Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cartooning's Front Lines

Cartoon by Atena Faraghdani
This past extended weekend, I attended the annual convention of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. I've been trying to get to one of these things for years, but again and again there has been one scheduling conflict or another.

This year's convention was in Columbus, Ohio, home of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. It also fell in the shadow of the assassinations of the cartoonists and editors at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, and the attempted shooting at Pam Geller's Cartooning Mohammed circus in Garland, Texas.

Registration desk at the Columbus College of Art & Design
With that in mind -- as well as the presence of an exhibit of cartoons drawn after the Charlie Hebdo attack and of a panel of cartoonists who have been imprisoned in their home countries for their work -- the security level was quite high. In addition to campus security at the Columbus College of Art and Design, we had city police, county sheriffs, under cover officers, and Homeland Security agents.

And, yes, a bomb-sniffing dog. After having left my heavy briefcase up on some upended construction materials during my first few trips to the bathroom, I decided that it might be wiser to leave it on the floor within easy sniffing range of Offissa Pup.

Most of the cartoonists' rights panel
A panel discussion entitled "Free Speech or Hate Speech?" was highly informative, but could have been improved if there had been someone on the panel representing Muslim sensibilities. With almost everyone in the room passionately devoted to artistic license, it fell to one young man (Palestinian, if I heard correctly) in the audience to attempt to argue against absolute freedom of speech.

In later conversations with my fellow ink-slingers, a few of us agreed that we had never had any reason to draw Mohammed before 2006 or since, and felt no compulsion to find an excuse to do so. The cartoon exhibit upstairs contained only one drawing of Mohammed, showing him commiserating with Jesus and Buddha over the murders committed in their respective names. My favorite was one by V. Cullum Rogers, depicting a religious fanatic with a smoking machine gun, standing over a slain cartoonist, while a voice from the dark clouds overhead says, "I don't get it."

At the banquet Saturday night, the Cartoonists' Rights Network International (CRNI) announced its Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award was going to Iranian cartoonist Atena Faraghdani, 29, currently in prison for drawing the cartoon at the top of this post depicting members of the Iranian parliament as cows and monkeys. The cartoon, protesting a vote to restrict women's contraceptive rights, has resulted in charges of "spreading propaganda against the system" and a 12-year-9-month prison sentence. Even her lawyer has now been arrested, just for shaking her hand in court.

All was not seriousness and warm-hued Threat Levels; I had a good time, gained some valuable insights, and met several fellow cartoonists whose work I admire greatly. I'll save some topics for Snoozeback Saturdays and other occasions.
Cartoons drawn after the Charlie Hebdo assassinations

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