Cartooning in Yemen

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.

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Humans are cheap, bullets expensive - © Arwa Moukbel

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.

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The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Yemen - © Arwa Moukbel


'Bad News is My Opium'

Afghan cartoonist Mehdi Amini on his addiction to political cartoons, the legacy of Karzai and the bleak future of Afghanistan.

By Lotte van Elp

MehdiMehdi Amini works as an architect for the World Bank and as a political cartoonist. Photo: Lotte van Elp

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.'

Artistic activists

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.

Mehdi2                                       The cartoon Mehdi published online after the attack on the Serena Hotel.

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.'

  Mehdi3                                             Karzai hangs helpless. Taliban and warlords have always ruled Afghanistan, says Mehdi.

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.'

Mehdi4                 According to Mehdi, it's no use negotiating with the Taliban.

Mehdi5                'The longer the beard, the smaller the brain.'

'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.

Mehdi6                                        His cartoons about the Taliban caused turmoil on Facebook in the days after the opening of the exhibition.

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.

CatDog

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.

 


Modern Times: New Graphic Journalism Magazine

ModernTimesThis 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.'

Can you tell us something about the contributing artists? It seems to be a mix of well-known artists like Tom Humberstone and Olivier Kugler alongside artists that are not yet established names.

'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.'

Kugler                                   Artwork by Olivier Kugler, from his contribution on the living conditions of Syrian refugees.

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.’

Briggs                   Artwork by Alice Leora Briggs, from her contribution about 'death houses' where people were tortured by the Juarez cartel.

If you're interested to find out more about Modern Life, check out their website, Facebook page and Kickstarter campaign.


Karnika Kahen, Cartoon Crusader from India

KarnikaKanika 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.

To express my anger, I made a series of cartoons on Asaram and published it on my Facebook page and Twitter account.

Karnika1
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.

Karnika2                                         One of the derogatory cartoons that was made, using Kanika's cartoon character.

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.


Comic Demystifies the Life of Migrants

Meet-the-somalis

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.

Mts3

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?

Mts1We 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?

Mts2We 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.

Mts4The 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


Cartooning in Libya: A Soft Target in Murky Waters

Interview with Libyan cartoonist Nabil Fannoush - by Tjeerd Royaards

Nabil Fannoush contributes a daily comic strip to the independent daily The New Libya. Although his comic has received mostly positive reactions, radical religious, tribal and militia elements have been hostile to what he's drawing, and have even attacked to newspaper headquarters. He is currently residing in Canada to study, and has been urged by the newspaper editor-in-chief to remain there for the time being. We talk to him about the state of cartooning in Libya.

Are there many cartoonists in Libya, and did this number grow after the fall of Gaddafi?

'I think you'd get different answers depending on who you ask... For me the answer is no in both cases. As far as I'm concerned the late Mohammed Alzwawi was the only cartoonist Libya ever had and is a great loss because the culture of media and information is very underdeveloped here, and I consider cartoons to be more media than art. There are some artists whose drawings are published in newspapers, and the artwork is very good, but to me if they do not address issues and identify with the readers and their daily lives then they're not cartoons. It doesn't help that many of the artists copy Alzwawi's drawing style, but that is just my personal opinion.'

Fannoush1

Why and when did you start doing comics?

'It's a bit of a long story, and for me personally quite an unhappy one at times, but I'll try to make it brief: drawing in caricature used to be a hobby of mine as a boy, and I used to participate in exhibitions all the time. I always wanted to be a professional cartoonist, but  as I got older I began to understand that the regime heavily censors media, making Libya a hostile environment for cartoons.

I did not think it was right to negotiate the integrity of what I say through my drawings and tailoring them to suit the regime's standards, so I focused on earning a degree in computer science (and currently study and work in that field), but I still drew on request from NGOs and local causes without signature. I often drew anonymously when a subject bothered me enough. God knows I was fearful for myself at times, but it was fear for my family's safety that prevented me from drawing openly at the time. I had no right to endanger them.

After the fall of Gaddafi, an acquaintance of mine who is familiar with my work introduced me to Faisal Alhammali, the chief executive of Libya Aljadida (The New Libya) - which I consider to be the first truly independent Libyan newspaper since the sixties -  and a long time unknown soldier for free Libyan press. Mr. Alhammali asked me if I was interested in drawing a daily cartoon for their paper. He did not want to enlist any of the known artists drawing for other papers because he shares my views regarding their work and he wanted something different. The concept of a daily strip featuring a central character is a new one for Libya, so I showed him a strip I've been working on in my spare time: Faraj Yawmi, a young Libyan professional struggling with the difficulties of daily Libyan life. Mr. Hammali liked it, and the newspaper has been publishing the strip exclusively since then. I believe that around 300 episodes have been published so far.'

Fannoush2

What do you hope to achieve with your work?

'One hope is that I give the average Libyan, who for decades was and still is suffering from marginalization, a voice that can be heard over the noise from the plethora of Libyan media that serves private interest and political agendas and not the public good: they ignore the daily suffering of ordinary people. Another thing I aim for that is the more daunting task of appealing to them for awareness and tolerance, which sadly are in short supply in Libya right now. People need to understand that they need to compromise on things and tolerate each other and differing views for the overall benefit of their country and put aside prejudices and short term personal gain.'

You have received threats because of your work. What is the situation for you at the moment?

'There have been a number of threats,  though my cartoons are in general well received. When they first started I was actually shocked and surprised by them and by the several attacks on the paper, the last of which caused a great deal of damage.

My work is not offensive in any way that I can perceive, that's not what it's for. I almost never refer to a particular person or entity, just occurrences and mentalities in a vein of cheeky humour; I take great pains to make sure that any cartoon is not taken out of context in that way, and the newspaper editors go through them to make sure. Also even if I do cross some line by accident I do not see any need for such an approach, as I have a policy of openness and availability to readers to hear complaints or grievances, and if anyone is offended to my knowledge I would make an effort to seek them out first to assure, appease and accommodate that person, so there is no need for militancy.

Certain extremist and fundamentalist elements for some reason I do not understand do not respond to my approach and efforts at dialogue and appeasement, and that saddens me, but there really isn't anything more I can do for them, and I see no reason to stop drawing for not accommodating radical views I can in no way foresee. All I can do is continue and hope for the best. If I am able to give even the smallest of comfort for a few ordinary people it's worth the risk.'

Fannoush3

Fannoush4Nabil: 'This image is the original ending I wanted for the strip, as I felt it a more powerful message, but I was afraid that people might focus on the taboo aspect and miss the point... So instead I used a more "socially acceptable" drawing, and provided the Facebook page with the original ending so that it would be shown by request only.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it dangerous to be a cartoonist in general in Libya?

'It can be at times, unfortunately. The danger now is different from that of an oppressive regime and carte-blanche security apparatus, and in a way more sinister. It's the opposite extreme of armed lawlessness and fundamentalists-religious, ethnic, tribal or otherwise- who are answerable to no one but themselves. They need not fear accountability for any act, including murder and genocide. Unless a cartoonist becomes part of the problem and aligns with the militias and their agendas for protection (at the cost of integrity and serving the public), he or she is a soft target with little or no protection from a very weak state.

Even something as insignificant as misunderstanding a cartoon's plot can turn tragic: while I was away the newspaper premises was attacked because a shopkeeper of a grocery store somewhere in Tripoli somehow thought that a strip I drew was about him personally, and to this day I am still bewildered as to how he came to that conclusion and why would he then commit such an act.'

Is there censorship or are there taboos (subjects you cannot draw about) in Libya?

'Not officially, but there are, quite a lot of them and someone forgot to print the manual. To me it's not the fact that there are taboos that's the main problem, it's the rather murky, unclear and often contradictory views on what can be said or not. The general definition of 'Taboo' in Libya right now is 'something that displeases someone'.  It is mostly religiously fanatic groups taking advantage of the post-war chaos in Libya  that are most dangerous to a cartoonist armed with ink and a pencil.

A lot of the complaints are things that I cannot in any way foresee. For example, a few weeks ago I was inspired to draw a cartoon about traffic and fuel consumption when I saw a young Tripolitanean lady going to work on a bicycle. Suddenly some people said I was "offending religion" by drawing (or in their words encouraging) a woman on a bicycle. This was considered "improper".  I wasn't given any clear explanation for why I was offending the faith by drawing a woman on a bicycle even though women in Libya drive cars and walk out in public late at night . You can see why at times it can be quite frustrating, but I must be patient with these people, keep reaching out  and hope they reach back.'

All images © Nabil Fannoush - translation from Arabic courtesy of Nabil Fannoush.


'The First Thing to Explode in the Arab Spring was Art'

Interview with cartoonist Khalid Albaih - by Tjeerd Royaards

AlbaihKhalid Albaih is Sudanese, but has been living in Qatar since he was 10 year old. His work, that focuses mainly on the Arab World and Sudan has become immensely popular in the last two years. His Facebook page Khartoon! (a play on cartoon and Khartoum, the capital of Sudan) has accumulated close to 60,000 fans, he was featured by the BBC and the New York Times, and had a solo exhibition of his work in London in September of this year. While in Doha, we visited with him to talk about his work and outlook on the region.

Your style is quite distinctive, can you tell us something about it?

'Most of my work is online, and a lot of people view it on their phone or tablet, so you want something that's stands out, something very simple. Really clean, not a lot of color. The good thing of working with social media is that you know your fans. My audience is young, about 14 to 30 years old. They involved in pop culture, fashion, and whatever is going on right now. With my work, I try to connect with them, creating something clean and simple, that can be worn on a t-shirt.'

Is this style something that evolved over time?

'My background is interior design, and that's probably where my love for simple clean design comes from. I try to blend cartoons and art. My images should be beautiful to look at, even if the person doesn't know what the cartoon is about. This blending also involves doing other things. Right now, I'm not only doing cartoons, but also installations and comics. But it always has a political or social dimension.'

You draw a lot about Sudan.Why is this your favorite subject?

'To me, the government in Sudan is ridiculous. I mean, the decisions that they make, they don't seem to even think about it. I think they live 40 years ago. It's sad, really. And for me, that's funny, because the whole world is laughing at them. They're spending millions of dollars on security, spending 70% of the budget on military. That's insane. In the meantime, a large part of the Sudanese people is starving. Why would you spend money on planes and bombs, and not buy bread for your people? So every time I read the news on Sudan, there's so much material for cartoons. '

Khalid1

Do you do any cartoons about Qatar, about politics here?

'Not so much. Part of the reason is that, although I have been living here since I was 10 years old, I am a refugee here. But I am also quite proud of what Qatar has achieved in the last decade. When I was a kid, nobody knew about Qatar, and now, if you mention you live in Qatar, everybody knows it, mostly in a positive way. Al Jazeera is based here, and the Qatar Foundation has worldwide recognition for its activities.

I try to keep away from Qatari politics in my work, because I don't want to be viewed as a cartoonist that has to suck up to the government, because I live here. Or, alternatively, that I'm playing against them, because as a cartoonist I have to stand up to their policies.'

How do you feel about the negative side of Qatar, the World Cup workers' conditions, the lack of democracy?

'Qatar is a country where everybody is making money and doing well. Qatari citizens have entitlements to the extent that you would not believe (Editor's note: Qatari citizens receive free schooling and healthcare, and higher income and benefits compared to non-Qatari workers). And they love their country, and their government, for it. So their question is: why do we need democracy? Of course, we know the truth; around the edges, horrible stuff is going on. I think a consequence of a welfare state like in Qatar is that, unless something happens to you directly , there is no common ground or need to acknowledge or appreciate the value of human rights or free speech.

That said, because of the government investment in education, the younger generation is getting educated. As a result, their mindset is changing, and these values will gain in importance in the future.'

Khalid2

How about local Qatari cartoonists, are they doing a good job?

'I think in general Qatari artists are doing well for themselves. I work at the Qatar Museums Authority, and a lot of the exhibitions that we do feature art that challenge the society, that ask a lot of questions. So we have challenging artists in a conservative society, and I think that's important. And this goes for cartoonists too; they're asking questions.'

How do you feel about the role of cartoons in the Arab world in general, since the outbreak of the Arab Spring?

'With the outbreak of popular uprisings throughout the Arab world, visual culture, whether it be cartoons, graffiti or other types of art, have definitely gained momentum. Before, everybody was kept in boxes; the Arab Spring unleashed a flood of creativity. The first thing that exploded with the Arab Spring was art. Graffiti artists took to the streets and basically covered up all the the walls; this is how frustrated they were. When we grew up, drawing or writing about politics was a nightmare, not just for you, but for your family, because anything could happen. So we were told to stay away from politics as far as possible.

I think, in it's essence, the Arab Spring is the fight for freedom of our generation. When the revolution started, everybody just took to the streets, and artists poured their feelings and frustrations into their art and cartoons. The West was of course looking at the region, and the cartoonists were the stars of the region, of the revolution.

The Arab Spring is history in the making, and cartoonists in the region are the chroniclers of that history and of the feelings of the people. It is our time.'

Khalid3

 

For countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the transition to democracy is proving difficult. Are you optimistic about the future of the region?

'I am. I read somewhere that after the French Revolution it took 70 years for the country to settle down, to become the mother of democracy. When you think about it, the Arab region has suffered repressive regimes for 100 years, longer in some cases. We're not used to freedom, we don't know what freedom is. We never had freedom. If anybody in this region says 'I had freedom', he's lying. So, for us, this is just the start. We're just starting to know what we can and can't do. I think the future is looking positive. I mean, just look at what happened in Egypt: they didn't like the situation, and they changed it. After all these years of oppression, things are not just going to settle down.'

So, do you have any idea what the end result will be?

'The problem is that the West is looking at this region and saying 'if they don't do this, then they won't have freedom', basically imposing their own concept of how democracy should work. Looking at what is going on right now, I think this region will come up with something that suits it. Maybe it will not resemble what we think of as democracy now, but the idea of democracy is also evolving. In 70 years, the concept of democracy will be different that it is now. But I am definitely optimistic that we will come up with something, because we broke the wall. And people are dying right now to prevent that wall from being built up again.'


Turning the Unknown into the Known

Interview with Augusto Paim, the journalist behind 'So Close, Far Away!'

Today we are very proud to present a new comics report on Cartoon Movement. 'So Close, Faraway!' is a piece of in-depth, interactive comics journalism from Brazil that will take you on a journey with Jorge, a 43-year old homeless person, roaming the streets of Porto Alegre. To learn something more about the background and motivation of this story, we talk to the author, Augusto Paim.

Paim

Why did you choose the homeless of Brazil as a topic for this comic?

'When I work on a comics journalism piece, I need to focus my attention on the storytelling, sometimes much more than on the research itself. That's why I prefer to deal with topics I have already worked with. In this case, I have a rich background from former written reports I did over the last years, and this is very helpful.

Topics like slums and homelessness touch me, because they make us perceive the reality and the society from a new point of view. When I talk about homelessness with people in Brazil, I hear a lot of complaints that are full of prejudice and ignorance. People like to be sensitive, but only with family or friends. People fear the unknown and protect their sensibility against it. But the unknown can turn into the known very easily, and journalists can be of some help in this process. This is a process healthy for an individual, but also for the society at large, because some big social problems - like violence - are based on mutual ignorance and lack of communication. This is the case with the issue of homelessness. The homeless stay on the same sidewalks where other people walk fast in their daily routines. But they are unseen. Why? Because they are the unknown. So, with this comic report I intended to help to improve this situation. I know this is a form of idealism, but he journalists that I admire are idealists, too.'

Interview1
Augusto talking to Jorge.

Your last production for Cartoon Movement focused on the favelas; is the plight of people living in poverty a recurring theme in your work as a journalist?

'Journalism has a social rule. This is not new - actually this must be a value of the profession, but journalists eventually forget it in the hard routine of daily newspapers. I don't work in a newsroom, so I could choose not to forget it. When I work on a personal project in the field of journalism, I try to deal with topics of social and cultural importance. This is the case of poverty in Brazil. The Brazilian population must get better information about economical and social injustice. It's the job of journalists to help to inform the citizens about the inequality in Brazil, this inequality that for many people seems so natural and unalterable, and that make the real victims seem to be the villains. Some members of social classes don't want to cross the line: why would someone from the middle class try to understand how a homeless person feels? Why would a rich person go into the slums? The journalist is that one who crosses these borders and with the collected information can help to build a society that is more fair.'

Is this a story that is best told with comics journalism? And why?

'For me, comics journalism has some technical features that turn this modality of journalism into the best way for telling some stories. For example: subjectivity and semi-anonymity. By subjectivity I mean that drawings bring a more personal approach to a subject, in comparison with photographs. If I have a story in which the memories of the source (a person) are more important than numbers, data and objective information, I shall prefer to tell it in comics format. That was the case with 'So close, faraway!', because the drawings focus on Jorge's day-to-day. And with 'semi-anonymity' I refer to the fact that the drawings help to protect the identity of the source. In the case of our report, we can know by the text the name of the homeless, his age and his occupation, as well as we can have access to some flash information about his daily routine. But we can't see his face as exactly as in a photograph. This is very helpful for topics when we want/must preserve the identity of the source, if we are dealing with a hard story.'

Interview2
Fragment from 'So Close, Faraway!'.

Why did you choose to work with Bruno Ortiz (the artist)?

'I choose the artist according to the subject of the report and the art style that I'm looking for. I've already developed some non-journalistic works with Bruno Ortiz and I love his watercolors and the way he displays the page layout. Also, I knew that he has interest in and knowledge about social topics in Brazil. So, these are technical details for the decision of inviting Bruno to work with me on this piece. However, I was more surprised when I saw how good Bruno deals with some journalistic procedures, without having been trained in journalism (he graduated on History). Bruno has a natural talent to make interviews, as I noticed by his talks with the homeless Jorge. Bruno helped me a lot in the interviews, that's why he is a good partner for further comic reportages. And indeed, his watercolors and layouts were exactly what I had in mind for such a sensitive topic.'

The comic is interactive, with pop-up texts and photographs. What is the added value of the interactivity (as opposed to an old-fashioned presentation of the comic)? '

'I'm always searching the best form for a report, be it written or in comics. The form must be strictly linked to the topic of the report. So, this is one point. The second one: in the beginning of the research for 'So close, faraway!' I was concerned about how to solve a specific problem of this work: shall I approach the topic 'homelessness in Brazil' by showing a case, or, another option, by giving an overview about its general situation in the country? It was hard to decide. Focusing on a case I could go deeper, because the reader would have the opportunity of feeling closer how a homeless lives. It would turn this work in a piece of Literary Journalism. But I couldn't choose only one case and treat it as an only example for all the diversity of lives on streets in Brazil. So, it was necessary to give an overview, too.

In the other two comics reports I have made, this was a big problem: how to mix the amount of information that must be presented in text with the necessity of comics language to 'show' instead of 'tell'. If we had more space and time to draw more pages, it would be easier, but we hadn't. I couldn't solve this questions at that time, but now I had a good model to follow, that is the reportage of Luke Radl, 'Chicaco is My Kind of Town'. When I saw this piece for the first time, I realized the possibilities of using hypertext resources inside a comic reportage, and I got inspired for our own piece.

We just separated texts from drawings. In the drawings from Bruno we see that deeper approach of Literary Journalism by following a day of Jorge, a homeless - a person - that most people don't notice and only pass by. We focused the 'camera' on Jorge in order to show a homeless as an ordinary citizen - like me and you. Instead of not noticing him, now we are with the homeless and the walkers turn into the invisible ones. And all this is told without words - the essence of a comic! On the other hand, in the 'hidden' texts and pictures we give the readers the opportunity of learning as much as they want about the homelessness in Brazil. This way, we show and we tell. And the reader learns and feels.'


The Hidden Power of Innocent Lines

Interview with Chilean cartoonist Fiestoforo.

Fiestoforo is a cartoonist from Chile now residing in the United Kingdom. His work forcuses mainly on injustice, and the many forms it takes. We talk to him about how he works, and about the cartoon as a form of protest.

Fiestoforo
Fish: Evolution, here I come! Police officer: Back off , you piece of shit!

What does your artist name, 'Fiestoforo', mean?

'Fiestoforo is a compound word meaning “he who carries the feast”, from fiesta or “feast” in Spanish and phoros, bearer in Greek, in the same way as the name Christophoros, but without the Messiah part.'

How and when did you become a cartoonist?

'I started to do cartoons a couple of years ago and published them on the internet. Through internet networking I was invited to join a group of political cartoonists. It was a gradual process that took some years. At the beginning I only drew for practice to become a better artist. Later I realised you can convey powerful ideas through cartooning.'

How do you work, and what materials do you use?

'The first stage of my process could be described as more traditional. I make a sketch with pencil, which is inked using a nib pen. Then, in the second stage, I resort to new technologies. I scan and colour the drawing using an open-source software called GIMP. I use a tablet for adding texture to the colours. Regularly, it takes a couple of hours to finish a cartoon.'

How did you develop your style?

'By trial and error, using several tools and materials, I chose those I was more comfortable with. Observing works by renowned artists and their techniques must have influenced me too.'

Why do political cartoons matter?

'Being a simple and efficient way to express a political view on any matter, it is difficult to find a cartoon that does not elicit any kind of response from the viewer. Therefore, I think they are powerful means of communication, disguised as innocent lines on a surface.'

Your work focuses on indigenous rights, intercultural relations, social movement, and environmental affairs. In the Arab World, the Arab Spring seems to have shifted the role of political cartoon; stencilled on walls and signs they have almost become a form of protest. How do you see this development?

'What I have noticed is that people are recognising the power of symbols. Regularly they are used by governments and institutions to foster their beliefs and values and published on common items, so common that you do not even realise their presence. For example,  in Chile, the military dictatorship in the 80’s had coins bearing the image of lady liberty as if she had just broken a chain with the date of the coup d'état marked. Back then the image was quite solemn, but today when you look at it, it seems naive and in bad taste, specially because you realise what they were trying to do. Now I think people are occupying and displaying their own symbols, probably because it is quite simple and straightforward to share images on the internet.'

How do you see the future of political cartoons?

'The immediacy of information and communication is affecting political cartoons. If a cartoon is published days after an event, it may even seem outdated. Therefore, I have noticed that on the internet you can see reactions in the form of political cartoons minutes after an significant event occurs. This may affect the way political cartoons depict opinions, because the focus is on yielding a quick response, instead of reflecting on the events to craft a well-thought piece. Obviously, there are examples of both approaches.'

If the cartoon will be used more and more as a form of protest, is there a future for professional cartoonists (meaning cartoonists that can earn a living from their work)?

'I think there is. A professional cartoonist has developed a set of skills based on knowledge and experience. If you know about composition, design, colour schemes, analysis of discourse, etc. you will better to convey your ideas, and the result would be more pleasing for the viewers. I think this will be valued by the recipients of your work.'

In the slideshow below you can see a step-by-spep process of how Fiestoforo creates his cartoons. For an even more detailed explanation of his work process, check out 'How to make a political cartoon' on instructables.com. Fiestoforo also has two Youtube videos explaining how to add color and texture using GIMP.

 

Interview by Tjeerd Royaards. To see more of Fiestoforo's work, visit his website or Facebook page.


'There is No Future for Art in Sudan'

TalalTalal Nayer is a cartoonist from North Sudan. The country has witnessed a lot of violence and political turmoil in the last decade. The conflict in Darfur, the separation of South Sudan, to name just a few. Last week, many Sudanese took to the streets to protest against the government’s cuts to fuel price subsidies. The government responded with the use of force, resulting to deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. According to human right groups in Sudan, at least 50 people were killed in the last week. We talk to Talal about being a politically engaged artist in Sudan.

What's the situation for cartoonists in Sudan currently?

'Honestly, it’s horrible from any perspective. In 1989 the National Islamic Front - currently National Congress Party – came to power by a military coup; a few days later the Islamists opened countless detention centers where many civilians were tortured and killed. All the newspapers were closed and many cartoonists lost their jobs. Some of them retired, some emigrated, and the rest are working in miserable conditions.

Newspapers of Khartoum are controlled by the government; journalists are working under the pressure of military forces, police and security, in a single-party state ruled by General Omar al-Bashir. The International Criminal Court accused al-Bashir of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. So, the president is a red line. In fact, he is THE RED LINE.

It is forbidden to draw the face of al-Bashir, even if the cartoon is a compliment of the president. Editors-in-chief receive a list of unwanted subjects for publishing, directly from the National Security Agency. In this polluted environment any free-thinking cartoonist will not survive.

The government forced many cartoonists to run in circles, many of them unable to escape out of ready-listed duplication subjects. If any cartoonist challenges the government, he will find himself jobless, just like what happened to me. I worked for three newspapers in Sudan as a cartoonist; the government closed two of them by force, permanently. Anybody can imagine the rest of the story. Free political cartoonists are not welcome in this country.

I feel sad and angry when I see some of my colleagues legitimizing the genocide and racist crimes of the military government in the Darfur region. They are also supporting the war on my region Kurdufan, where I currently live.'

Dardur

You also work for the Saudi Gazette, an English newspaper in Saudi Arabia, not a country particularly known for freedom and tolerance. Are there any subjects you cannot draw about in this publication?

'Frankly, I haven't faced any problem in my work with the Saudis, at least until now. In general, I draw about international affairs and issues of the Middle East and Africa; this may save me from a direct clash with internal Saudi policies. I draw freely two cartoons per day for Saudi Gazette, and they choose a cartoon, put the second on in our 'Cartoon Bank'.

Saudi Arabia is the leading country of the so-called 'Islamic World', and religion is the most sensitive subject in all countries that are ruled by Sharia Law. When I desire to express my opinion about religion I publish what I want on my personal blog where I can freely express myself.

Publishing my cartoons in Saudi newspaper is not a new challenge for me; I think it’s even better than Sudan where I faced worse. In Sudan, in addition to censorship, my cartoons have been distorted by editors-in-chief to gain the satisfaction of security officers by re-editing my works and changing my comments of my cartoons.'

How do you work, and what materials do you use?

'I use very simple materials: 2H pencils, black pens with different thickness tones, mainly I prefer Uni Pin pens. I was coloring with watercolors, or wooden colors, but now I'm working with Adobe Photoshop to save time. I prefer old fashioned coloring, but drawing three cartoons per day doesn't allow me to spend a long time on coloring by hand.'

Makingof

How did you develop your style?

'In my early beginnings I was impressed by Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat. We exchanged a few phone calls. I saw some of his cartoons in an old magazine (from 1995) for the first time in 2006. Ali Ferzat was a shock for me at that time, because we were isolated in Sudan, and we are still isolated from the current movement of art. I was shocked because the ideas and his artistic style were something completely different for me.

Also I liked cartoons of Cuban artist Arístides Esteban Hernández Guerrero (ARES) who gave me good advise that helped me a lot. I tried from the beginning to be independent in my ideas and my style. I tried very hard not to adapt anything from Ares or Ferzat; I tried my best to develop my own style slowly but steadily. I am working hard on ideas. I think I haven't achieved yet what I want, but I guess I am going in the right direction.'

Why do political cartoons matter?

'For me drawing cartoons is a positive way to express my ideas about life. The main inspiration sources for my cartoons are my political believes, and my mission is to carry the message of awareness to my people, and show them the way back to democracy and social equality. Sudan is so politicized and polarization pervades everything. It’s very difficult to be yourself in Sudan, but I take responsibility and voice my opinion. I know it’s risky but it is part of my duty as cartoonist.

General

Political cartoons are very important for me. I wrote a, as of yet unpublished, book about the relationship of politics and religion in Sudan, but I feel the cartoon is my strongest weapon. It’s stronger than writing, because it is easier for me to attract the tension of readers by my drawings. Cartoons are more popular than articles, and drawing is an artistic way to record history in very simple ways. In my opinion, any political cartoonist is a historian. Collecting cartoons from any newspaper is like a timeline of political events and social changes in the state, and all around the world.'

In what way can political cartoons/cartoonists contribute to the future of Sudan?

'From a very personal view, and based on my life in this country: there is no future for art in Sudan. Sudan is a single-party state; the totalitarian state always wants to control every activity in the country, even the personal life of any citizen.

I was a co-founder of the Sudanese Cartoon Association in 2009. When we tried to establish something we found ourselves facing a 'carrot and stick policy'. We were surrounded from everywhere; the government wanted SCA to support the ruling party (NCP) in the 2010 Elections. I was surprised when I saw ministers and some high officials in the government sitting and speaking in our first constituent meeting, I didn’t even know who invited them. Two days after the meeting the government controlled the SCA, and the founding members were marginalized.

I faced many challenges during my time in the executive office of the Sudanese Cartoon Association, I did my best to do something good, but everything was politicized and out of control. Finally I chose to resign permanently in the early 2011. Now the SCA is clinically dead. The current members don’t want to make any radical changes for themselves, or for Sudan.

Tree

Besides that, Sudan is a very conservative country, and many religious Sudanese think drawing and music and sports are “Haram” or “Forbidden”. The Salafists have a following of hundreds of thousands people, and they say to them that all artists and painters will face Allah in the Day of Judgment.

The Salafists say that Allah creates all creatures in a perfect form, and art is a distortion and a simulation of God’s creation. Challenging God is a crime, and according to the Salafist view all artists deserve to burn in hell. I can see that Sudan is drowning slowly in the Somalization and religious hysteria. Someday this country will be a nightmare for the rest of the world; it will be more dangerous than any current crisis in the world. In this gloomy environment, there is no future for anything.'

Interview by Tjeerd Royaards. All images by Talal Nayer. If you want to see more of his work visit his portfolio page at Cartoon Movement and his personal blog.