Tune in tonight at 6PM CET for another episode of Satire Talks Live. Social media manager Emanuele Del Rosso hosts a live chat on our Instagram channel every two weeks, talking to different cartoonists around the globe. The talks focus on satire, censorship, copyright and other issues that pertain to political cartoons. Tonight he talks to Paulo Jorge Fernandes, Auxiliar Professor at NOVA FCSH doing academic research on satire and editorial cartoons.
'Provocative is one way to describe Latif Fityani, he’s an emerging satirical artist in Jordan who digitally creates drawings or images that say something.
With that Latif doesn’t consider his work to be reaction-baiting, he describes it as attention grabbing with a purpose ---to convey an important message and make the viewer question their pre-established point of view and challenge mainstream narratives.'
Read the full interview here.
Ndarama Assoumani is an editorial cartoonist in Rwanda. Like many other governments around the world, the president and ruling party in Rwanda do not like to be criticized. We talk to Ndarama about his work and the dangers he encounters.
What sort of threats do you face as an editorial cartoonist in Rwanda?
To answer this, we need to look at the history of Rwanda before the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. The most popular newspaper at that time, Kangura, used satire cartoons to stereotype the (Tutsi) enemies, many of them politicians. Reports and testimonies after the genocide mentioned the cartoons as propaganda tools used to serve the perpetrators of the genocide. I'm apart from the ideology of genocide; I draw on justice and peace. It is a shame that cartoons in Rwanda are still seen in the light of the genocide. Can you imagine if someone asked me "Do you want to restore Kangura?" That would mean creating divisions between people again.
I have received several anonymous calls demanding that I stop drawing or that I remove certain cartoons, especially those that cover security, government, or other topics related to the president. I am afraid of course that something could happen to me.
Are there taboos (subjects you cannot draw about) in Rwanda? And is there outright censorship on some topics?
To write and talk about sex in public was forbidden but now television and radio cover this topic. Of course all topics related to the president are taboo. It is forbidden to write articles or use photos and documents without authorization from the Office of the President. This is an unofficial law, not documented but known by all. This restriction is applicable even to topics related to the security agencies, the police and the army.
What are your favorite subjects to draw about? And do these include ‘dangerous’ topics?
I like the subjects of human rights, security and corruption, all of which are dangerous to some extent. Rwanda is placed quited high in various rankings comparing African countries. This means that relatively safe place, with little corruption. It is not true! Some reports are pure falsehood. I think as an editorial cartoonist it is my job to never give up, even if there are very dangerous topics that need to be addressed.
How is the economic situation in Rwanda; is it possible to make a living as a cartoonist?
There are two newspapers that pay cartoonists; among them is the one that I work for as a cartoonist. I earn a minimum of 200 euros and a maximum of 400 euros per month. My income is laughable; being a cartoonist is not a desirable job here. Cartoon Movement helps me to continue my work, giving me the support of an international community of cartoonists.
Are you positive about the future of editorial cartooning in Rwanda?
Everything is possible; the development must begin with basic skills. There is no initiative in Rwanda to help cartoonists in their skills and activities. Learning fine arts does not mean that you necessarily become an editorial cartoonist, but the government should understand the importance of freedom of expression. At present, many cartoonists shy away from politics. They become illustrators instead, choosing to draw subjects related to leisure and entertainment.
Turkey is in turmoil. Numerous terrorist attacks have taken a bloody toll in the last year and an attempted coup has only strengthened the power of Erdogan, who seems to be on a mission to force everyone who doesn't agree with him into submission, including cartoonists. We talk to four of our Turkish cartoonists, Menekse Cam, Emrah Arikan, Halit Kurtulmus and Oguz Gurel, to find out what it's like to be a satirist Turkey these days.
What’s the situation like for cartoonists at the moment in Turkey? Do papers still print (critical) cartoons or is there a lot of censorship?
Menekse: Unfortunately there is censorship, fear and all kinds of pressure. At present, cartooning in Turkey is really more dangerous than ever. Anyone may be arrested and anyone may go to jail. I must admit that since the supposed coup attempt, I haven’t drawn cartoons about Erdoğan and Turkish politics. Because I want to see the road ahead; because I really need to know if I'm safe or what will happen after all this.
Halit: In Turkey, there are three kinds of cartoonists. The first are press cartoonists. Their job is the hardest of all. They are likely to be pressured, to face censorship and to be fired because of what they draw. The same is happening in many countries around the world. The second group of cartoonists usually work for the benefit of governments. Their practices change as the governments change. They are at ease. I’m in the third group of freelance cartoonists. We draw cartoons about current issues and issues regarding the public according to our own points of view. We share these drawings in various platforms (especially in the social media) and we are also likely to face the problems that press cartoonists face, which results in self-censorship.
Turkey has a rich tradition of cartoons and social satire. Can you explain some of history of this tradition and what role satire (cartoons) play in Turkish society?
Menekse: Nasreddin Hodja is perhaps the most famous example from Turkish history. A personality whose quick repartee and sharp intelligence has survived in stories and anecdotes since 1284. Another example is GIRGIR, which was a great humor magazine for 21 years. In my opinion cartooning is most important form of saitre, because it has a great mission. It creates awareness when something goes wrong. In a country like ours, drawing editorial cartoons is a form of activism. Also, cartoons are like a captain's logbook. They are valuable documents that shed light on the future while the mainstream media are offering a one-sided representation of local or international events. So often cartoonists were arrested and imprisoned for calling attention to truths that they knew to be wrong. As you know well, ‘There is more than one truth’. Currently. there are much much more than one truth in Turkey but showing them clearly is really very dangerous for now. It's better to wait for a while. Otherwise, you may not be drawing for a long time.
'In a country like ours,
drawing editorial cartoons
is a form of activism.'
Emrah: The first cartoon was published in Turkey in 1867 during the Ottoman period. Diyojen was the first printed cartoon mag, printed in 1870. Cemal Nadir Güler is the most important cartoonist in classic cartoon period.
Halit: Even in the most difficult years, the old masters made use of cartoons to inform society about the issues which were difficult to write about in the press. We see this in the cartoons of Turhan Selçuk, Oğuz Aral, Semih Balcığolu and of many other old cartoonists. In the past, many humor magazines sold quite well. The interest of the Turkish people played an important role in the establishment and improvement of the tradition of cartoons.
3) What are your favorite subjects to draw about?
Menekse: I just love to draw no matter which subject is. I used to be a spectator of events; I became an activist questioning and criticizing by drawing cartoons. In addition to timely political cartoons I often draw cartoons on global issues which never lose timeliness (like the problems women face, wars, hunger, ecological issues, human relations etc.) I sometimes draw them on specific days (like 1 May - Labor Day, or 8 March - International Women’s Day), sometimes I take inspiration from the competitions. A cartoonist should be able to express him/herself in every subject.
Emrah: I tend to draw about general themes like terrorism, war, starvation, children rights, human rights, justice and freedom.
Oguz: I also tend to draw about those subjects that are universal.
Halit: I most frequently draw about political issues, sports, terror and social injustices.
How do you see the future for cartooning in Turkey? Are (m)any young cartoonists? And are there enough places to publish cartoons?
Menekse: I believe that the conditions we face today are temporary. I hope the Turkish cartoon will have the place it deserves soon. There are a lot of young cartoonists here. For now the most important place to publish our works is the Internet, which provides an endless opportunity for us. The government banned first Twitter, later YouTube in Turkey two years ago. But while there were 7 million Twitter users in Turkey before the ban, there were 10 million at the end of the first day of the ban. In the same way the people continued to use YouTube after the ban. We became a kind of a specialist of IT by finding various ways to circumvent the bans. After all, Turkey provides us with many subjects to draw cartoons about!
'Cartoons are important
because they are often
the voice of the people.'
Halit: Even though the circumstances are getting harder, cartooning is improving in Turkey and the interest of young people is increasing. There are cartooning courses for children in many cities around Turkey, where master cartoonists share their knowledge. I’m personally very hopeful about the future of Turkish cartooning. Unlike many parts of the world, the number of young cartoonists in my country is increasing. We are happy about it. However, we don’t have any platforms to publish our cartoons.
Why are cartoons important in your opinion? Can cartoons contribute to a better future in Turkey?
Menekse: Because a cartoon (even without any speech balloon) can tell people (no matter which language they speak) much more than a lot of pages of the article. No doubt cartoons have the power to contribute to a better future.
Halit: As it has always been, the art of cartooning still has an important role to play in the memory of a society. It witnesses and chronicles many events happening all around the world.
Oguz: Cartoons are important because they are often the voice of the people.
In our community of 400+ cartoonists from around the globe, almost 30 come from Italy. To find out more about cartooning in Italy, we talk to Cristina Bernazzini, Enrico Bertuccioli, Lamberto Tomassini (aka Tomas), Andrea Vitti and Emanuele Del Rosso.
We feature a lot of Italian cartoonists on our website. Is that just our perception or is the cartooning scene indeed thriving in Italy?
Andrea: The cartooning scene in Italy has been particularly thriving after 1968, when the social movements of students and workers were born. This lead to the foundation of important satirical magazines, such as Il Male, Cabalà, Cannibale, Frigidaire and linus, together with some great cartoonists such as Andrea Pazienza or Igort. That period, till the 1980s, was very thriving for cartoonists. Then the 1990s and the 00s were obscured by the growth of commercial TV and a lowering of the general cultural level. All the main magazines were closed and (almost) only commercial comics survived. Now with the web and a more global vision, cartooning is improving again, especially in the fields of graphic novels and graphic journalism, also thanks to new famous cartoonists such as Gipi or Zerocalcare.
'There is a shared idea
that cartoonists are only
drawing 'disegnini' or
This is not a respected
Emanuele: The cartooning scene in Italy is undoubtedly very lively. In a country in which bad politics and social issues are a day-to-day problem, the need for satire is strong. Moreover, Italy has a remarkable satirical tradition: the satirical magazines, some of which are still around, testify the presence of a strong and active satirical streak. The problem is, instead, that Italy is vexed by censorship, so political cartoons and other forms of free thought - quality journalism as well - are not welcomed by the political class.
Is there a trait or style that is typical for cartoonists in Italy?
Enrico: I think there is a typical Italian cartoon, which revolves around one or two characters. In the first variant one character talks about a social or political issue with a speech bubble, sometimes with a caption to introduce the subject. The other variant has two characters having a dialogue with a punchline.
Tomas: I do not think there is a typical Italian style. Actually there is a big difference from author to author. Some major cartoonists strive for high quality in the artistic sense, but some of the younger ones are influenced by a recent trend, inspired by the success of sites like spinoza.it or lercio.it. These cartoonists prefer 'written' satire to 'drawn' satire. So they prefer to focus on the idea, considering the drawn part only as a simple support.
Andrea: I would say mainly inked black and white, but there are many different traits and styles even within the work of single cartoonists such as Hugo Pratt, Magnus or Andrea Pazienza, among others.
What are your favorite subjects to draw about?
Cristina: The arrogance of the powerful at the expense of the poor. The globalization of this phenomenon is one of my favorite topics.
Emanuele: I love to follow the news and draw about anything that happens in the world and deserves a thought. Migrations, politics, sport, war, violence, human rights and so on. I love to draw people with their different facial expressions, that for sure.
Enrico: Generally I draw about the political and social situation in Italy, but also about the international situation if there are important subjects to pay attention to. Often international situations have a direct impact on the local situation. Local and global are intertwined more and more.
Tomas: My input comes from the political news, especially from Italy, but also from Europe and the rest of the world. I think that satire must always challenge authority, showing its flaws and faults to public opinion, which is sometimes too sleepy. Good satire can do this because of its revolutionary, utopian view which shows that an alternative reality is always possible.
Andrea: I'm pretty new in the cartooning world, even if I've always read tons of cartoons and I've been drawing for myself my whole life (travel sketches or surreal scenes). At the moment I'm particularly interested in the subject of migrants and the related social problems.
Are there taboos in Italy? And is there outright censorship on some topics?
Cristina: Italy is a very Catholic country, so the biggest taboo is anything related to the Vatican. There is also a taboo in dealing with the problem of money, even in everyday life.
Emanuele: I wouldn't say that there are taboos - cartoonists can draw about everything, as far as I noticed. But there is a sort of self-censorship by the newspapers themselves, sometimes. The topic of journalism is a tough and complicated one, and involves the funding that the government gives to the newspapers. Because of the money they receive, even if they publish crappy articles, newspapers don't strive that much for finding new stuff or for fostering any kind of public discourse.
‘The fact that the
Vatican State is in
Rome is a problem
Enrico: I think that in Italy the most important taboo is religion. The fact that the Vatican State is in Rome is a problem for cartoonists working in newspapers or magazines. They can be attacked for offending religious believers. Sometimes there is also the risk to be sued for what authors draw and write about politicians. Newspapers don’t want to be sued for the ‘provocative’ work of a cartoonist. Riccardo Mannelli, one of the most important Italian satirical artists, said that the institutional press do not let editorial cartoonists draw what they want. They put limits to the cartoonists ideas.In Mannelli’s words, 'Repubblica, Corriere della Sera, Il Fatto Quotidiano…they dictate priorities. (...) We are tolerated in the insitutional press. We are guests and so we are watched over by the master of the house'.
Tomas: Obviously, the presence of Vatican City in Italy heavily influences politics and culture. So the most common taboos are the ones that concern the field of religion. The situation in Italy is very different from countries with oppressive authoritarian regimes, where satire faces violent censorship attacks (although, paradoxically, these attacks can contribute to make the satire stronger). Here, more than risking censorship, satire tends to become weak. Cartoonists, in some cases, afraid of losing their good jobs, consider themselves like mere employees of the newspapers and accept the limits of the editorial line, through a self-censorship which betrays their vocation to intellectual freedom.
Andrea: When it comes of satirical cartoons, I think the only real taboo is about swearing against god, all the rest has already been drawn. Of course newspapers, magazines and media are generally not free, but always aligned with political parties or religious and ideological movements, so I think in the media there is a kind of internal censorship for what is not aligned with the main orientation or ideology.
In most countries, it’s difficult for cartoonists to make a living. Are there a lot of places for a cartoonist to publish in Italy? And if so, do they pay?
Emanuele: Few pay, as far as I've seen. And if they do, surely what they give is not enough to live with. So far, none of the magazines that asked me to contribute talked about money. There is a shared idea that cartoonists are only drawing 'disegnini', that is, 'little drawings', little pictures, that anybody could do. This is not a respected profession here - my mentors, Toti Buratti among them, and others, told me so many times.
Enrico: No, there are not so many places for a cartoonist to be published. At the moment there are no satirical inserts in magazines (weekly or monthly) and no satirical pages in newspapers. There is Il Nuovo Male a monthly independent satirical magazine. Another one is linus, an important monthly paper magazine founded in 1965 and still alive. It publishes comic strips and illustrations from Italian and international artists, with an eye also for the political and social problems through essays of well known writers, journalists ans satyrical authors. A magazine like Internazionale gives space to editorial cartoons or political comic strips, but institutional newspapers have their own cartoonists and they don’t want to take any risk trying to launch new artists. I know that big newspapers give a fee to their cartoonists (I’ve worked for the Sunday satirical insert of Il Fatto Quotidiano and they paid me) but there are few cartoonists that live of their work in Italy. So satirical cartoonists seek refuge in the internet, where everyone has the possibility to show their work, to launch projects or to collaborate with web magazines. The Internet offers many opportunities, but finding paying work online remains a problem for cartoonists.
'In recent years,
the possibilities to publish
have dramatically decreased.'
Tomas: In recent years, the possibilities to publish have dramatically decreased. Many newspapers have decided to stop the production of satirical inserts. In addition, the authors who work in newspapers and in TV networks are very few and are always the same for years, hindering the possibility of a real generational change. When an editor decides to give space to little-known authors, it's very unlikely he is willing to pay them. Many young people who wish to undertake this activity often agree to give up their work for free, hoping to be rewarded with visibility. And that's an attitude to be absolutely avoided, because it helps to maintain the status quo.
Are there many young cartoonists?
Tomas: There are many young people in Italy who are trying to work as a cartoonist. I think they are enticed by the fact that satire is an important way to communicate ideas. Moreover, satire is always present in the first page of our major newspapers, where it is used as a strategic and effective weapon (a cartoon reaches its target in an instant, while an article needs to be digested and assimilated by the readers).
Emanuele: There are many young cartoonists, but sometimes they lack the political awareness that is needed to be an editorial cartoonist. In any case, the graphic novel field, for example, is in steady and fast expansion.
Andrea: The rise of new genres, such as graphic novels and graphic journalism, has lead to an increase of younger cartoonists, born in the 80s and 90s, such as Zerocalcare.
Are you positive about the future of editorial cartooning in Italy?
Cristina: I see more possibilities for comics than for editorial cartoons.
Emanuele: It's difficult to be positive about the future of a free-thinking-people interest, because of the Italian censorship, lack of money and lack of investment in the field. But things are moving, and networks with abroad are built. So yes, I try to stay positive!
Enrico: No, I’m not so positive about it. I don’t know if there is a young audience really interested in the art of editorial cartooning: spaces to be published are very scarce I’m not sure that Internet could be the lifeline. There are not so many projects like Cartoon Movement around.
Andrea: Italy is an amazing and very complex country, a place of deep contrasts. II think we're passing through a bad identity and cultural crisis. But crises are moments of change, where new spaces are created, and I'm positive about the Italians' attitude towards creativity. Moreover we are more connected to the world and to Europe than ever, and I see this as a positive challenge to widen our horizons. So, I'm trying to do my best with my creativity, to try and make things better.
Arwa Moukbel is a young cartoonist that recently joined our community. She’s from Yemen, not a place where you’d expect to find (female) cartoonists. All the more reason to ask her a few questions.
Why and when did you start making cartoons?
I always saw the daily cartoons in the local newspapers, and I was a big fan of the drawings of Naji Al-Ali. I started drawing cartoons in school, mostly about the Palestinian cause. I knew the bigger newspapers imposed restrictions on what you were allowed to draw, but at the time I hoped to find a small newspaper or website that might be interested in my work.
For a long time, I settled for making cartoons with any place to publish them. Since 8 months, I have a Facebook page.
What are the red lines (subjects you cannot draw about?
A red line in the past was to criticize the system of Ali Saleh and staff. Now, I believe, the biggest red line is criticism of the Saudi regime. My family is afraid, so they prevented me from publishing some of my cartoons that talked about Saudi Arabia 's policy towards Yemen.
But now I am very happy to joined Cartoon Movement. It gives me the chance to publish my work, a chance I do not have here in Yemen, being almost the only female cartoonist.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Yemen - © Arwa Moukbel
Afghan cartoonist Mehdi Amini on his addiction to political cartoons, the legacy of Karzai and the bleak future of Afghanistan.
After a long and bitter electoral battle in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai is stepping down as President. Opinions about his legacy are divided. Mehdi Amini (32) is an architect, but he's been making political cartoons about Karzai for years, in secret. Now, he is speaking out against the regime for the first time: 'Karzai has protected dangerous warlords. It is the Taliban who profit.'
'Bad news is my opium', says Mehdi. Opium is code word in Afghanistan for anything with an addictive effect. 'I get high on a suicide bomber or political blunder. Making a cartoon about it is my only way of getting sober again.' His high can last several nights. For years, Mehdi's cartoons would disappear in a secret folder on his computer. 'I made them only for myself, to keep me sane. Not to show to the world.'
Afghans are still unfamiliar with political cartoons, but this might change soon. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, thousands of highly educated young people from countries such as Iran, Turkey and the United States returned to Afghanistan. In major Afghan cities more and more young activists are coming together to vent their frustrations with writing, poetry or painting. Ambitious and progressive Hazaras like Mehdi often take the lead in these groups.
Hazaras are a Shiite minority in Afghanistan. For centuries, they were considered the dregs of society and they became victims of mass killings by the Sunni Taliban. After 2001, they took their fate into their own hands. Now, they are the people that study hardest, get the best grades and land the top jobs.
Mehdi's biggest frustrations are also the protagonists in his cartoons: President Karzai and the Taliban. Mehdi knows that time is short: if he ever wants to show his cartoons to the world he cannot afford to wait any longer. This year, Hamid Karzai will step down and the international military forces, the Taliban's greatest enemy, will withdraw. These developments will soon make his work outdated.
But Mehdi decides not to publish. He has enough on his mind as an architect and young father. Also, safety is a serious issue when you plan to put up cartoons that mock the long beards and bare butts of the Taliban on walls around Kabul. Then suddenly something happens that changes Mehdi's mind.
The darkest day
March 20 was New Year's Eve in Afghanistan. Well-known Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad takes his family to the Serena Hotel to celebrate the beginning of Persian year 1393. The Serena is known to be a fort in Kabul, surrounded by thick walls and protected by snipers. Four Taliban teenagers walk through the security checks as Sardar sits with his family at a table. They retrieve small guns from their socks; a bloodbath ensues. Sardar, his wife Humaira, daughter Nelofar (6), son Omar (5) and six others die. By a miracle, his youngest son Abuzar (2) survives the drama.
Mehdi is in Kabul with his son, also a toddler, when he hears the news. He gets beside himself with rage, a bad trip this time. Balaatar az siyahee rangi nist – Things cannot get any more black. Murdering children, the Taliban had crossed a line. 'I imagined sitting in the Serena. It could easily have been me.' He stays up all night to work on his darkest cartoon to date.
On a whim Mehdi decides to put the cartoon on Facebook. Even his best friends are amazed when they find out about his double life. 'The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated so quickly, simply drawing the madness away was not enough anymore to clear my head.'
'I looked at my son and could only think: how will his generation ever understand what we have done to each other here? Can my cartoons help?' His friends believe that they can. They encourage him to seek an audience for his work. For the first time, Mehdi is making plans to exhibit his work in Afghanistan.
The legacy of Karzai
Mehdi was born in Iran. His parents call him crazy when he moves to Afghanistan in 2006; they gave up everything to just get as far away as possible. But Mehdi is ambitious and knows he has no chance at a career in Iran because of his refugee status. Friends that traveled to Afghanistan before him told him there are are opportunities there.
'It seemed like a fantastic prospect. Finally a president that would build a future for me and for all Afghans.' Along with Mehdi many Afghans have high expectations when Karzai takes office in 2002. People believed he would be the champion who, backed by trillions of dollars of international aid, would build a new and democratic Afghanistan.
12.5 years later, that belief is gone. The Taliban has reinvented itself under the rule of Karzai. In the first half of 2014, there were over 5,000 civilian casualties in fighting in Afghanistan, among them many women and children.
'When six people are killed in a suicide attack my friends say khair khairiat, it's fine, nothing new. That's why I started drawing. With every cartoon I put a needle in my arm. Feel it, feel it, Mehdi, this is really happening, this is where you live now.'
At the end of Karzai's second and final term, cynics say that his greatest achievement is that he has not been blown up by the Taliban himself. Optimists think it is a miracle that Afghanistan hasn't slid back into full civil war already and fear that in time, people will look back to Karzai's rule with feelings of nostalgia.
Mehdi always draws Karzai with a sweaty forehead and a frumpy, startled look. 'I want to show that Karzai was not in control of the situation in the past decade.' When Karzai became president, he had to deal with powerful warlords that could do as they please under the Taliban regime and in the turbulent times before. They were sometimes willing to shave off their beards, but never to give up their power. Karzai decided to appease them and to involve them in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. In Mehdi opinion, this cost him dearly: 'He was powerless against the influence of dangerous strongmen, especially from the south of Afghanistan, Karzai's home region where the Taliban is strongest.'
Karzai also approached the Taliban and tried to negotiate with them. 'What a joke. Of course, the Taliban are cheating because they have absolutely nothing to gain from peace and security. The organization has a core of extremists, but many terrorists hide behind harsh words about religion. They murder foreigners, but make no mistake. They are not fools. They can only maintain their power and money using the Taliban as their cover.'
'Of course I'm exaggerating in my cartoons. Not everyone with a beard in Afghanistan is retarded. In fact, I know hardcore Taliban who work at our ministries with clean shaven chins . What I want to say is, you must be very stupid to be mad at everything and everyone that's different from you. Taliban are angry at other countries, women, religions, and so on. The list is long.'
The word is out
A French institute in Kabul will host a five-day exhibition of Mehdi's work. The Lycee Esteclal is a stone's throw away from the Serena Hotel. The traffic chaos in Kabul forces you to drive alongside the wall of the Serena Hotel at walking pace for at least ten minutes. It's a tense drive for Mehdi to the opening of his exhibition on August 23.
The opening is very well attended. Guest (mostly Hazara) are searched and their bags inspected. The institute has a large theater that can function as a safe-room. In the event of an attack hundreds of people can camp here for days. Bottles of water and dried food lie waiting.
The major Afghan TV channel 'Tolo TV' is also present. Millions of people see Mehdi and his cartoons on the evening news. The word is out. The day after the opening Mehdi's cartoons go viral on social media. The comments are divided. In some comments, Mehdi is praised for his courage, while in others, he is condemned to death for insulting religious extremists.
Mehdi is now looking for an international audience. Rehab doesn't seem necessary any time soon.
The election campaign lasted nearly six months, due to fraud allegations. The infighting has not served Afghanistan well. The Taliban took advantage of the power vacuum and the economy has ground to a halt.
Sunday, September 21, the two remaining candidates announced they will share power. No democratically elected leader, but a political deal made behind closed doors.
Mehdi jokingly compares the results with CatDog, the animated series about Siamese cat / dog-twins with completely different characters. 'Our leaders will only be engaged with each other, quarreling, and forgetting their people. They will never make important choices, they are too different to agree on important decisions. Actually I have already lost my confidence in these men. If they truly cared for Afghanistan, they would never have turned the electoral campaign into such a drama.'
Perhaps the only upside of the long-delayed elections: Mehdi has had plenty of time to get the features of the new president and prime minister down. Specific traits, such as the sweaty brow of Karzai, have yet to take shape. But Mehdi has the basics in his fingers: I have practiced drawing sideburns, noses and the shape of their faces until my fingers bled. I thought: if we ever get a new president, I want to be ready.'
After the attack on the Serena Hotel, Mehdi joined Cartoon Movement. You can see more of his work here.
This summer (depending on a successful Kickstarter campaign), three students of the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London are launching Modern Times, a magazine full of graphic journalism. Each issue will take on a different social theme; the first one will focus on housing. We talk to Katherine Hearst, one of the students behind this initiative.
Tell us more about your initiative. How did it come about?
'We were inspired by US radio show This American Life. Each week, they feature a range of stories related to a particular theme. We wanted to do something similar, only not on the radio, but in a newspaper.'
Why choose graphic journalism?
'Objective journalism is hard to come by, especially in mainstream newspapers. So its not only about showcasing graphic journalism, it's also about providing a platform for stories that you would not find in the mainstream media. We think graphic journalism is a great medium for story-telling. We're not just talking about comics, but photography and video as well.'
'We want to provide a platform where emerging artists can exhibit their work alongside established artists. We want a real mix of types of work and different narratives, and that comes from a real mix of people. Also, including some known artists obviously boosts our profile.'
Assuming you reach your Kickstarter goal and your first issue is a success, what's your vision for the future of the magazine. Do you plan to fund every issue with a crowdfunding campaign?
'We'll have to see. I envision it to be both a printed and online publication. There’s lots of beautifully designed printed publications out there, but they're expensive to produce and not as far-reaching as a site. The main reason we want an online alternative, however, is that for the next issue, we want to feature film and sound documentaries as well as photography, writing and illustration.'
When do you plan to come out with the first issue?
'Once we get our funding, copies will be available at a number of comics and art fairs. We are also hoping to get them stocked in the best comic shops, art bookshops and even galleries around London.’
Kanika is a 33-year old illustrator and cartoonist from Mumbai. Last year, she created the female cartoon character named Karnika Kahen, and started a series of cartoons that criticized the controversial Indian godman Asaram Bapu. Asaram is a high-profile guru, who has made the news with a remark that the 2012 Delhi gang rape victim was equally guilty along with those responsible for the sexual assault on her. In 2013, he was accused of sexual assault on a 16-year old girl himself. Kanika decided on a female protagonist because she felt there were already a lot of cartoons in India with a 'aam aadmi' (roughly translated 'average Joe') perspective. It was time for 'aam ladki', the female equivalent.
Kanika: 'I don’t see representation of a girl’s voice in the field of Indian cartoons in our times. We have many famous male cartoonists , but not one female cartoonist. It shows that women are still not considered mature enough to make a political or social comment, at least in the world of cartoons. I want to change that. I feel that a woman cartoonist can raise issues concerned to females in a better way. Its not only about the issues related to females only but representing the voice of the women of our country on social and political issues.
Karnika Kahen, the cartoon character, was born when I was feeling very angry after reading the news that Asaram had sexually abused a minor girl. Asaram, the same man who few months back gave this statement that Nirbhaya, the unfortunate rape victim of the Delhi bus should have called those monsters 'Bhaiyaa' who raped her or she should have recited the 'guru-mantra' to save herself from that disaster.
One of Kanika's cartoons, depicting Asaram and his unwillingness to face a narco or polygraph test to prove his innocence.
Within one week IndiaToday and Aaj Tak picked up my cartoons and published a story with my interview. The editor didn't publish the cartoons with my original name and used the name of character in the article , maybe because she already saw what is coming next.
Asaram’s blind followers were already after me when I started publishing cartoons related to him on Facebook but once the cartoons got published in India Today and Aaj Tak, they started coming in hordes and started abusing me severely. I have not heard or read such kind of language before in my life. They even started making derogatory cartoons about me.
Some of them even threatened to kill me. They told that they would give me the same treatment which Nirbhaya faced. They hacked my Facebook , email accounts and got some of my photographs from there and they started distributing those here and there. I was very scared. For months. I didn't come out of my home. I was so afraid that I was not able to sleep properly. But, I kept making cartoons on Asaram until his blind followers got tired and stopped threatening me. I filed a complaint in Mumbai Cyber Crime Cell and local police station. I got lots of support from people in all over the country and other cartoonists. It helped me to continue my fight against these blind followers.
After I filed the police complaint in Cyber crime cell and local police station, the number of threats gone down gradually but sometimes I still receive calls from unknown numbers which I generally don’t pick. The fact is that Godman Asaram and his son is in jail right now, so I believe that the number of their followers have gone down. But they are still using my cartoon character and running a fake Facebook page in my name.'
Kanika goes on to note that, despite the threats, creating this comic series has shown just how important cartoons can be, and has rekindled her love for cartooning.
Today we run 'Meet the Somalis - The illustrated stories of Somalis in seven cities in Europe' on Cartoon Movement. The comic was made for the Open Society Foundations by writer Benjamin Dix and artist Lindsay Pollock. We talk to them about this impressive project.
Why did you choose the Somalis in Europe as a topic for this comic?
Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe project were developing a series of research reports on Somalis in Europe and wanted to find new ways to introduce the findings to a broader audience. At Home in Europe commissioned us to undertake this work with the Somali community. Our comic is an adjunct to their fascinating reports, intended to introduce the topics accessibly through individual stories.
A beautiful aspect of the project is that the Somali migrant story has parallels with the stories and experiences of any migrant community. Issues of identity relating to first and following generations; the positives and negatives of cultural change and interaction; the practicalities of language and cultural barriers. Migrant communities can share all these experiences in common.
At present the Somali community is particularly scrutinised and frequently demonised. This, sadly, is also a common experience for migrant communities - perhaps Muslims in particular at the moment.
Because Somalis are presently suffering mistrust particularly acutely, they are an ideal community to collaborate with in a project that de-mystifies 'the alien within' by candid and relatable story telling. If people can be helped to scrutinise their assumptions about Somalis, by extension they may think more deeply about Pakistanis, Poles - or any of the nationalities who have joined us, and who lend their colours to the tapestry of our European identity.
Is this a story that is best told in comic form? And why?
We love comics. They are a highly accessible and immediate medium. They welcome all readers - and even non-readers!
But this outward simplicity - skillfully executed - can bely a great complexity of expression. To read a comic is to be transported swiftly to any conceivable place or time, and directly into the mind of any sort of character.
Comics can function with remarkable flexibility. They might be diagrammatic, conveying complex information more clearly than text. They can harness the power of illustration, and all the wonderment or empathy that skilled drawing can convey. Naturally they are literary, exhibiting the qualities of allusion, symbolism and metaphor found in writing. And from film and theatre they borrow the techniques of mise en scene, conveying meaning and emotion through arrangement and design.
Once on the page however, all these qualities greet the reader in the simplest way. Before your mind even begins to read the first speech bubble, a character and a place has imprinted on your mind through the pictures. Comics are a form that explodes with creative and expressive potential, and in the present day, we're only beginning to explore the possibilities for journalism, memoir, and subjects that hew to the real world and lived experiences.
What were the challenges of the project? Was it difficult to get people to tell their stories?
We were blessed in our work by the collaboration of very knowledgeable fixers, in the person of Open Society Foundations’ researchers, in the various cities covered by "Meet The Somalis". From those contacts our luck redoubled, as we met countless Somalis from all walks of life who kindly sat with us and spoke candidly about their experiences. Those interviews were intimate, moving, often funny or sad. All the respondents should be commended for taking a chance on two strangers, trusting us with their stories, philosophies and thoughts.
As with many migrant communities, in media and political dialogue, Somalis are more often spoken about than with. Many of our respondents were glad of the chance to address the wider community, to redress some common misconceptions, and in optimism of initiating positive dialogue in the future.
It was important to us to represent the diversity of Somali identity. The anonymity afforded by comics meant that people could be open. They would not have to suffer the awkwardness of family, friends, or the community knowing, for example, their personal relationship to traditional Somali values. Additionally, interviewees could be explicit about issues like poverty, or about disagreements.
This allowed us to show some of the contrasts and contradictions found within the Somali community - as within any community.
Our biggest problem was managing the wealth of material we gathered in the field research. Stories had to be edited down to the bone, to achieve thematic focus and clarity about often quite complex situations.
The characterization of our protagonists was a pleasure. We could draw from the vivid and varied personalities of the Somalis we had encountered. Coming from a totally different background however, we were concerned about making errors in our representation of the Somalis - whether in some aspect of cultural practice, or the simple nuance of how we rendered behaviour or voice.
However, we were greatly assisted by a few Somalis who checked over our work and gave invaluable suggestions and corrections.
How did your collaboration come about? Did you have this idea in mind and were you looking for a particular style of drawing, our did you and Lindsay come up with this concept together?
We have been working together for two years, principally on a graphic novel (currently in progress) about the 2009 civil war in Sri Lanka. This work is also fictionalised from first-hand testimony - this time from Tamil survivors of the brutal conflict. A preview of that project can be viewed at www.thevanni.co.uk. When Open Society Foundations saw this work they suggested a collaboration about Somalis, following the same testimony-led model of writing.
Lindsay draws great inspiration from Raymond Briggs for his illustrations.
“When The Wind Blows” is a comic of devastating power, telling the story of an elderly, ordinary English couple, cut off alone in their suburban home, in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. It's a forbidding subject, but the gentle humanity of Brigg's loving drawing draws you in. When the most upsetting scenes of the story arrive, the simple warmth of Brigg's style almost puts an arm around the reader to carry them through.
Following Briggs, Lindsay tried his best to depict the world - houses, streets, parks, mosques, villages - in a way that was truthful but softened. This was not vivid, clear-eyed photojournalism. We were writing from conversations - full of digression, memory and warmth. Lindsay's intention was that a gentle, story-book style would capture something of the warm human voices we had listened to at kitchen tables, on the streets and in cafes.
The artist is always somehow present when you view an illustration. The reader looks down at the page from the same perspective as the one who drew it; essentially on the very page the reader holds. Your eyes are where theirs were at the moment of drawing. This effect links the moments of drawing and reading. The illustrator is invisibly present with the reader, looking down at the same page.
This is different from text in a book, which is type-set and edited. A novel might be scrawled in red biro, but it will arrive at the reader's eye in a smart type-script. In this way, comics are more intimate. And when an artist draws as humanely as Briggs, his invisible, unconscious 'presence' with the reader, and the page, is warm, and sympathetic. That's the quality that Briggs brings to his work.
Do you have any plans for future comic projects?
As outlined above, we are continuing to work on a large project on the Sri Lankan conflict – www.thevanni.co.uk - and are also currently in the initial stages of a serialised project on the Syrian refugee crises.
All images from 'Meet the Somalis' - © Benjamin Dix & Lindsay Pollock