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CRNI Director Robert Russell Leads Panel on Innovations in Political Cartooning at International Press Institute Convention in Taipei

09/28/2011

Picture of Kevin "Kal" Kallaugher, Robert "Bro" Russell, Jonathan "Zapiro" Shapiro, and Michael "Needs a Nickname" Logan by Malie Direcksze-Russell

On September 26, 2011, Dr. Robert "Bro" Russell, our Executive Director, at the invitation of the International Press Institute (IPI), led a panel discussion in Taipei, Taiwan at the IPI's 2011 World Congress.  Titled "Innovations in Political Cartooning - How Editorial Cartoonists Are Reinventing Themselves and Promoting Press Freedom," the panel discussion included presentations by The Economist cartoonist Kevin "Kal" Kallaugher, animation entrepreneur Michael Logan with Taipei based company Next Media, and, South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, who goes by the pen name Zapiro.

Dr. Russell gave the opening remarks.  He began by reminding the audience of the impact on news reporting of the modern electronic media combined with the current attacks on free speech by its various traditional and previously unheard of enemies.  As a result, according to Bro, political cartoonists have had to reinvent themselves or go out of business.  "They've got to reinvent what they do and use the new resources that are becoming available."  Bro concluded his remarks by noting that, "of course with political cartooning, as in other areas of journalism, we don't count what we can say as a measurement of free speech; we have to count what we can't say as the real benchmark for speech in ANY society -- where the red lines are [and] where the red lines can be drawn above which you can live and below which ...."    

Michael Logan, the Manager of Content Development at Next Media, then took the floor.  He began by describing what his company of 400 employees produces.  He said his company creates animations for a newspaper in Hong Kong, a newspaper in Taiwan and a television station in Taiwan.  He explained that "the animation studio was set up to distribute animations for these newspapers and the TV station."  He said that the animation they produce is either satirical animation or what he called "news animation," that is, animation "to supplement video, [and] photos, and to tell a fuller picture of the story ...."  Next Media is best known in the United States, he said, for a "news animation" of Tiger Woods famously crashing his car.  Despite not having an English voice over, English subtitles or any intended humor, the Tiger Woods car crash animation generated about 6 million hits online, mostly from the United States.  Michael showed the animation of the Tiger Woods cash and then introduced and showed two examples of their satirical animation.  The first example of satirical animation poked fun of the Apple Corporation and the glitches with the Apple 4 IPhone.  The second example of satirical animation poked fun of the often contentious yet co-dependent relations between the United States and China.  This animation, which features both countries' leaders in a rapping dual, is as educational as it is entertaining.

Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro, began by acknowledging that he is largely a "technology passenger" since he has people helping him modernize.  He said, however, the influence of the electronic media revolution has played a part in his work.  He told two fascinating stories about how his hard hitting cartoons have been exponentially more powerful thanks to the reach of the Internet.  The targets of his commentary haven't always appreciated the influence of his work.  He explained that he has been sued by South African President Jacob Zuma twice for a staggering amount of money.  Jonathan then informed the audience about the political forces that to date have prevented him and his production team from bringing a satirical news show called ZA News to the South African television public.  ZA News features puppets of political and pop culture figures, à la the famous British show Spitting Image.  He showed a clip of the now online series.  He said, "We kept getting told how people are not ready for this.  That was the mantra that kept getting repeated, which we feel is absolutely ridiculous.  Certainly democracies are ready for it.  Developing nations are ready for it."  Jonathan then told a great story illustrating Mandela's sense of humor and acceptance of press freedoms as compared to his successors'.  Jonathan then briefly outlined the steps that President Zuma has taken to try to silence him.  Jonathan also explained and defended his controversial "raping Lady Justice" cartoons.  To better understand the controversy and what Jonathan has been through, click on Sub-Saharan Africa in our Art to Die For collection.  Jonathan closed with three cartoons, two of which he rightly called "sad indictment[s]" on South Africa's new democracy, and one of which is what we call a charming and lighthearted cartoon.  Just before the questions and answers, Jonathan showed a music video satirizing South African politician Julius Malema with a little help from a puppet version of Lady Gaga.  But he was quick to note that, "Journalists and cartoonists and satirists ... don't have any more rights than anyone else."  During questions and answers, Jonathan, when asked about how far he can push with his work, said, "I don't want to know where that line is.  I want to be able to cross it.  And it's scary."  To see where Zapiro draws the line (pun intended), visit the Mail and Guardian, the Sunday Times, or, simply visit Zapiro.com, Zapiro's personal website.

Kal began his presentation by making the argument that we are all cartoonists.  We all drew pictures when we were six years old.  "The power of the picture," he asserted, "resides somewhere special in the brain."  He then told the audience about his career while showing some of his work, including a few of his stunning covers for The Economist.  He said, "one thing that is similar in all of these cartoons is that you are seeing a powerful person being drawn to look ridiculous. ... [T]here is a great temptation [if you control the levers of power] to ... stop this type of stuff .... And Bro Russell represents cartoonists all around the world who have suffered at the hands of authority.  And this makes me think that editorial cartooning ... is on the front line of freedom of expression because the ability to make fun of a head of state exists in very few places and only for a mere nanosecond of man's existence on this planet.  So preserving and the respecting of cartoons is a very important thing.  I like to say that you can judge the maturity of a democracy by the amount of satire it can endure."  Kal then made the argument that "editorial cartooning is in steep decline."  But, at the same time, there are "new and exciting opportunities."  He posited that the majority of those opportunities are in either cartoon reporting or in animation.  He gave Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Palestine by Joe Sacco as examples of suburb cartoon reporting.  It is, according to Kal, morphing into "long-form cartoons appearing on the Internet [as news reporting.]  This is where a cartoonist starts off as a reporter and writer and then uses satire and art to tell a longer story."  He explained that unlike a newspaper which has limited space, the Internet is endless.  So cartoonists can do longer format pieces."  Kal then mentioned the Cartoon Movement which is encouraging "artists in developing countries to ... use this format of graphic storytelling to tell THEIR stories."   The Cartoon Movement, for instance, went to Haiti to teach young artists "this long format style of cartooning and they are assembling a book that's going to be published in January 2012 on life in the tent villages of the 600,000 odd people who are still homeless there from the earthquake."  Switching to animation, Kal said it is "the great hope and opportunity for the visual satirist."  He said the next generation of satirists will harness their understanding of the new technology "and that will be the tool of their satire, not the hundred-year-old pen nib that I currently use in my cartoons."  Kal then showed a 30 second animated advertisement that he created artwork for back in 1986, pre-computers.  It took three months to produce the ad.  "Fast forward to today and the prospects of cartoon animation is giving us more and more opportunities ... to turn around some high quality work on a very short timetable."  He briefly mentioned the animated work of editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore and then showed a video demonstrating the space motion capture employed in Kal's 3D animation.  This was followed by an animated cartoon of Senator John McCain awkwardly trying to justify his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in the 2008 United States presidential election.  Kal closed by saying the "current college students and below, the new generation who have the fluency with the new technology, the new satirists, the new cartoonists ... are going to show us stuff that is ... going to knock our socks off."

Kal's remarks were followed by a story from Jonathan about what he endured after drawing two Mohammad cartoons.  Then the panel answered questions from the audience.  To see a video recording of the entire panel discussion, click on Vimeo IPI Innovations in Political Cartooning Recording.  Please note that the sound quality improves substantially at the 1:54 mark.   Click on Zapiro on the Couch to see Zapiro's second Mohammed cartoon which cannot be clearly seen in the video recording of the panel discussion. 

After the panel discussion, Dr. Russell and Mr. Logan were interviewed by IPI's representatives Lin King and Adrienne Shih.  Click on Russell and Logan IPI Interview to see that article.