Humor and conflict in the digital age

HACIDA conference poster (1)


Ghent University is organizing a two-day conference on satire on 29 and 30 November 2023. The conference will focus on the intersection of two complicated issues: the nature of and interpretive difficulties presented by humor across different media (such as memes, cartoons, and stand-up comedy); and how the Digital Revolution has exacerbated these already difficult interpretive issues, often through the decontextualized circulation of humorous images and statements outside of their original national and linguistic borders. 

Confirmed keynote speakers are Chi-Hé Elder (University of East Anglia) and Eleni Kapogianni (University of Kent); Giselinde Kuipers (KU Leuven); and Raúl Pérez (La Verne University). The conference will also feature a public-facing roundtable with humor practitioners, including stand-up comedian Shazia Mirza, writer and producer Annie Julia Wyman (co-creator of The Chair on Netflix and Welcome to Chippendales on Hulu), cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards, and Mike Gillis (head writer at The Onion). Check out the full program here.

You can either register for the full conference or join one of the individual events. More information here.

The golden middle way, or the highway

By Emanuele Del Rosso

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

Aurea mediocritas

Shylock or not Shylock? Antisemitism references, or not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journalists should take responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

Win the Huion Note!


Did you read our recent review of the Huion Note? If you’re inspired to use it for your own drawing projects, we intend to give away our review model to a creative individual. How to win? Simple; just send us an email explaining why you’d like to own the Note and for what particular project (in the realm of political cartoons and/or comics journalism) you intend to use it for.

We’ll send the Note to who we think has the most compelling, creative, worthwhile project.

You can send your email to [email protected]

Send us your email before October 20.

Review of the Huion Note

By Tjeerd Royaards

Huion Note


I have to admit I might not be the most suitable person to review the Huion Note. I have been working digitally since purchasing my first Wacom Cintiq in 2014 and I have never looked back since. The Huion Note, instead, is a notebook that allows you to write or draw on paper while what you do is digitally recorded with an app on your phone. My forays into drawing on paper have been mostly limited to drawing with my kids. So please consider the sketches I did as examples of what the Note can do, nothing more.

That said, I was excited when Huion contacted us after the review of the Kamvas 13 to ask if we were interested in testing another one of their products, especially one that felt novel and seemed to have potential for paper-loving artists. For the sake of full transparency: Huion sent us the Note at no charge, but we are not influenced in any way as to our review of the product.

While the Note is also designed for taking notes, I was more interested in how it would work for drawing and sketching out ideas. Many artists claim they miss the feel of paper when they switch to digital drawing, so the Note might be suitable for them, offering the benefits of drawing on paper with none of the hassle of having to scan and enhance the image to get a suitable digital version. As the notebook is modestly sized, the focus of my review is not so much see how the Note would work for making fully finished cartoons (depending on your style, that would be problematic, as we’ll see later on), but how and if it would work for sketching on the go, and for live drawing outside or at events.


Huion drawing 1


The review

Let’s start with the upsides. First of all, it’s a sophisticated looking notebook with a nice look and feel. The pen also looks and feels solid. After installation and connecting the notebook to your phone book things are pretty easy. If you open notebook and the app on your phone they will link automatically.

I was impressed with the sensitivity of the notebook. Although not perfect, even slight pressures do get picked up and translated to the digital version, allowing for fine cross-hatching and subtle lines. The app on your phone allows for some rudimentary clean-up, and you can easily export the file as a JPG or PDF. The paper in the Note is replaceable by any standard notebook; so once you run out, you're not forced to buy new paper from Huion. Instead, you can buy a notebook from your local store and it will fit. New nibs will have to be ordered in the Huion shop. I am not sure how long the ink nibs last, buying new ones will cost you 17 euros for five new nibs.

A nice feature is the ability to work in different colors. While the five supplied nibs come only in black (+ 2 without ink, that you can use to draw digital only), you can draw in different colors on the digital version. Also quite useful when doing graphic reporting, the app allows you to integrate photos into the digital version.

The battery life is another plus; Huion claims is has 18 hours of battery time and although I didn't fully test this, the battery does seem to last a long time.



Moving on to some downsides. Setting things up could be easier (at least, for an almost boomer like me). The process is simple: just download the app on your smartphone, make a Bluetooth connection to the Note and you're all set. That said, it would be nice to have a big connect button in the app, as it took me a while (and a YouTube tutorial) to get the connection to work. Also, it wasn't immediately clear to me that while the Note can be connected to your computer, it will only work as a simple pen tablet in that case. Most his could be solved by making the Quick Start Guide just a bit more comprehensive.


Exporting the files as a JPG they come out rather small. Output size is 1080 X 1432 pixels at 72 dpi. Suitable for online use, but not for printing. This can be circumvented by exporting as a PDF, but to be really useful as a drawing tool, it would be nice to get a broader range of output sizes in JPG and other formats. Even better would be the option of exporting it is a .PNG or .PSD with a transparent background.

Here the limitations of the Note do show. While it's a wonderful invention for loose sketching, it's not really designed to take these sketches any further. It would be great if you could directly link up the note to other graphic software like Photoshop or Procreate, allowing you to start on paper and move on seamlessly to the digital version. I think the technology will progress to make this possible in the future; Huion or another manufacturer might even come up with a true sketchbook version (A4 or similar sized, landscape oriented). Another drawback is that the available brushes are quite limited in the app. I would be great to get a pencil brush.


For now, I can totally imagine this is great for artists with an affinity for paper that like to make sketches when traveling and/or do live drawing events if they want to post these works online quickly and easily. I can also imagine the use for comics journalism, taking the Note to locations (e.g. a refugee camp or protest) to record the scene or to use while interviewing people to simultaneously take down quotes and faces. The Note might even be a bit more sturdy in dusty and wet environment than, say, an iPad Pro. It's definitely cheaper.

The Huion Note is available for €95 (on sale until September 15, normal price €125)

Editorial: political cartoonists versus Meta

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tjeerd Royaards
Cartoon Movement editor