I’ll do better about posting in the blog. I promise.
After giving so many speeches in China I learned the oddities of what works and doesn’t work in cartoons with a Chinese audience. Some things can’t be explained, for example light bulb jokes make no sense to the Chinese, and can’t be explained. I’m told this is because it really takes four people in China to screw in a light bulb. Try to explain light bulb jokes and you’ll get a blank stare. They don’t care for ironic cartoons. The typical, wordy American cartoons are lost in translation, even when they address world issues.
For some reason I don’t understand, the Chinese audiences all laugh at pigs. My advice for any cartoonist giving a presentation to an audience in China is to show all the cartoons you’ve ever drawn with pigs in them. As part of my stump speech, I show a batch of my work from my illustrator days, before I became an editorial cartoonist, and I explain that only a very tiny percentage of American cartoonists are political cartoonists, most cartoonists work in illustration, animation, comics books and other non-political genres. When I show the cover at the right, the audience busts up laughing. I’ve asked them why, and the answer I get is, “We think pigs are funny.”
In fact, after each talk I usually get a crowd around me asking for sketches, and they want me to draw a pig for them. There are a few other requests for Chinese zodiac animal characters like bunnies, sheep and monkeys, but mostly it is pigs.
The Chinese just eat up those pigs. Literally. Pork is the staple meat on every Chinese menu. China has a strategic pork reserve, much like America’s Strategic Oil Reserve, in frozen caves underground in different places around the country. The Chinese can continue to enjoy pork dumplings after the apocalypse.
I learned that the Chinese word for pig is “ju,” pronounced, “Jew.” An unfortunate choice of words, I think.
The other big thing they find funny in my presentation is homosexuals. The cartoon at the right gets a big laugh. This was a Larry Craig cartoon; the Chinese audiences have no idea who Larry Craig is, but they know the donkey and elephant party symbols, and the gay reference makes them bust up. Homosexuality isn’t much accepted or discussed in China; as it turns out, when it is discussed they find it quite funny.
Yesterday I visited the tourist sights in Harbin: the Unit 731 Museum and the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park.
The Unit 731 Museum is the home of the infamous Japanese Army Unit 731, the germ warfare research unit that killed thousands of Chinese in grisly experiments and possibly up to 300,000 Chinese with actual germ weapons. The museum is a collection of artifacts, photographs and sculptures that depict the horrors, in Chinese and in English. It looks like a lot of Chinese school groups come through, with parking places for many busses. There was a line of Chinese tourists waiting to get into the busy free museum, on the outskirts of Harbin. Wickipedia gives a good description of Unit 731’s evil enterprise. The museum touts their website at 731museum.com, but it appears that they forgot to pay for the renewal on their domain name and the site doesn’t come up.
What was most interesting to me was the end of the exhibit, where there was a display describing how the commander of Unit 731, Shiro Ishii, was given amnesty by the Americans in exchange for data from Unit 731’s experiments; this led into a new room detailing “evidence” of the alleged American germ warfare against the Chinese during the Korean War. Included in the exhibit is an American germ warfare bomb with four chambers for germ agents. I tried to take a photo, but the guards stopped me.
I’m told that there is a larger exhibit of the alleged American germ warfare against the Chinese at the Museum of American Aggression in Dandong, on the North Korean border. There is little to be seen about this museum on the web, but I’m told it is a well known attraction, containing more exhibits on America germ wafare against the Chinese, including details of a plot allegedly using crickets to spread plague through China. The US State Department has protested both exhibits.
The Harbin Tiger Park is an interesting experience. I doubt that there are many non-Chinese tourists here, but there are English translations everywhere, including a sign that tells visitors the admission prices to be paid for animals to feed to the lions and tigers. In dollars, the prices are: Chicken: $5.70; Duck: $14.29; Pheasant: $14.29; Sheep: $86.00; Cattle: $214.00.
I bought a chicken to feed to the tigers (here is a YouTube video of tigers eating a calf, shot by a tourist from the bus at the Tiger Park).
This is our bus (right), with a cage to protect us from the tigers and with chutes for dropping live chickens out of the bus. The lions and tigers walk up to the bus and open their mouths at the chicken chute openings, so the chickens are devoured as soon as they exit the chute.
The Chinese tourists on our bus had obviously been to the Tiger Park before, because they knew to spend a bit more to buy ducks, which make the tigers work harder for dinner. A duck is thrown into a pond (a hole filled with water) and the duck forces the tigers to swim and chase around the pond for a few minutes, before gobbling up the duck. The Chinese tourists cheer for the duck as it tries to avoid the tiger attacks. It all had a Roman feel to it. I can imagine the ducks saying, “We, who are about to die, salute you!”
The Tiger Park looked like it had over one hundred tigers, many in small cages. I read on the web that the park is active in trying to have the protected species designation removed from Siberian Tigers, so that they can trade in tiger parts and pelts. That doesn’t really surprise me.
This is an example of a banner expressing concern and well wishes for the victims of the earthquake. People write their sympathies on the little yellow ribbons and hang them with the banner.
There are scenes like this all over. In downtown Harbin there’s a big, active kiosk soliciting donations of money and blood. The TV news here is continuous coverage of earthquake news. The outpouring of public support and sympathy is evident all over.
I’m now in Harbin, in Northern China, as part of a US State Department cultural exchange program that introduces Chinese audiences speakers from the USA. They have never had an American cartoonist participate in the program before; I’m the first one, and I seem to be a provocative choice for the Chinese students.
The consulate in Shanghai requested an American editorial cartoonist (and I’m an easy cartoonist to find). I’m meeting with Chinese cartoonists, speaking to university students and seeing the sights. The Chinese don’t see American editorial cartoons in their newspapers, we don’t see Chinese editorial cartoons in our newspapers and there is a wide cultural divide when it comes to journalism. The students seem to be amazed at the very idea that cartoonists would dare to be disrespectful of their government leaders.
I explain to the classes about “censorship” in America, and that the government never censors cartoonists, but that freedom of the press belongs to the guy who owns the press and cartoonists often complain about their editors. I tell them about the AAEC’s Golden Spike Award and show them examples of killed cartoons. They seem to be especially interested in this topic.
I leave a lot of time for questions and answers with each group I talk to; they can be shy, but when they get started they have lots of questions, and I get the same questions wherever I go. Here are some examples of recurring questions and answers:
Do your cartoons hurt your personal relationships with the politicians you draw?
No, I don’t have personal relationships with the people I draw.
Do you worry that your drawings will hurt the reputation of someone you have drawn?
No, if one of my cartoons hurts the reputation of a politician that I am criticizing, then I am pleased. (Sometimes the crowd murmurs when I say this. It doesn’t seem to be what they expect me to say.)
Do you ever apologize for your cartoons?
Sometimes, but only if I make an error or if the cartoon is misunderstood. Usually the people who are angry about a cartoon are the people I intend to make angry, and I am happy to make them angry. (The crowd murmurs at this answer, too.)
Do you ever draw cartoons that are supportive of China?
No, I don’t draw cartoons that support anything. I just criticize. Supportive cartoons are lousy cartoons.
Now that you have visited China, and have learned more about China, will you be drawing cartoons that support China?
What do you think about the terrible things that Jack Cafferty from CNN said about China? What can be done to make CNN apologize for these remarks?
(I try to be polite here.) Most Americans don’t know Jack Cafferty and haven’t read about his remarks, but most Americans have a negative view of China and would probably agree with Jack Cafferty’s remarks. I wouldn’t expect CNN to apologize. (The students murmur.) It is interesting that Jack Cafferty is a big issue here; the students all seem to know about the guy and seem personally insulted by him. Here’s a Chinese cartoon on Jack Cafferty.
At every event there is a student with a big smile who asks: Do you see many editorial cartoons in the USA about the Olympics? What are the cartoons like?
(I try again to be polite.) Yes there are lots of cartoons about the Olympics, and the cartoons from around the world are almost all negative about China.
The State Department people asked me not to show cartoons about China, thinking that the cartoons would be so provocative that their contacts at the universities wouldn’t want to work with the US speakers program any more, after a cartoon trauma. The students are eager to see cartoons about China. One student said, “You can show us the cartoons about China, really! We’re strong!” I refer the students to my web site to see the cartoons about China, and I tell them what the cartoons are like.
The request to refrain from showing cartoons about China is something I had to contemplate, because I like to say whatever I want. It was the only request the State Department people made of me, regarding what I would have to say and show in China. I decided I was OK with it.
Now that I have heard from the students, and I can see what a huge cultural divide there is, I think I agree that I make important points by just showing how I draw disrespectful cartoons about American leaders. That is enough to shock these audiences and show how different our attitudes are.
The students think that China is misunderstood around the world. They are proud of China, they are all personally very nice, and genuinely expect that the world should love China. At a couple of events students have asked me to list reasons why Americans would not like China; I give them a list of issues and they seem shocked. I think they are not shocked so much by the list of issues as by how this American cartoonist can so misunderstand China.
A person from a US consulate here told me a story about one bright young English student who was working for the consulate. He seemed inspired, was interested in everything and he seemed to be well on the road to understanding what America is all about. One day the English student was at a hotel and he watched CNN’s coverage of China; he had never seen CNN before. The student was so shocked by what he heard on CNN that he came back to his US Consulate friends and told them that he was inspired by watching the news on CNN, and he had decided that he wanted to work for the Chinese government as a censor, to insure that other Chinese people would never have to hear the terrible things he heard on CNN.
The barriers may be so wide that there may be no bridging the gap.
But I shouldn’t be too negative. I’d like to have seen president Bush handle hurricane Katrina like the Chinese are handling the earthquake here.
The Chinese college classes are all very interested, and happy for me to be there. They are eager for me to do drawings and sometimes they rush out and want a photo with me. That’s a gregarious college class that I spoke to in the southern city of Guangzhou in the photo below.
I’m in Shanghai, China now, on a speaking tour sponsored by the US State Department. The purpose of the trip is a cultural exchange, showing an American editorial cartoonist to Chinese audiences. Our idea of what a political cartoonist does is a pretty foreign idea in China. My role is to talk about what I do and show my healthy disrespect for American leaders to the Chinese audiences who are not used to seeing such a thing.
I was scheduled to be in Chengdu today, and the earthquake hit just before my plane flight. I’m told the American consulate staff in Chengdu spent the night sleeping on mats outside in the park, and no one there has been getting much sleep. Of-course, the disaster scene is off of my schedule and I’m on my way to the Northern China city of Harbin tomorrow. The news here is all earthquake coverage.
Before the earthquake I was impressed with how different the press is here. China’s English language newspapers read like a local chamber of commerce newsletter, with cheery stories about official meetings and business reports. Editorials in the papers are dry repetitions of official positions, using phases like, “as we all know” and “any reasonable person would agree that ” on topics like religious freedom in Tibet, for example: “as we all know” “any reasonable person would agree that” there should be no more argument about Tibet. China Central Television (CCTV) is the same thing on TV. There are editorials and cartoons about how we should all stop spitting in the street, and how important it is for foreigners to learn to speak Chinese.
The news coverage of the hurricane in Myanmar (Burma) was also very interesting here, compared to CNN, which foreigners can see in their hotel rooms, on a tape delay, so that Chinese censors can black out any criticism of China. The newspaper and CCTV coverage I’ve seen covers the disaster and mentions that aid is being supplied by China and other countries, but mentioned nothing about Myanmar’s military junta blocking the aid, which was the top story in the West and among cartoonists on our site.
Many web sites are blocked by the powerful internet firewalls in China, including some blogging sites, like blogspot.com and wordpress.com, and bank sites. The internet is slow here, and I’m told it is slow throughout China; but cell phones are pretty cool here, and have features we don’t have in the USA.
Students ask to see cartoons about China. I explain to the students that there are three symbols for China in American cartoons: the Panda Bear, a Chinese dragon, and the guy standing in front of the tank from the Tiananmen Square “incident.” The audience gasps when I mention the third symbol. Many of the students here have never heard of the Tiananmen Square massacre, or “incident” as they call it here, and most of them seem unaware of the famous photo. I explain that this is probably the most famous photo of China around the world as they stare and don’t seem to comprehend.
It is amazing to see the contrast between the lack of press freedom here and the incredible economic freedom that is driving the business boom here. Skyscrapers and new construction are everywhere.
Thanks to those of you who pointed out that my cartoons haven’t been updating, and that my blog hasn’t been as active as it should be. I’ll do better.
I’ll have much more to write about China and the students and cartoonists I’ve met here soon.
I’ve been away from the drawing board for a week on a long trip to China where I’ve been meeting with college audiences and local cartoonists. Right now I’m in Shanghai, and I’m scheduled to fly to Chengdu in Szechuan province tomorrow the site of the big earthquake, which we felt here in faraway Shanghai. People felt the quake here on the higher floors of the tall buildings, and big crowds filed out onto the streets around the buildings, giving the city a strange, crowded sense of urgency, even though the quake here was hardly noticeable.
I may be stuck in Shanghai for a few days. I’ll find out tomorrow when we get more news from Szechaun province. A cartoonist visit isn’t very important with all the terrible earthquake news. I’ll post more on the trip, the cartoonists I’ve met and the colleges when I get a chance.
I’m sad to report that Paul Combs is retiring from editorial cartooning. Paul did some great work and had a burst of notoriety when we won the job at the Tampa Tribune. Paul chose to leave the job in Tampa because his family preferred living in their old home in Ohio. The Tribune, which had Wayne Stayskal as their long time cartoonist before Paul, announed a big search for a new cartoonist and interviewed many contenders, but hasn’t hired a new cartoonist and now isn’t expected to.
I’ve had Paul on the site for a long time, since before his time in Tampa and before his syndication with Tribune Media Services (TMS). A couple of days ago I heard from TMS that Paul was retiring from syndication and would go to work as an illustrator. I wrote to Paul and got this response:
Hi, Daryl – it’s true, I’m walking off into the sunset – again. The market is just saturated with too many talented cartoonists and financial realities being what they are, it’s a sound business decision for me to walk away and place more focus on illustration. I’ve enjoyed my meteoric ride through the biz and have made some very good friends along the way. Most important, I’m extremely proud of the work that I’ve created and can say that I did it my way, right or wrong. You can’t ask for more than that!
Take care my friend,
Interesting, and almost amusing though your blog on Portugal’s world press cartoon contest was, I think it a little misguided to discourage American participation.
This year’s choices may have been a tad more obscure than usual but they can only judge what is in front of them.The organisers, as far as I know, make sure that at least one of the 5 judges every year is from North America. Ann Telnaes and Guy Badeaux have been judges recently and so have I. And I’m not exactly a stranger to American political cartooning. Your pal, buddy, Mexican cartoonist, Angel Boligan, for example has featured in the prize winners more than once. I think he got first the year I was the judge…
The lack of captions in most of the prizes is sort of obvious, aint it..with all those countries and all those languages Visual becomes the lingua franca. One reason why I will never win the thing is that I’m not able to speak Visual. I can barely manage Metaphor……
But having seen the set up in Portugal and having appreciated the dedication and enthusiasm the organisers have for all cartooning, American and otherwise, I think it is something that should be supported. Encourage your fellow Americans to engage with strange foreigners. You never know they may get something out of it and for our part we usually welcome cultural invasions by America, it’s only the military sort that really gets us mad….
The Irish Times
And from a reader …
From: “harley cahen”
Subject: Re: Ugly American?
All the work you do on behalf of cartoonists and cartooning is very important. But your commentary on the WPC contest winner sounded a wrong note. Surely you are not actually proud of being unfamiliar with the original Breughel paintings? Or, for that matter, proud of coming from a nation that finds the top world soccer players to be incomprehensibly obscure?
Not much different than if there was a contest in the USA that picked the bast cartoon in the world as being about baseball – or calling the the World Series “the World Series,” huh?
You make a good point. Europeans could stand to be less parochial, too.
When American cartoonists look around the world at other cartoonists, we see strange cartoons and an even stranger business. While American cartoonists are most concerned about building a list of publications that print our cartoons, in much of the world cartoonists are motivated to build their CV’s (or resumes) by entering contests. For foreign cartoonists who live in countries where it is impossible to make a living selling cartoons for publication, it makes perfect sense to make a living doing something else while chalking up cartooning successes in contests.
The foreign cartoonists, and the people who run these worldwide contests often wonder why American cartoonists don’t participate. Some feel slighted that “arrogant and elitist” American cartoonists show no interest in their contests. For our part, these contests often include rules that American cartoonists find daunting. The winning cartoons often seem to us to be incomprehensibly foreign.
The winning cartoons typically have no words; the foreign cartoonists see the cartoons as simple and elegant where the American cartoonists often see them as unsophisticated. Winning international cartoons often depict dark scenes, like prison, or unrequited love, or torture, or frustration with authority or bureaucracy. American cartoonists call typical world contest winners “daisies in the gun barrels” cartoons. With recent winners we’re seeing more of the contrast between the human condition and new technology or bureaucracy.
One of the biggest contests, the World Press Cartoon (WPC) contest in Portugal, has been making a special effort to get American cartoonists to submit entries. They have three categories: gag, caricature and editorial cartoons, each with a 5,000 Euro prize. One of the three category winners brings home the grand prize, a whopping 20,000 Euros (or $31,400.00). WPC just announced their winners for this year which fall squarely into the “strange” and “incomprehensible” category.
The Grand Prize winning cartoon is by German cartoonist, Rainer Ehrt, whose big win can be seen in excited announcements on dozens of web sites, none of which are in English. All the winning cartoons can be seen on the WPC web site at worldpresscartoon.com.
The Grand Prize winning cartoon is a lovely rendering but I didn’t get it. A bunch of guys are sitting in a pile of desks, each with a European Union flag; more desks are being added, and one desk is smoking. I know, it’s a Euro-thing and my mind isn’t running in Euro-mode. I wrote to the WPC people, asked them what the cartoon means and I got this reply:
The Grand Prix, Rainer Ehrt cartoon is based on a Brueghel painting. He uses the idea of a Babel Tower applied on an endless enlargement of Europe with its multiple languages and differences, and also, with a threatening dark clown above the Tower that give us an idea of an uncertain future…
OK. I don’t see a threatening clown, but maybe they mean “cloud.” Nothing was really on fire. That’s not smoke. It’s a cloud. I’m good. Big European bureaucracy. Too many desks. Dark cloud. It’s an allusion to a painting I don’t know. I get it now.
The winner of the caricature category is a by Italian cartoonist Achille Superbi. I couldn’t tell who was depicted in this caricature, so I asked. I was told it is “Michael Ballack.” I had no idea who “Michael Ballack” is, so I Googled him and learned that he is a German soccer player with a big Wickipedia page. For me “Michael Ballack” is an incomprehensibly obscure guy – but they love their soccer in Europe. OK.
I couldn’t tell who the second and third place caricatures were either. I’m told that the second place one is Elvis Presley (looks like Elvis would make a lovely lamp) and the third place one is Manuel Noriega (I thought it was Robert Mugabe).
The winner in the gag cartoon category is by Iranian cartoonist Hassan Karimzadeh, showing a framed, green guy, whose mouth is “loading” like a computer slowly downloading a file. Maybe we’re all becoming like computers, or you can’t eat information, or well I don’t know. But for the worldwide contest folks, this one is a knee slapper.
I like seeing big contests for cartoons, with big cash prizes, but I think I may not be sending in an entry to the World Press Cartoons contest again next year.