The cartoonist's dilemma

Peter Schrank / Feb 2017

Cartoon by Peter Schrank

We cartoonists have a dilemma: like all decent people we hope for a better world, yet we depend for our livelihood on a world of lies, broken promises and violence. For us, bad news is good news.

We wake every morning looking for something to rail against, to make us righteously angry, to motivate us.

From this perspective 2016 was a particularly good year. We have had the humanitarian disasters of the war in Syria and the migrant crisis, we've had Brexit, we’ve had the rise of populism in the west; we have Donald Trump.These events have stoked our paranoia, increased our anxieties, given us new causes and targets, and, hopefully, made us raise our game. Donald Trump is the perfect example of bad news being good news for cartoonists and satirists. The prospect of a man so seemingly shallow, so vulgar and objectionable – a man of such ludicrous appearance – occupying the most powerful office on the planet must fill every right thinking person with horror. And yet to satirists he's a gift, a source of endless inspiration.

Equally, the Brexiteers with their deceitful referendum campaign – a disaster for the UK and the EU – are a wonderful spur to our creativity.

Cartoonists and satirists are a little like vultures: we depend on death, deceit and destruction for the survival of our profession.

There is another side to this, however. I believe the cartoonist has a moral obligation.

We should, with our sharp pens as a weapon, be ready to ride to the rescue of the downtrodden, the repressed, the dispossessed. Satirists should always be on the side of the afflicted, those who cannot help themselves, and they should, ultimately, remain impartial, judicious, fair. I feel it is wrong to attack a politician for the sake of it, to automatically suspect corruption and self interest. We should give those in power the benefit of the doubt and save our scorn for after they have let us down.

One of the problems with world affairs, particularly in the west, is an all-encompassing cynicism, a lazy form of thinking which might claim that Trump and Clinton are as bad as each other. Why bother? it says, when everything is going to hell anyway. This is a dangerous fallacy that cartoonists, satirists and all professional cynics should not perpetuate. Particularly in a world where truth and facts are contested. However much we exaggerate, however much we blow things out of proportion, strain for a laugh, we must still stick up for the truth. For, amongst all those different ways of seeing, there are unshakeable truths.

This may sound a little pretentious. What are we talking about here? A little drawing buried in the back pages of a newspaper or a website, drowned out by all the noise of rolling news, endless chat, tweets, blogs. Something to briefly smirk or chuckle over, only to move on and instantly forget. After all it's funny. And funny is not serious – is it?

But, to my mind, it is still a job to be taken seriously. And a job that is a lot of fun, in spite of the doom and gloom.


Peter Schrank

Peter Schrank

February 2017

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