments argue that we should accept cultural differences. In our view, criminalizing same-sex relationships isn't a cultural difference. It's the oppression of part of the people living in Qatar. And if cartoons should do one thing, it is to fight against oppression.


Rainbow card for Qatar - Del Rosso_0Cartoon by Ema Del Rosso

Events like the World Cup put a country in the spotlight. Qatar has been put in a negative light. It might be true that past hosts of the World Cup should have been under more scrutiny as well, but that doesn't excuse Qatar or FIFA from their wrongdoings. And we'll continue to share cartoons that reflect that.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor

Editorial: portraying extreme right in cartoons

Nazis__marian_kamenskyCartoon by Marian Kamensky

The win of far right political party Sweden Democrats in Sweden (they won about 20% of the vote) prompted a lot of cartoons this week. Drawing cartoons about the extreme right always brings the challenge of which symbols to use. One symbol comes to mind immediately, and you probably guessed it: it's the swastika.

The swastika is problematic as a symbol for several reasons. First of all, it's the most obvious symbol you can use; Nazi-comparisons have long since lost their luster, and making use of the swastika is more often than not a sign of creative fatigue.

Second, social media (an outlet we cartoonists use a lot) doesn't like images of swastikas. Algorithms scour posts and remove them if they detect swastikas, and complaints by other users frequently result in removal of these cartoons as well.

Should we not use the swastika at all, then? I think, at times, the use of this symbol is still valid, but we should be very careful where, when and how to draw it.

For example, I love this cartoon by Dan Murphy, commenting on the Swedish election result. It's a funny spoof on an Ikea ad, but with serious reflection at the heart of the cartoon. It was banned from our Twitter feed in Germany, because of violating their hate-speech laws.


Swedish Assembly


On the other hand, I'm not sure about these cartoons by Zap and Morad Kotkot. They are both well-made visuals, but is the swastika used as a blunt knife here?


The Sweden Democrats...

The Sweden Democrats...


To be fair, I did my own cartoon with a swastika, in which I tried to be clever, but I'm not sure I was successful enough to justify its use. This one was removed from my Instagram feed for -again- violating hate speech laws.


220915 Right-wing victory Sweden


Perhaps the most elegant example of how to make a great cartoon about the far right without resorting to a blunt knife comes from Maarten Wolterink, who has instead opted for combining Swedish mythology with a well-know representation of migrants.




I don't think any symbol should be out of bounds when it comes to satire, and social media companies should definitely be more discriminate when it comes to policing political satire. But I also think some symbols are at their most powerful when they are used the least.

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor