MEDIA-ASIA: Editorial Cartoonists Turn to Pens – and Mice

  • by Lynette Lee Corporal (bangkok)
  • Inter Press Service

Many cartoonists and artists in Asia’s media are going through a transition. The iconic image of an artist hunched over a cluttered desk in a corner of a busy newsroom still rings true for many of them – except that they now hold close both their pencils and computer mice.

Technological innovations and online access have enhanced rather than 'endangered' their work, say these artists, who produce cartoons that go with editorials and articles in newspapers and magazines.

'Nothing much has changed since I still work with the same materials. . . .I rely on technology for transmission (and) sometimes enhance and/or colour my work digitally,' said Caesarson Bismonte, art director and editorial cartoonist of the English-language daily 'The Daily Tribune' in the Philippines.

Bismonte, who has been doing editorial cartoons for more than two decades, is partial to the 'spontaneous lines and strokes that only the human hand can produce'.

Prudencio 'Dengcoy' Miel Jr, art director and cartoonist for the Singapore daily 'The Straits Times', says he is still hunched over the drawing table daily, still uses the pencil, and still savours the 'tactile quality of lead touching paper, the smell of pencil shavings and eraser debris'.

'In fact, (the process) is even much longer than before because more and more of the drawings that we do now involve some kind of tweaking in the computer,' said the Philippines-born artist.

Like Bismonte, Miel uses technology only after he has finished conceptualising the design and layout of his work.

Older artists need to adapt to new technologies, he points out. Those who don't 'will eventually perish, professionally'.

For cartoonist Rajesh K C, whose works are published in Nepali newspapers such as 'The Rising Nepal', 'Kantipur', and 'Kathmandu Post', cartoons are a very powerful medium for getting one’s message across. He says the new media are an encouraging sign for editorial cartoonists like him.

'We only have a small number of professional cartoonists here. But there's always a good demand for cartoons,' Rajesh told the AMF, adding that the coming of the new media resulted in 'more job offers' for editorial cartoonists.

Miel, whose works have appeared in 'The International Herald Tribune' and 'Newsweek', agrees that there are many good cartoonists in Asia but 'so few newspapers' with which to 'feature and support these cartoons'.

Thus, the Internet seems to be the logical step, especially for emerging cartoonists.

'Brunei Times' editor Hizbullah Arief knows the importance of having a good editorial cartoonist who can capture 'the spirit of opinion or analysis' – a task that he says is never easy.

'Being cartoonist is a choice, and it depends on the availability of the medium to channel their artistic skills,' he added.

In the Nepali context, Rajesh says that the older generation of cartoonists did not have much opportunity to pursue its profession owing to heavy media censorship and the lack of publications before the South Asian country made the transition from monarchic rule to a parliamentary system.

But the profession, has evolved since then. 'Cartooning is not just a piece of artwork and straight dialogue as most used to be in the past. Editorial cartoons act as a visual metaphor to illustrate a point of view on current and political happenings,' said Rajesh, whose own website features all his works.

Sadly, he continues, such essential elements are 'missing in old creations'.

New technologies are there as creative tools -- and do not in any way alter personal concepts or individual interpretations of issues.

'Every cartoon has an inherent mutability that only the cartoonist himself could decide when the idea is ripe enough for it to be rendered, or when the editor says so,' Miel explained. 'Then, the computer comes in.'

Bismonte finds that putting editorial cartoons online do give them a reach wider than print, but says this does not affect his perspective. 'When I do my cartoons for a day's issue, I think of my paper's readers first and my online readers next. After all, I am commenting on an issue that may be of local or even parochial interest only,' he added.

As for editorial freedom, Rajesh says that as long as he does not cross the line and get into unethical journalism, he is free. 'True freedom can only come from creating fresh ideas, and for a cartoonist like me, it's still the barometer by which I could decide whether I am free or not, unhindered by the vagaries of deadlines and meddling editors,' added Miel.

Far from experiencing an inner tug-of-war, editorial cartoonists say they are aware of the huge potential of conquering both the 'old' and the 'new' media to widen their reach and improve their craft.

Rajesh points out that at the most basic level, a cartoon gets 'printed in thousands of newspapers/magazines globally' via syndication but the same piece of artwork can be downloaded from websites by thousands of subscribers and users.

'The future of editorial cartoons entirely depends on the cartoonists. It depends on how they maintain their creativity,' he said.

Miel added: 'Cartoonists wouldn't be out of work just because a different platform has evolved that is not image-dependent. Almost everything is driven by cartoon imagery -- information dissemination, news, posters, comics -- the list is endless.'

Miel, however, knows where his cartoonist’s roots are. 'My bread and butter is still print -- cartoons online do not really pay the bills. It's just nice to hear that someone, somewhere is getting a million hits on his website.'

Miel and his fellow artists believe that editorial cartoons are here to stay – and are providing an even sharper twist especially in these troubled times.

'Satire helps people keep their wits amid adversity. (They say that) laughter is the best medicine. For me, satirical cartooning is therapy,' said Bismonte.

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© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service