Sunday, January 11, 2015

I Am Charlie (IV): The Profit

A fourth and final installment that has preempted normal posting, which will resume next weekend.

   Please peruse the links in this essay as there will be discussion + review of the material presented here and over this weekend's series for our classroom critique on the topic of editorial cartooning and media ethics. More below the fold...

   I come at this material, and have crafted this blog, as primarily an educational (at times academic) vehicle to hopefully foster a better understanding of the craft. Thus there are both professional and personal aspects of this assassination which intertwine with many different issues in the field of sequential art, or cartoons and comics. Throughout them all, it is crucial to develop a historical perspective as, especially in this instance, it never fails to have profound bearing on contemporary events. See Stephen Persing's Cartoon Brew piece for a good introductory pantheon of artists who "stood against tyranny" and a good sample breakdown of some of the Charlie Hedbo cartoons in context here and also in this diary, along with the two previous posts on this blog here and here. And let us not forget some of the other heroes in this tragedy, ie "Ahmed the dead cop."

   As a signature example (others to be included in the accompanying slide lecture in the classroom), here is one of the last panels drawn by the editor-in-chief of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier (more on another "sad coincidence" here):

(Image via Charlie Hadbo Magazine)

   Here we have a very simple drawing, utilizing an extremely limited palette of flat color and little-to-no textures or variation in line-weight. Arguably in the spirit of the underlying concept, it is rendered in a completely appropriate style that encapsulates the crude hypocrisy of the issue. And the message is, unequivocally, that extremists by definition would ironically put to death, excommunicate or at the very least embarrass the very leaders of their respective religions for paradoxically not being fundamental enough. The panel is literally prophetic, but in no way whatsoever deserving of a death sentence.

   Roughly translated the text reads "I am the Prophet you cretin" + "Ta gueule (French slang/argot expression to demand silence in a violent or immediate way: 1. shut up; shut your trap/gob/hole, etcetera) you infidel!" and the caption says "If Muhammed came back." Recalls a bumpersticker I've seen around town before that says "Jesus Save Me From Your Followers." not to mention Mohandas Gandhi’s admonition “Oh I do not reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

   The context and history of the original Danish Cartoon controversy was covered here back in 2010, as was the ensuing "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," and I make it a regular point to lecture most drawing classes that I teach + every single section of my Cartoon & Comic Arts course during the editorial panel critiques. It's an opportunity to showcase, for example, the rich history of rendering religious iconography, such as one of the more enduring and well-known portrayals of Mohammed in Gustave DorĂ©'s engraving from the 1885 French edition of Dante's Divine Comedy. This would occupy the opposite extreme on the scale of aesthetics and craftsmanship from the Charb caricature, yet the offensive content is the same: an image of the prophet:

(Image via Mohammed Image Archive)

   Something else that is really starting a slow burn about this whole tragedy: the ultimate hypocrisy of Western media clamoring and claiming journalistic solidarity with Charlie Hedbo, when they don't have the basic courage to hire more editorial cartoonists for their own damn publications. Case in point being the rash of shallow, empty "tributes" (in particular The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed) which are nothing more than greedy gestures of opportunism, cannibalizing the works of artists who actually create content while sanctimoniously claiming to exercise their flabby "Constitutional rights" sans any responsibility. Protip: when you do nothing but simply "share" their artwork without contributing to the careers of cartoonists, ensuring it remains a viable profession, then you do nothing but participate in the eventual death of their careers, and ultimately, that of a free press. As in "first they came for the cartoonists." See both Comic Strip of the Day's "Responding to the Response" and David Brooks "I Am Not Charlie Hedbo."+ two perfect cartoons about this issue from Clay Jones and Ted Rall.

Another proud & fearless supporter of cartoonists everywhere.

   Slate says “They died bravely for an ideal we all treasure.” Al Jazeera trumpets "Press freedom has no price," though it presumably costs too much to employ their own damn artists (notably excepting The New Yorker). Some usual favorites of mine like Talking Points Memo (whom even went so far as to chastise folks for not buying the handful of cartoons that are currently being endlessly recycled), plus magazines such as the Atlantic, Wired, Mother Jones, Newsweek, the Globe and Mail etc. etc. etc. could all help out by hiring real, live staff cartoonists. A comparative few have felt self-righteous enough to go so far as to reprint the actual originating images from Charlie Hebdo, like The Daily Beast (“For the media organizations that decide to cut these pictures or blur them out, I just find that to be reprehensible,”), but still will not go all the way and pay for such works, either from the Hebdo cartoonists or their own, as in staff cartoonists. Cue David Bowie: "We could be heroes... just for one day." Let's not forget that - on the censorship front - one could argue that terrorists have already established a toehold here in American media, both in print and on television. Sad to say, sadder still to see.

   Back to the drawing board. Back to class. And it's in those two arenas that the questions - and the solutions - are created. That's where I have personally both seen and drawn countless offensive cartoons: they've infuriated me, enlightened me and amused me. The angriest I've ever been has been over a cartoon, as well as the saddest, and they have also given me reasons to keep on living. To be sure, these days I drive a burgundy-colored station-wagon, singing along to Toto tapes, and the bulk of my work is comparatively benign, at worse regarded as sometimes being maybe a little weird. Every once in a while one wanders off the pasture, usually an editorial, and it elicits some negative feedback.

Excerpted from Robert Crumb's contribution to the cause

   Never had any direct threats (aside from a couple punches + the occasional lost friendship) - certainly nothing even approaching the seriousness of the slaughter in Paris. In all of the years I've been drawing cartoons the only panels that ever provoked angry response from readers (expressed via calls + letter to the editor and publisher) were overwhelmingly objected on religious grounds - specifically depictions of god and priests - and a few that criticized guns. Of the two groups, I was only really worried about the latter: the two combined is the stuff of nightmares. All of them were given due course in pondering potential ramifications, plus full cognizance and deep appreciation of an American tradition working hand-in-glove (pen-in-hand) with constitutional rights. Many if not most artists at a basic level face a set of fears - rejection, ridicule and rage among them - when exposing themselves and their work to the public. These are compounded when combined with political content - and so the vast majority of artists play it safe, since nobody to my knowledge has ever burned an embassy or murdered someone over a watercolor or landscape.

   Even the illustrator of Asterix, Albert Uderzo (now eighty-seven) came out of retirement to pay homage with a couple drawings, saying "Young people are taking up the mantle now, and I wish them courage."

Excerpted image from Albert Uderzo

   There are many of us touched by the rings rippling outward from these murders, especially when it has the potential to peripherally censor - and inspire - works at either extreme from both students and in one's own studio. What happens when an aspiring talent pins on the classroom wall something for critique that is offensive? More often than not in America the kid is summarily sent to suspension and therapy, or a teacher is held to blame and fired. What do you do when the images rise inside your own mind, and leak out all over a page at the point of a pen?

What then? What next?

1 comment:

  1. Once again proving that all points touch at every single point. Everything we do starts with an idea. Much of what we believe we experienced occurs in our minds. The more one sees of atrocity, the more atrocious possibilities occur in the imagination.

    When a cartoon character hits another cartoon character with a frying pan, or drops an anvil on him, or hands him a bomb, it's funny. Cartoon characters are generally immortal, or at least rapidly reincarnated pretty much where they left off. In this way they show a strange parallel to the religions that promise an afterlife in which your individual consciousness continues in "a better place" or an appropriate hell.

    In the story of Jesus, he came back in corporeal form after resurrection to show that it works before he ascended to the firmament and left everyone to start arguing bloodily about he meant, exactly. The people who believe that kind of thing become susceptible to schemes that will get them killed, because they've been told that their virtue will be all the greater for having lost their lives in the service of an appreciative God. It relies entirely on brand loyalty. Otherwise the person one of these holy warriors kills will go to their own heaven. No big deal.

    How long will it be before this logic is used to justify the annihilation of everyone because if God isn't coming back to us any time soon we can just all go see him? Now THERE is an atrocious thought.