Archive for the ‘Cartoons’ Category

Although his now infamous cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed were published over four years ago, Danish caricaturist Kurt Westergaard is clearly still feeling the aftereffects of the controversy the images caused. The news that a Somali man broke into Westergaard’s home yesterday, seemingly intent on killing the cartoonist, demonstrates the continuing power of the cartoons to inflame the passions of some Islamic extremists.


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This morning, Karl emailed me this, erm, ‘beauty’ from independent US cartoonist Jeff Danziger.

Jeff Danziger, Cartoon on Lisbon Treaty

For those who missed it, Danziger’s cartoon refers to the overwhelmingly favourable ‘Yes’ vote the Lisbon Treaty got in the second referendum last Friday. As the sinking ship of the Irish economic success story heads for the depths in the background, the canny Celtic Tiger, replete with shamrocked hat and patter straight out of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, climbs aboard the European Union’s vessel in a bid to extract some much needed cash.

I’m posting this cartoon because I’m both bemused and perturbed by Danziger’s decision to resort to the rather nineteenth-century style portrayal of the Irish (though admittedly he does innovate somewhat with the use of the Celtic Tiger imagery. How novel! Noone’s ever done that before. Oh, hold on.). My ire at this cartoon doesn’t stem from the fact that I am Irish – I am not one of the precious types who gets uptight when our ‘culture’ is ‘insulted’ (bedad and be-the-hokey). Rather, my problem with this cartoon is that it shows a distinct lack of taste and imagination on Danziger’s part. I can’t understand the motivation for utilising iconography and references so obviously (and deliberately) reminiscent of stuff like this:
Thomas Nast, Threats to the Nation, 1876
This is a cartoon by Thomas Nast from 1876, depicting the twin threats to the American nation – black slaves and Irish immigrants. (Danziger, for the record, has a bit of a track record with the old racial insults – he got into a bit of trouble previously when he drew a cartoon of Condoleezza Rice as the black ‘mammy’ in Gone With The Wind, and for a cartoon depicting an archaeologist working on a Native American site unearthing a roulette wheel.) Danziger’s use of the stereotyped chancer Irishman aside, even the feel and look of this cartoon echoes the style employed by nineteenth-century cartoonists like Nast and contributors to Punch. While the ‘Paddy’ cartoons of the nineteenth century are genuine products of their time, however, Danziger’s image just seems entirely anachronistic in this day and age – and just a bit lazy.

I’m sure there will be some out there who will argue that Danziger is being ironic, and playing with stereotypes, and so on. And of course, cartoons are supposed to have layers to them – it’s often that that makes a cartoon great. The problem is that this image is, as far as I can see, decidedly one-dimensional. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to find me crock of gold. I hear it’s somewhere around Strasbourg.

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…get stuck in with a bit of French revolutionary iconography.
Martin Rowson, The Guardian, 15 May 2009

A particularly bloody and rather good cartoon from the ever-gothic Martin Rowson. I like how this cartoon highlights both the ludricrous heights to which the expenses furore has risen – and, moreover, the fact that while abuse of public funds is never a good thing, the controversy is serving to act as a distraction from the far more sinister machinations of high capitalism (which has assumed the role of the tricoteuse at the foot of the guillotine).

Funnily enough, Karl told me that the day this was published there was a chap on News 24 describing the uproar over the expenses scandal as being akin to the storming of the Bastille. Naturally I won’t go into why that analogy is so totally and utterly wrong, as we’d be here til Christmas – instead I’ll just file all this stuff away for future research on the idea of the French Revolution in British popular culture in the past century or so…

Meanwhile, Bell continues to mix cartoons and photography in a fascinating way.
Steve Bell, 13 May 2009
There will be more on cartoonists taking photographs (or, if you wish, photographers drawing cartoons) on here soon, but for the moment I’m bemused by the reactions to Bell’s Israel-related cartoons. As an aside, I think the empty podium in the image on the right is great.

Naturally, it’s a divisive and contentious issue so it’s only natural that those who comment on the cartoons (The Guardian having provided its cartoons page with a user comment section) should have rather clear-cut and often quite extreme views on the situation and, indeed, on the cartoon commenting on it. While it is fairly clear where Bell stands on the issue of the Middle East, his cartoons on the topic – as his work so often does – offers commentary that is both prescient and unsettling.

Personally, I am of the opinion that what sets really, really good political cartoonists apart from the rest – those who deal in the ‘big head, tiny body’ area of caricature – is that unsettling quality that they can bring to an image. Good political cartoons make you think. That’s why, for me at least, the rather more unanimous positive reaction from the comments section to Bell’s cartoon concerning potential punishment for expenses-abusing MPs (which appeared in the Guardian the next day) is so interesting.

Cartoons that we can all agree on and have a good laugh at = good.
Cartoons that provoke thought and might cause discussion = bad.

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Steve Bell, The Guardian, 7 May 2009

The ever-brilliant Steve Bell (in spite of what the occasional moaners about his ‘toilet’ humour in the comments section on the Guardian site might say) has, once again, pushed the boundaries for editorial cartooning with today’s image.

His cartoon is a response to the attempts by pro-Israeli lobbyists to put a halt to changes in the White House’s Middle East policy. Bell himself explains the basis for the image thus, as part of the body of comments made on the cartoon:

Just a point of information. Moeran is quite right. This is a photograph I took of the Qalandia, or Kalandia checkpoint on the north side of Jerusalem. All Palestinian inhabitants of the northern West Bank (should they be fortunate enough to get a pass) have to come through this thing in order to get to Jerusalem. Thus a large proportion of the working population in the Arab part of Jerusalem are detained for at least an hour, morning and evening, longer, or for much longer depending on the whim of the security forces. As you can see it is not a pleasant place to be. It reminded me of a meat processing facility. There are checkpoints like this all over the West Bank, though perhaps not as solidly built as Qalandia.

I do not want to get into the politics of this image one way or another in this discussion of it. What interests me here, rather, is how Bell takes his frequent habit of reproducing – and détourning – photographic images in his cartoons to the next level, by using an actual photograph (which, as the quote above demonstrates, he himself took) and subverting it in order to make his point. Curiously enough, the sheer reality of the image, in all its photographic starkness, reminds me of a justly famous and equally political lithograph – Daumier’s ‘Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834’, drawn in the wake of the brutal suppression of a riot in Paris.
Daumier, Rue Transnonain

As I noted above, Bell’s detractors may (without reason, I feel) criticise what they perceive as his reliance on ‘toilet humour’ (‘scatological’ is just that bit better a word, isn’t it?) – but to me he consistently takes his cartooning, and the very idea of what constitutes cartooning, in different, intriguing directions. Today’s image is another clear example of that.

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Daumier's 'Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries'

Ah, the joy of the first proper post. I sat for a bit, pondering which of the many cartoons I have come across would be ideal to start off with. And then I realised that the answer was right in front of me – in the header on this page, in fact.

In most situations, the received wisdom tells you to write about what you know. Being a French cartoon from 1848, I know this image rather well at this stage. It features in my thesis, has turned up in several of my papers, and is probably the most famous cartoon to come out of the Second Republic (the various representations of Napoleon III and his promoter Ratapoil aside, but more about them in due course). In February 1848 several days of street fighting in Paris escalated into a revolution, replacing the constitutional monarchy with France’s second attempt at a republic. This cartoon appeared on 4 March 1848 in the French satirical daily Le Charivari, and was drawn by that paper’s most famous contributor, Honoré Daumier. Its title, ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’, loosely translates as ‘The Parisian kid at the Tuileries Palace’. The caption, in a similarly loose translation, means ‘Oh! it’s so comfy here!’

Those are the basic facts, though this is by no means a basic image. In it, Daumier, a committed moderate republican, offers his support to the newly-founded Second French Republic by portraying the revolutionary people of Paris in a joyous, friendly, non-threatening way. The image purports to depict a scene from the invasion by the revolutionary crowd of the Tuileries palace in central Paris following the abdication of the king, Louis-Philippe.

At the heart of the image is the classic nineteenth-century figure of the gamin de Paris or ‘Parisian kid’, seen perhaps most famously in Delacroix’s painting of the 1830 revolution, ‘Liberty Leading the People’ and in the character of Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The gamin is a street kid, a mixture of mischief and decency who turns up in a lot of contemporary images of revolutionary activity. While it can be argued – particularly by those keen on the idea of Daumier as a constant advocate of left-wing ideas – that the gamin represents the final triumph of the people over monarchical rule, it is also clear that his purpose here is to lend the revolution, and particularly the republic it created, a cheerful, friendly face. Revolutionary activity is, according to this cartoon, less a matter of bloodshed, violence and wanton destruction than a pleasant, mildly raucous street party to which everyone is invited.

In the context of the early days of the Republic, the promotion of this rather happy-clappy image of the revolution and the new regime was of key importance in ensuring its future survival, given the violent connotations the idea of the republic had acquired in France as a result of the Terror during the first Revolution. The Second Republic, keen to distance itself from the dictatorial reputation of Robespierre and his contemporaries, needed to bring the majority of the French populace round to its side in other ways. Negating the presence of violence and control in representations of the republic’s founding moment, the government felt, would be a key part of this process.

What is also intriguing about this image in a more general sense is its status as a cartoon of high quality issued in support of the powers that be. Usually, good satire is oppositional satire (and usually left-wing, at that). Of course, there’s always the matter of whether ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’ even counts as satire at all. But that’s another discussion entirely…

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