Opus 283 (September 8, 2011). Deploying our Rapid Rabbit Reportorial Repertoire, here’s a Bunny Bonus reporting two timely events: the first (in order albeit not necessarily in importance), how syndicated cartoonists will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the horrors of NineEleven; the second, how Syria’s Bashar Assad sought to silence a famed cartoonist by breaking his hands. Before we launch into all that, our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—:
AND NOW, FOR THE ANNIVERSARY FUNNIES
We approach the tenth anniversary of NineEleven with a certain trepidation. Commemorations of all sorts crowd the agenda on this year’s September 11, but none so daunting in prospect as that faced by over 90 of the country’s syndicated cartoonists who agreed to devote their Sunday September 11 strips to memorializing that awful day ten years ago. If you’re in the business of being funny, how do you go about commenting on a national disaster?
To begin with, you do it as a group.
Jim Borgman, the co-creator of Zits with Jerry Scott, knew it was important to recognize the anniversary but was hesitant about whether to do it. He was grateful that Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features, which syndicates the strip about a permanent teenager, broached a project involving a nation of cartoonists.
"As cartoonists, we would have all been wondering 'Is it okay to deal with this topic in our work?' Of course you can, but there is something comforting about the thought that a bunch of us are going to be struggling to say something on that day. My colleagues—cartoonists—are an astonishingly varied and talented group of people. I fully expect we'll see a broad range of approaches that day."
Jeff Keane, who co-authors The Family Circus (with his father, Bil, who originated the feature), was immediately sold on the idea when approached by Burford.
"I knew that it was something that I think would work for Family Circus,” he told Matt Moore at the Associated Press, “—if I could find the approach for it." And finding a way into the topic for Family Circus might be easier than at other strips: “Family Circus is more of a realistic look at family,” Keane said, “and I don't necessarily have a cartoon that is a 'joke a day,' but more sentimental and more emotional, it was easier for me to look at [the assignment] that way."
Borgman and Scott said their strip will look at the anniversary through teenager Jeremy's eyes: "Jerry and I tried to think about what September 11, 2001, would mean to a person who is now 16 years old— put aside the fact that Jeremy has been 15 or 16 for 13 years now," Borgman said.
Tony Rubino, who writes Daddy's Home, was living in Washington on September 11 and has been involved with Jeremy's Heroes, a charity founded on behalf of Jeremy Glick, one of the passengers killed aboard Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. His strip for September 11, which is drawn by Gary Markstein, drew inspiration from the passengers of Flight 93, whose actions helped bring the United Airlines flight down in a Pennsylvania field instead of its likely target, the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
"I went by their example,” he told Moore, “and rather than reflect on something that was negative in the past, I thought 'What is the future?’ What I've done, my particular strip for NineEleven this year, is a look forward rather than a look back," he said.
Rubino added that the cartoonists' efforts are bound to be noticed, even among the din of anniversary coverage and programming: "The comics are different. I think it's a chance for people to see a perspective on this anniversary that they wouldn't see otherwise," he said. "They're going to get a million television programs, but this is a unique way of looking at it."
And because the anniversary falls on a Sunday, cartoonists have more room than usual to explore the topic. "The Sunday comics offer the biggest canvas for us," said Burford. "Readers look to the comics page to reflect the national conversation, and on Sunday, September 11, that's going to be the conversation. I think the impact is going to be profound."
It will be a memorable occasion in the history of the medium, but it’s not the first time syndicated cartoonists have joined in a mutual effort. Previous such efforts have heightened public awareness of worldwide hunger, Earth Day, and breast cancer, but, said Moore, “the scope of this endeavor is unprecedented, with five syndicates and the newspapers they serve participating: King Features, Creators Syndicate, Tribune Media Services, Universal Press Syndicate and Washington Post Writers Group.”
Burford at King Features spearheaded this year’s undertaking, contacting other syndicates and gaining their support.
"Shortly after the first NineEleven,” Burford remembered, “—around Thanksgiving weekend that year—cartoonists organized and did a series of strips that were reflective and sympathetic to everyone who suffered, offering a message of peace, sympathy and solidarity. Ten years later, it made sense for the cartoonists to continue this message,” he told Mike Cavna at Washington Post’s online Comic Riffs.
"At a time when the national conversation will be one of remembrance," he continued, "we thought it was appropriate for the cartoonists to join in and give readers something to reflect with. It’s important that no one forget what happened on that day in history, and we value the opportunity for the artists to use the comic platform to make a powerful, cohesive statement. It's inspiring to see the contributions—the messages in the comics themselves are heartwarming and affirming. The cartoonists understood at once what the message needed to be. Some are saying 'it's okay to laugh,' and others are saying ‘it's okay to heal.’"
One of the newer strips, Reply All, is by Donna Lewis, a lawyer at the Department of Homeland Security. Her strip will be a tribute to Marine Sgt. William Cahir, a former reporter who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009, leaving twin girls he never met. The image shows the girls at his graveside.
"I work with his wife," Lewis told David Colton at USA Today. "I can't do humor about NineEleven. At Homeland, I'm surrounded by so many people where NineEleven is there every day."
In one of the simplest offerings, the dog Earl of the strip Mutts turns to his owner, Ozzie, and says simply, "Heal."
"This is a chance to do something bigger and in color," says Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell. "It's going to be an interesting Sunday morning to open the papers and see what everyone comes up with."
Brian Walker, co-writer of Hi and Lois, says the day's cartoons range from "strong graphic things to poignant stories about family. We really don't want to make people sad. That's not what our job is. It's a challenge,” he continued, “but cartoonists find creative solutions. You want to do something positive."
“There is something surreal about remembering NineEleven,” Amy Lago, comics editor at the Washington Post Writers Group, told Cavna. "It was such a glorious morning for such a reverberating tragedy. To want to honor both those who died going about their daily lives and those who died trying to save others is only natural."
Lago said she anticipates potential backlash from readers who might not want an event of such gravity interfering with their customary levity.
"I await criticism from readers who believe the comics pages are supposed to be funny 365 days a year," Lago said. "To them I say: 'I understand you want to read the comics to forget your troubles, but this is personal. Out of mutual respect and understanding, please grant all of us who lived through September 11, 2001, this one day of putting humor aside in honor and remembrance of those who didn't."
also praises King Features for its "superb coordination" of the
project. On September 11, all the participating comics will also be viewable at
"Comics and cartoons have played an important role throughout history by reflecting and reacting to the political climate of our country," said Susan Bennett, senior vice president of exhibits and program at the Newseum. “We’re honored to partner with some of the country's best illustrators as they remember a day we should never forget.”
At Pittsburgh’s Toonseum, concidence reigned.
"It was actually kind of fortuitous timing," said Joe Wos, the curator. "We had been discussing doing a NineEleven exhibit with editorial cartoons when we got a call from King Features Syndicate, saying they were going to do this national day of remembrance in the funny pages—and would we be willing to exhibit some of the work?"
They were, adding it to the scheduled ToonSeum show, entitled "Too Soon?: A Cartoon Retrospective of 9/11,” which starts on September 10, preceded by a panel discussion with former Andy Warhol Museum director Tom Sokolowski, nationally syndicated cartoonist Ted Rall, WDVE Morning Show host Jim Krenn and others on September 9 at Bricolage Theatre. It runs until September 25.
“The question we all asked," said Wos, “—any of us who worked in humor, media or comics—‘When is it okay to use this imagery in our work? When is it okay to smile, to laugh?' You're still not seeing NineEleven jokes,” he went on, “because it still feels absolutely inappropriate, as it should. On the other hand, you look at other tragedies that have happened, over time—humor becomes a way of dealing with it. That has not happened with NineEleven.”
But this year, on Sunday, September 11, it might.
Gardner provided a list of most (if not all) of the participating syndicated cartoonists at DailyCartoonist; here’s the list (alphabetical, by first names, for a change):
Adrian Raeside – THE OTHER COAST
Alex Hallatt – ARCTIC CIRCLE
Anne Gibbons – SIX CHIX
Brian and Greg Walker, and Chance Browne – HI AND LOIS
Brian and Ron Boychuk – CHUCKLE BROS
Brian Anderson – DOG EAT DOUG
Brian Basset – RED ROVER
Bruce Tinsley – MALLARD FILLMORE
Chris Browne – HAGAR THE HORRIBLE
Corey Pandolph – ELDERBERRIES
Craig MacIntosh – SALLY FORTH
Dan Parent – ARCHIE
Darrin Bell – CANDORVILLE
Dave Coverly – SPEED BUMP
David Gilbert – BUCKLES
Dean Young and John Marshall – BLONDIE
Donna A. Lewis – REPLY ALL
Ed Stein – FRESHLY SQUEEZED
Frank Bolle – APT. 3-G
Garry Trudeau – DOONESBURY
Gary Brookins – PLUGGERSTM
Gene and Dan Weingarten – BARNEY & CLYDE
Glenn McCoy – THE DUPLEX
Greg Cravens – BUCKETS
Greg Evans – LUANN
Guy Gilchrist – NANCY
Henry Beckett and Carla Ventresca – ON A CLAIRE DAY
Hilary Price – RHYMES WITH ORANGE
Jack Elrod – MARK TRAIL
Jan Eliot – STONE SOUP
Jeff & Bil Keane – THE FAMILY CIRCUS
Jeff Corriveau – DEFLOCKED
Jeff Millar and Bill Hinds – TANK MCNAMARA
Jeff Parker – WIZARD OF ID
Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman – ZITS
Jim Scancarelli – GASOLINE ALLEY®
Jim Toomey – SHERMAN’S LAGOON
Joe Giella and Karen Moy – MARY WORTH
Joe Staton & Mike Curtis – DICK TRACY(R)
John Deering – ZACK HILL and STRANGE BREW
John Forgetta and L.A. Rose -THE MEANING OF LILA
John Hambrock – THE BRILLIANT MIND OF EDISON LEE
John Rose – BARNEY GOOGLE AND SNUFFY SMITH
Jok Church – BEAKMAN AND JAX
Jonathan Mahood – BLEEKER THE RECHARGEABLE DOG
Kevin Frank – HEAVEN’S LOVE THRIFT SHOP
– PROS & CONS
Lance Aldrich and Gary Wise – REAL LIFE ADVENTURES
Leigh Rubin – RUBES
Lincoln Peirce – BIG NATE
Mark Tatulli LIO and HEART OF THE CITY
Mason Mastroianni – B.C.
Mell Lazarus – MOMMA
Mick and Mason Mastroianni – DOGS OF C-KENNEL
Mike Peters – MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM
Mort Walker – BEETLE BAILEY
Norm Feuti – RETAIL
Patrick McDonnell – MUTTS
Patrick Roberts – TODD THE DINOSAUR
Paul Gilligan – POOCH CAF’E
Paul Jon Boscacci – FORT KNOX
Peter Gallagher – HEATHCLIFF
Peter Guren – ASK SHAGG
Phil Dunlap – INK PEN
Piers Baker – OLLIE & QUENTIN
Ray Billingsley – CURTIS
Rick Detorie – ONE BIG HAPPY
Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott – BABY BLUES
Rina Piccolo – TINA’S GROOVE
Ron Ferdinand – DENNIS THE MENACE
Sandra Bell-Lundy – BETWEEN FRIENDS
Scott Stantis – PRICKLY CITY
Stan Lee – THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Stephen Bentley – HERB AND JAMAAL
Steve Boreman – LITTLE DOG LOST
Steve Breen and Mike Thompson – GRAND AVENUE
Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker – DUSTIN
Steve Sicula – HOME AND AWAY
Susie MacNelly, Chris Cassatt and Gary Brookins – SHOE
T Lewis and Michael Fry – OVER THE HEDGE
Terri Libenson – THE PAJAMA DIARIES
Terry Laban – EDGE CITY
Tim Rickard – BREWSTER ROCKIT: SPACEGUY!TM
Tom Armstrong – MARVIN
Tom Batiuk – FUNKY WINKERBEAN and CRANKSHAFT
Tony Cochran – AGNES
Tony Rubino & Gay Markstein – DADDY’S HOME
Vic Lee – PARDON MY PLANET
BEFORE WE EXHAUST ourselves in maudlin sentimentality, take a look at what the duty iconoclast Ted Rall has to say on the tenth anniversary. Among the things he says, is this: “‘Aviation security is a joke, and it's only a matter of time before terrorists destroy another airplane full of innocent passengers,’ wrote Barbara Hollingsworth of the Washington Examiner after the 2009 ‘underwear bomber’ scare. As Hollingsworth pointed out, the much-vaunted federal air marshals have been removed from flights because the TSA is too cheap to pay their hotel bills. (This is illegal.) What's the point of taking off your shoes, she asked, when planes are still serviced overseas in unsecured facilities? No one has provided an answer.”
no one has yet provided any sort of security enhancement for ports, whether
airports or seaports. Witness the entire screed at TedRall.com by scrolling
down the Rallblog page until you get to the Syndicated Column entitled: “We
Learned Nothing from 9/11.”
HOW TO MUZZLE CARTOON CRITICISM—NOT!
If you want to prevent a cartoonist from drawing cartoons critical of your government, you grab him and break his hands. That’ll fix that. Or so, we imagine, ran the so-called thinking of Syria’s brutal tyrant Bashar Assad, who sent four masked thugs out to get Ali Ferzat, a 60-year-old Syrian cartoonist who is highly regarded throughout the Arab world for producing stinging caricatures that infuriated dictators like Saddam Hussein, Moammar Khadafy and, most obviously in recent months, Assad.
According to numerous reports, Ferzat was on his way home from his studio early in the morning on August 25 when he was seized in Umayyad Square in Old Damascus by four assailants, who beat him furiously, concentrating their brutality on his hands, saying, as they hit him, “We’ll see what you will draw from now on. How dare you disobey your masters?”
It was classic barbaric physical intimidation: destroy the offending part of the critic’s physique. Just a month before, reported cartoonist Daryl Cagle at his blog, “Ibrahim al-Qashoush, the composer of a popular anti-regime song, was found dead with his vocal chords removed.”
Ferzat fared better: his attackers left him alive after breaking two fingers on his left hand and his right arm, and then throwing him from the car to lie bleeding on the side of the road to the airport, where passers-by found him and took him to a hospital.
The American Embassy in Damascus called the episode “a government-sponsored, targeted, brutal attack.” American editoonist Matt Bors, one of the editors at CartoonMovement.com, said the incident is a stark reminder that “in many parts of the world, picking up a pen to draw cartoons is still dangerous.”
“Ferzat’s cartoons have been sharply critical of the harsh suppression of the five-month uprising in Syria,” said Cagle. “Just last week, Ferzat published a cartoon at his website showing Assad carrying a packed suitcase, frantically hitch-hiking a ride out of town with Khadafy,” who was fleeing in a bumptious cartoon jeep. Many of his cartoons are directly critical of Assad, depicting the chinless dictator in merciless caricature “even though caricatures of the President are forbidden in Syria.”
“The Syrian cartoonist has produced a stream of images like this in the past few months,” reported globalpost.com. “In one, Assad is shown patiently whitewashing the shadow of a huge security thug on a wall while the real thug stands untouched. The caption reads: ‘Lifting the emergency law.’
“Another shows Assad flexing in uniform in front of a mirror that reflects back a dominant, muscular image, overshadowing his puny figure.”
In yet another cartoon, Ferzat ridiculed Assad’s promise for reforms with a picture of an official with rosebuds in his speech balloon but a turd on his head. Another showed dictators walking a long red carpet that leads them, in the end, to a dustbin (garbage can).
Such visuals are typical of Ferzat’s work, globalpost.com went on. “For forty years, Ferzat has been skewering the mismatch between rhetoric and reality in the Arab world. In his meticulous drawings, mostly without captions, he has shown the overbearing brutality of bureaucracy, the hypocrisy of leaders, and myriad other injustices of daily life that have resonated across the Middle East.”
On the second of the adjacent pages of visual aids are several of Ferzat’s cartoons, distinguished, usually, by the absence of captions or words. The color cartoons especially are mute, but as visual metaphors, they thunder with their indictment of life in Syria. A torturer weeps at witnessing a soap opera but apparently exercises no such sympathy for his victim. A military regime hands out medals instead of food to its populace. Trains don’t run on time because the country lacks infrastructure for railroads. And, my favorite, a depiction of woman’s place in society: the male population holds the keys to her ability to see and speak.
Happily, Assad’s plan to quell the criticism of cartoonists isn’t working. In fact, the attack on Ferzat stimulated an outpouring of cartoons from the cartoonists in other countries. Many of these are on display at the gallery at the end of this opus. Throughout these cartoons runs a consistent theme: breaking a cartoonist’s hands will not prevent him from drawing. The artistic impulse with its hand-and-eye coordination will survive even if the artist must hold his pencil between his teeth to apply its point to paper.
In his Comic Riffs blog at the Washington Post, Michael Cavna issued a clarion call to other cartoonists: “Now is the time for the brethren of the drawing board to pick up their pens and paintbrushes and digital pads in support of Ferzat,” he trumpeted, and cartoonists in far-flung places heeded his call, producing an impressive array of visual Assad ridicule.
“Within the comics community,” Cavna wrote, “you could sense the groundswell. Commentators the globe over helped beat the drum of outrage, and the U.S. State Department even pointedly condemned the attack. But it was from among cartoonists that eventually sprung the rallying cry, ‘We Are All Ferzat.’”
That may be a little hyperbolic, but not much. One American cartoonist has advocated sending a delegation of his inkslinging countrymen to Damascus to declare solidarity with Ferzat: “In other words, if the thugs want to kill him, they have to kill us too.”
Politico’s Matt Wuerker, in a letter posted at the website of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (of which he is prez-elect), issued a more measured statement on behalf of AAEC: “Understandably, this attack may be overshadowed by the murderous attacks that the regime is perpetrating on the rest of its people, but as cartoonists, we are outraged at the particular venality of the attack on Mr. Ferzat. The attackers intentionally broke his hands. Breaking the hands of a cartoonist is more than an attack on one brave individual: it’s an attack on the right of a people to express themselves. It’s an act of a desperate regime foolishly thinking that its violence and efforts to intimidate will keep a cartoonist from criticizing the regime’s repressive behavior. Instead, it only sets hundreds of hands to drawing the clear conclusion that those behind the brutal repression have lost all legitimacy.”
And legitimacy is not all they’ve lost. An activist from Homs (who wished to be identified only by her first name, Sally) said: “What happened to Ali Ferzat scared us. But it’s only a proof of how desperate the regime is. It shows how frightened they are and proves that they are losing control.”
Presumably, Assad’s nation-wide attempt to suppress all other forms of expression will be similarly doomed to fail. “Hopefully,” said Bors, “Syrians can succeed in overthrowing their government and replace it with a non-hand-breaking one.”
ELIZABETH FLOCK AT THE WASHINGTON POST said: “Outspoken cultural figures like Ferzat, whose drawings and cartoons have long pushed the boundaries of freedom of expression, were considered safe until several weeks ago, when a number of factors, writers and artists were arrested.”
Ironically, she pointed out, “Ferzat had once had high hopes for Assad as his country’s leader.” Years ago, Assad, then an aspiring ophthamologist (for which profession he was trained in Britain), used to visit Ferzat’s exhibitions and encouraged the cartoonist, telling him that “all his work should be published—even cartoons banned in the country.”
At the Associated Press, reporter Zeina Karam elaborated: “When Bashar Assad inherited the presidency from his father and opened Syria to reforms, Ferzat was allowed to publish the country’s first private newspaper in decades—a satirical weekly called The Lamplighter. The paper was an instant hit, with copies of each issue selling out a few hours after hitting the stands. It was soon shut down, however, as Assad began cracking down on dissent and jailing critics after the brief, heady period known as the Damascus Spring quickly lost steam.
“Ferzat then became a vehement critic of the regime,” Karam continued, “particularly after the military launched a brutal crackdown on the country’s protest movement.”
Without a paper to publish in because his drawings are banned, Ferzat posted cartoons on his private website, “providing comic relief to many Syrians who were unable to follow his work anywhere else.”
The Cartoonists Rights Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting cartoonists from the sort of treatment Ferzat has received—and to fostering freedom of expression for all cartoonists—has been in touch with Ferzat, through the cartoonist’s son. At last report (September 4), Ferzat is home and moving around. He’s feeling better although one or both of his hands have pins and nails in them to make sure his bones heal properly. He said he’ll know in a month or so after the stitches and pins have been removed if he will still be able to draw with his hands.
We finish, for the time being, with a short gallery of cartoons produced in outrage by Ferzat’s proud friends and supporters in the inky-fingered fraternity.
Even more can be found at CartoonMovement.com, which is daily posting new images of protest and support, and at CartooningForPeace.org.
On the first page at hand, two cartoonists demonstrate the futility of someone’s trying to silence their visual ridicule by breaking their hands. On the next visual aid, more cartoons from cartoonists in other countries, all championing the power of the editoonist’s pencil.
On the third page are cartoons by four American editoonists. At the upper right, Matt Wuerker demonstrates the power of the cartoonist’s pen, then, moving clockwise, Rick McKee has produced a delicious dramatization of the supreme irony of trying to stifle editoonist criticism by breaking the hands of just one cartoonist. Bill Day and Bruce Plante continue in the same vein.
In our final visual aid, we display cartoons attacking Assad rather than those protesting the brutality perpetrated on Ferzat. Canadian cartooner Cameron Cardow gets in the first lick at the upper left with an ingenious demonstration of the secret of Assad’s staying power: the device is so silly that it effectively diminishes and thereby undermines Assad. Moving clockwise, we come to Nate Beeler, who has appropriated a terrifying image from Francisco Goya, “Saturn Devouring His Son.” Goya’s disturbing picture was painted on the wall of the dining room in his last residence, one of fourteen other “black paintings” that decorated the place. The picture is inspired by the Greek myth in which it had been foretold that one of the sons of Saturn would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown his father. To prevent this, Saturn ate his children moments after each was born. Just so—Beeler forces us to see—Assad with his people.
Next in order, John Sherffius supplies another of his silent but telling images: time is running out for Assad, just as it already has for Khadafy. Finally, Daryl Cagle, in the perverse manner of cartoonists everywhere, returns to Ferzat’s plight with a less reverent, even somewhat cheerful, assessment of the otherwise repulsive episode.
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