“Crossing the Line, with Lines” – by Erick Wonderly

Crossing the Line, with Lines

By Erick Wonderly

“Humor was handicapped,” said the bushy eye browed man while sipping his beer. “We couldn’t say anything! And if you did, we either were fined or sent to prison! It happened to all humorists, myself included.” Antonio Madrigal is a cartoonist and painter based in Segovia, Spain. He takes off his white fedora , revealing his white, wispy hair sticking up from the sides. He swats and curses at the buzzing flies insistent on having his drink, while nineties American pop music plays softly in the background. Madrigal lived through the black hole of creativity that was the time general Franco ruled over Spain. Every cartoonist I have talked to on this trip repeatedly alluded to the fascist dictatorship, as it wasn’t too long ago that the general died. According to Madrigal, jokes had to be sent to a government department for approval before it could be published. Because of this, there have been lasting political leanings among social and political critics in Spain. “Cartoonists are anti authoritarian, democratic, and liberal, as am I. More liberal than the public. There are no fascist cartoonists.”

ErickWonderly_Madrigal.png

This political bent towards the left is shared by Andrés Rabago, the cartoonist for “El País”, who tells me that he has “worked for most leftist and progressive magazines right after Franco’s death,” and says that in addition to being liberal, cartoons ought to have an “anarchist” way of thought.

This kind of irreverent, harsh, and at times cruel type of cartooning is very popular around Europe, particularly in countries such as Spain, France, England, and Italy. This culture within cartoons and comics that deal with politics exists mostly because of a long history with censorship, dictatorships, and repressive forces such as the church throughout the continent.

As a cartoonist living in the United States, I don’t have to worry about a dictator or a government ministry censoring what I do with my pens. But censorship happens to be a subject I am very interested in, and asked the cartoonists I met in Spain about. What can and can’t one draw?

Many times publishers and editors become the censors, telling a satirist what may be said. Rabago, or “el Roto” insists this is not a problem for him. “El País never tells me what to draw, partly because they know I’m not crazy.”

However, there was an incident here in Spain in which the higher arguably pressed too far. Last year the popular Spanish satire magazine, “El Jueves” had its cover pulled by its publisher. Seven cartoonists retired in protest of not being able to run a cover in which the King passes off his feces-encrusted crown to the prince. José Orcajo, who now works for El Norte de Castilla, used to draw for El Jueves. “There was another time when they showed the then-Prince making love to a dog!” laughs Orcajo in a raspy wheeze.

I asked Antonio, as he wipes beer foam off of his lip from his slightly froggy but friendly face, what he thought about cartoonists crossing a supposed “line”. “The line shouldn’t exist! It would not be logical to not cross the line,” he says while shaking his head in revulsion. “I believe in absolute freedom. You should criticize anything, such as the military, marriage, religions, and so on.”

Not everyone agrees where that line is, however. When I asked Antonio if any form of censorship exists in Spain today because of the Catholic Church (which has a huge presence in all southern European nations) he insisted that there wasn’t any more. To him, once Franco died, the church lost much of its political power. I relayed this to my host mother in the city of Segovia, who scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Is he joking?! The Catholic Church still pressures everyone!”

This kind of irreverent, harsh, and at times cruel type of cartooning is very popular around Europe, particularly in countries such as Spain, France, England, and Italy. This culture within cartoons and comics that deal with politics exists mostly because of a long history with censorship, dictatorships, and repressive forces such as the church throughout the continent.

Every now and then when people see my portfolio, I see furrowed brows, scoffs of disgust, and daggers being sent from one’s eyes. And yes, offense is involved many times in what we draw. But it is done to make one uncomfortable in one’s opinions, and ultimately make one become more of a skeptic. The purpose is to de-mystify ideas, figures, and institutions; nothing should be off-limits. Sometimes people and notions need to be taken down a peg, and not taken too seriously.

And sometimes offense can come at a terrible price. While Europe’s satirists no longer have to worry about dictators locking them up within their own country, if they draw the wrong kind of picture they still may have reason to fear being murdered.

The killings at the offices at Charlie Hebdo is still fresh in the minds of those who ridicule, and has brought up the arguments again of what can or can’t be drawn. El Roto tells me that he doesn’t believe that the cartoons had much to do with the attack, that the cartoons do not matter in this situation, and that the only wrong-doers were the killers. Antonio goes even further to say that the cartoonists were valiant, and that the drawings they produced, even if provocative, were fantastic. But rarely in my experience, or as I suspect in many people’s experience, do violent attacks by Islamists occur on the illustrator.

The story of censorship for a satirist is ongoing. As the world becomes more democratic and more liberalized, illustrators who wish to poke and prod at society and the political sphere have less to worry about physically. While a cartoonist may in some rare instances have to deal with lethal attacks from the religious right, the majority of the time a cartoonist’s problems stem from stepping too hard on someone’s sensibilities, or from an antsy publisher.

But as I asked all three men as to what problems they have run into with sending their illustrations to print, they all said something to the tune of, “It’s nothing like Franco. Now we can say pretty much what we want.” And in the very long run, it can make some difference. “It’s like a hammer and stone. After a while you can go through stone with enough swings,” El Roto told me. This helped me put things into perspective. I know that whatever I end up doing as a career, I want to be able to help illuminate and enlighten others on current events. And as I do so, why should I hesitate to say what I feel, if I know I won’t have to worry about an iron-fisted tyrant sending me to the gallows?

What a cartoonist just wants to do is spread a message through this art form, make you think, break taboos, and maybe even make you smile.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s