Cartooning: The perspectives
THE term cartoon, a satirical depiction, was first used in the Punch – a British magazine in 1843. Back then, the term indicated a sketch on a cardboard (cartone – Italian). The popularity of the Punch cartoons spurred a widespread use of the term.
The capacity to laugh discriminates human from other species, however, humans are gradually losing this sense.
The cessation of Punch, years ago, banning of cartooning in the New York Time in 2019, criticism and mobs showing anger on the cartoons are some of the indicators to this loss. Perhaps we are taking everything so seriously and neglecting the lighter side of things.
The importance of cartooning, an amazing form of expression, mostly humorous can be gauged from the fact that every newspaper dedicates a substantial and prominent space for it.
In the start of a career, a cartoonist, as per my own experience, is prone to aggressive satire, but later becomes self-regulated and avoids offensive cartoons.
Cartoons, the abstracted visuals which catch the audience attraction have a tremendous capacity to touch the emotions and mind — a strength yet a liability too.
A cartoonist, through satirical art raises the voice on behalf of the society and against imbalances, provides an insight of a situation or reveals situation deeper than the immediately apparent.
Cartooning in Pakistan means much more constraints, where a cartoonist can only choose the topics which are “within the box”.
Politico-sectarian parties — a common occurrence in the country, gender, ethics, moral and societal norms are the boundaries, thus a cartoonist is denied many potential topics to work on.
The cartoonists articulate and contemplate how they can stay away from any potentially offensive topic, thus rendering them with little content to explore.
While it is true that the national level politicians are open-minded and embrace criticism with a comparatively open heart– even at times appreciating cartoons featuring them, while others are politely complaining. The arena is different now, particularly when politicians belong to a ruling party.
The chauvinist followers are easily offended, become personal and give abusive comments, not only on cartoons but may become vehemently apprehensive to the cartoonist and the newspapers publishing them.
So is the situation on any opinion against their leaders, generally perceived by their staunch followers as messiahs.
They also blame journalists, commonly regarded as the Lafafa journalists for taking bribe – fortunately, the cartoonists are the exclusion.
Outrage through social media and gathering of angry mob in front of the publishers, which happened with the author as well on a cartoon featuring religio-sectarian political genius is common. In such situations the newspapers have to tender apologies.
Sometimes, the authorities might not like a cartoon, and we have an example of our colleague, cartoonist Khalid Hussain who had to quit cartooning due to a cartoon that authorities found appalling.
This phenomenon is not only limited to Pakistan, rather is happening internationally. We learn cartoonists are jailed, forced into exile or made to lose their position.
In all the aforementioned, what worries the most is the dwindling viewers’ support for healthy criticism. This cartoonists’ squeezed liberty reduces the expression and space allowed to criticize.
This warrants immediate counter-measures by the cartoonists and the audience otherwise humour will die soon which is believed, by many cartoonists to be on a life support.
A cartoonist, as compared to other journalism areas enjoys a unique freedom for political cartooning which entails a great sense of responsibility too.
I, as a cartoonist, believe that cartoonists can adopt a tone pacifies anger, in stills hope, makes a healthy criticism yet provides food for thought.
A cartoonist should know where the line should be drawn. Cartoons should never be intended to hurt anyone. The cartoonist should be impartial, even if one is affiliated.
The cartoons should not symbolize disappointments, humiliate nationally-respected non-political figures and/or the flags of other countries.
Freedom of expression is important, but some topics must be off the table, or must be encapsulated in a way so as to avoid hurting the viewers.
The encapsulated opinion has a meaningful impact but does not disturb the audience – the description should not be carved with a double-ended sword.
The viewer must be accepting criticism and not as the serious conduction. They should understand that cartoons are mostly made on the public figures with responsibilities, obviously not admiring them. The cartoonists are not about solving the issues or controversies.
Although ideally cartoons bring smile by satirical criticism with a bit exaggeration not to be taken personal, and if not, at least provokes thinking.
Cartoons positively reflect the worst situations and even “if the world is about to end in seven days, a cartoonist would still be telling seven different stories for us to enjoy before the apocalypse.” – a cartoonist says.
A cartoonist who brings positivity from negativity does not think existence of the limited opportunities for cartooning. In cartoonist’s perspective the next opportunities are big.
The media have been boosted and transformed to several channels, due to which cartoons cross the borders.
The art of the visual commentary is needed more than ever before, and so is the cartoon.
All the above media have made the era of images open up a new vista for cartooning, illustrated and animated on TV, Web, social and internet-based media.
—The author is contributing editorial cartoons to the Pakistan Observer.