Cartooning and Democratization
But this post is not about a specific comic or cartoon. It is about cartoons and cartoonists who dare to raise their voice against their system, those who choose to highlight the problems that plague their society. Find out more in this article: “Cartooning and democratization world-wide“. The article is rather lengthy but worth a read.
To resist, to revolt, to reconcile can conceivably be steps in the democratization process; likewise, these three R infinitives can comfortably be applied to a job description for cartooning. A wide angle perspective, historically and geographically, reveals many examples of cartoonists opposing and bringing about radical change to unfair, unequal, and oppressive practices and regimes, and working to establish friendship and peace where hatred and conflict previously dwelled.
The National Salvation Cartoon Propaganda Corps, started by seven cartoonists in China in 1937, was also an underground group. As the invading Japanese soldiers marched through their country, these Chinese cartoonists also moved from place to place, etching their anti-Japanese and morale-boosting messages on walls, in newspapers, and exhibitions.
The form of resistance cartoonists normally use fits the ‘hidden transcripts’ notion of Asianist James C. Scott; the term almost seems to have been coined to describe what cartoonists do. Russian cartoonist Mikhail Zlatkovsky calls it layering, explaining that during Soviet times, the subtler the hint, the more numerous the layers of meanings. He said the first layer, which was false, allowed these cartoons to be published.
And whoever said that cartooning was an easy job?
Perhaps the first world-wide campaign to protect cartoonists of resistance is the Cartoonists Rights Network, located in the US. Started by Robert I. Russell, CRN aims to lobby those who threaten cartoonists rights, train at-risk journalists in defensive lifestyles and survival techniques, create support systems to aid families of cartoonists under attack or threat, and provide cartoonists marketing outlets for their works on an international scale.
Read more on how cartoonists and the public get together to fight against the system.
So, are these cartoonists any less than revolutionaries? Spreading an important message through their craft is the best way they can, and so they do!
Cartoonists have played key roles in political overthrows if we think of revolution by that definition. Certainly, David lent a hand in the French Revolution, as did Eastern European cartoonists during the dismantling of the Soviet Union in more recent times. But if we define revolution as any act of protest or rejection resulting in radical change, we can include cartoons that serve conscientization, developmental and educational purposes.
Conscientization has been defined as ‘the level of rationality which helps us understand the process which forms people and society, to take a positive stand in solidarity with the oppressed, and to work for grassroots organization and actions with programmes of liberation.’ The works of some cartoonists fit part of this definition.
In India, a chemical engineer, appalled at Indian children’s ignorance of their own culture, started a series of educational comic books, Amar Chitra Katha, in the 1960s to fill this vacuum, while a researcher, Indi Rani, took on a World Health Organization task to develop a comic book on immunization for rural children.
Cartoonists also play a vital role in the process of reconciliation.
Cartoonists have played key roles in trying to bring people together after war and ethnic/racial conflicts, to mend what was torn asunder on the battlefield, to re-establish peace and brotherhood, and to prevent a re-occurrence of such catastrophic times.