Last month I visited Prague and had lunch with Czech cartoonist Štěpán Mareš, who draws full page cartoons for the weekly news/opinion magazine Reflex. Štěpán had just won a lawsuit in the Czech Republic’s supreme court over a cartoon (below) titled “Paroubek’s Erotic Fantasies,” featuring Jiří Paroubek, the country’s former Prime Minister. The woman in the cartoon, Paroubek’s second wife, Petra Paroubková, sued Mares’ magazine demanding an apology for depicting her and her husband at the moment of conceiving a child. Paroubek had been doing some public bragging about his trophy wife, and their sexual relations, that Štěpán was lampooning. The angry wife is now appealing the decision to the EU court.
The trophy wife said her objection was over the black panel with the “hrk” sound; she told the court she was shocked by the cartoon, and claimed it was so emotionally distressing it could have led to a miscarriage.
This isn’t the first time an insulted Czech politician has sued Štěpán who lost a suit over the cartoon below because an insulted politician thought Štěpán had drawn his genitals too big in the second panel. The Reflex magazine was ordered by the Czech court to publish an apology (click the image for the uncensored version).
Štěpán’s cartoons can be raunchy, but politicians should be fair game for cartoonists. American cartoonists have broad rights to lampoon public figures, who have given up many of their rights by choosing to become public figures. In countries where cartoonists can be sued, insulted politicians often use costly civil suits to chill criticism in the press.
When politicians are offended by cartoons in the least civilized countries, like Iran or Syria, cartoonists are sent to prison or their hands are broken. In more civilized countries like China, the government sees to it that provocative cartoonists lose their jobs. In countries that are even more civilized, like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, offended politicians file expensive suits against the cartoonists and their publishers. In the most civilized countries, any lawsuits against cartoonists are thrown out before going to trial; public figures in America just have to grit their teeth and suffer through their cartoon indignities. I’m very fortunate to be a cartoonist working in a most civilized country.
It’s nice to know there are cartoonists like Štěpán out there, on the front lines, fighting the good fight for cartoonists to be able to draw large genitals on politicians everywhere.
Here’s my video interview with Štěpán: