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Kazanevsky on Cartoonist Freedom of Expression

Ukrainian cartoonist Vladimir Kazanevky may have won more awards than any other cartoonist; he is one of the kings of the international cartoon competitions. Vlad, an occasional contributor to, has written his take on the issues facing editorial cartoonists today from his unique place in the cartooning world. See Vlad’s archive here.


By Vladimir Kazanevsky

The art of cartoon is directly related to the current life. One way or another, in his work the cartoonist willingly or unwillingly is tied to the expectations of the public. After the terrorist attack on the editorial office of weekly Charlie Hebdo, when four cartoonists were killed for their drawings the world community paid special attention to the art of cartoon. Each cartoonist began to treat his seemingly harmless creations with greater responsibility. Subconsciously, every cartoonist began to understand that cartoons are not only funny naive drawings, but potentially serious weapons. The cartoonist began to take social and censorship restrictions seriously. Most importantly he began to paid close attention to self-censorship. The cartoonist wondered how free he was in his work. Of course, you can draw without showing your creations to anyone. In this case, the artist is absolutely free. He may throw out his emotions, dreams, secret desires on paper. But the work of a cartoonist presupposes publicity. Can a cartoonist who shows his creations widely be free in creation? What is free creativity? Do boundaries exist and, if they are, by what or by who are they determined? Let’s try to answer these questions.

It’s easy to talk about limiting creativity. For example, a cartoon is a strict order. In this case, the cartoonist depends on the wishes of the customer, his tastes and views. Also, the authorities or the owners of the media often prohibit the publication of sharp cartoons that do not please them. With the limitations of creativity from the outside everything is clear. But is there absolute freedom of public creativity? Is there a limit to the freedom of creativity for public? Philosophers have written a lot and fruitfully about freedom of the individual at all times. Let us recall here only the expression of Benedict de Spinoza: “Freedom is a realized necessity.” How does this expression apply to the creative freedom of cartoonists?

The whole world was shocked by the news on January 7, 2015 of the shooting by terrorists of cartoonists and journalists in the editorial office of the weekly Charlie Hebdo. Moreover, the artists were summoned by terrorists according to the list. This means that the terrorists, or those who sent them, severely punished the cartoonists precisely for their work. Artists paid the highest price for their free thinking. This bloody brutal act and the subsequent terrorist attacks caused deep indignation of people around the world.

The weekly Charlie Hebdo continued to fiercely advocate the free work of journalists and cartoonists without borders and taboos, upholding the long tradition of the French in the pursuit of freedom. Outrageous cartoons have appeared and appear in each new issue of the publication. “As one of the former editors of Charlie Hebdo said, a cartoon should be a slap in the face,” said the French cartoonist Rodo. Is this position of speculative engagement of readers to increase circulation, or is it a true pursuit of creative freedom? Let’s try to answer this question together with famous cartoonists from different countries.

Let us take conditionally the drawings by the artists of Charlie Hebdo as the starting point for the free-thinking of cartoonists, because the artists of this weekly strive for free creativity without borders and taboos. But first, let’s get acquainted with the humor and satire that the artists of the weekly presented to the readers. Much has been written and talked about cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad associated with the terrorist attacks. Basically, all judgments boiled down to the questions: is the humorous image of the prophet offensive for believers; does Islam prohibiting any graphic images of Muhammad? The mass media actively condemned the terrorists, discussed the violation of religious taboos by cartoonists. The artists of Charlie Hebdo brushed aside such taboos without embarrassment, using sexual motives and techniques of black humor. Let us not forget that the freedom of creativity of satirists presupposes freedom of criticism of all social manifestations. Almost all of the cartoons published in weekly are saturated with caustic satire, their humor is quite specific, saturated with black humor. Cartoonists quite often criticized politicians from different countries of the highest ranks up to presidents and other famous personalities in the world.

An attempt to release a version of Charlie Hebdo in Ukraine was unsuccessful. Editor tried to instill in Ukraine, a taste for satire, which is a manifestation of creative freedom without borders and taboos as in France. The Germans tried to follow the same path. The German version of the weekly Charlie Hebdo was published for a whole year. However, the German magazine did not reach the planned circulation of 10,000 copies and was closed.

The freedom of creativity that the artists of Charlie Hebdo demonstrate causes a lot of controversy. Famous cartoonists from different countries expressed their opinion in the TV program “Ironic Commentary with Vladimir Kazanevsky” on the channel, 2021( are laudatory responses; there are also violent criticisms of the semantic premises and artistic incarnations of the cartoons published in the weekly. It was interesting to know the opinion of the cartoonists from different countries about Charlie Hebdo. French cartoonist Bernard Bouton said: “I am against all forms of censorship. You can laugh at everything. You MUST laugh at everything! A sense of humor helps you laugh at sad events.

We still have self-censorship. There are two types of self-censorship. The cartoonist may have practiced self-censorship for fear of losing his job or even his life. Or he uses self-censorship to avoid shocking his readers in case his cartoon is misinterpreted. Each cartoonist asks these questions and each of us must choose the appropriate level of self-censorship” [2]. He was supported by Russian Denis Lopatin: “Charlie is the vanguard, the cutting edge, the outpost of civilization. I admire their courage. Well done. Always or not always, I may agree or disagree with their opinion. These are the bravest cartoonists at the moment. They are always on the edge of the struggle between civilization and barbarism for freedom of speech” [2]. Bulgarian artist Ivailo Tsvetkov speaks quite differently of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists: “They (the Charlie Hebdo artists) made a business, they are deliberately looking for a scandal with their publications. Big scandal, big circulation, big buzz, more money and more profit. This freedom and courage are not entirely selfless” [2]. Constantin Sunnerberg from Belgium also expressed his opinion: “I never particularly liked Charlie Hebdo. Apparently because of a certain vulgarity, however, intentional, which does not suit me. But, of course, Charlie Hebdo has the right to do and paint what he wants and how he wants. Whoever doesn’t like it let him not look.

Unfortunately, when religion leaves the realm of individual faith and becomes politics, it always leads to the worst. Centuries of unfortunate experiences have passed in this regard. To kill for a drawing, often even misunderstood, is an excellent proof that if a person was created by God, it was an unsuccessful attempt ”[2]. Turkish cartoonist Eray Özbek calls for tolerance: “The cartoonist, criticizing the tyrant, resorts to self-criticism. I mean, he limits his freedom, because is necessary not to sacrifice oneself, but to be able to continue to fight … If our goal is to attract people with different points of view, then we must definitely approach them with sympathy ”[2]. Thus, some artists support the desire of colleagues from the weekly Charlie Hebdo for freedom of creativity without boundaries, others reject with indignation.

In order to understand how cartoonists from different parts of the world relate to the work of artists Charlie Hebdo, a wide survey was conducted on condition of anonymity. The cartoonists were asked to answer one question: “Do you support freedom of speech without taboos as suggested by the cartoonists of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo?” Answers were supposed to be short: “yes”, “no” or “find it difficult to answer.” 178 cartoonists from 52 countries agreed to take part in the survey. 17% of cartoonists found it difficult to answer, mark “no” (did not support) – 23% of cartoonists, 60% of cartoonists mark “yes” (supported). Of course, there is no need to talk about a statistically reliable survey, but general trends are easily traced. Most of the cartoonists supported free creativity without borders and the taboos of the Charlie Hebdo artists. It can be assumed that most of the artists have only heard about the scandalous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in Charlie Hebdo, but are not very familiar with the cartoons of this publication. In this regard, we have analyzed the survey carried out by geography.

95% of cartoonists in Americans countries (Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentina, Canada and USA) supported colleagues from Charlie Hebdo, one Mexican answered “no”. This result is somewhat predictable, because in most countries of this continent the Christian religion dominates, whose parishioners and clergy are tolerant of the art of cartoon.

Similarly, the results of the survey in 26 European countries turned out to be predictable. 65% of cartoonists supported colleagues from Charlie Hebdo, 20% found it difficult to answer and 15% answered “no”.

Somewhat unpredictable results were shown by the results of a survey of artists from Asia. Chinese artists are divided. Half of them answered “yes”, half – “no”. 66% of the surveyed Indians cartoonists supported their colleagues from Charlie Hebdo, 34% of them did not. 82% cartoonists from Indonesia answered categorically “no”, 18% of them found it difficult to answer. 67% of Turkish cartoonists answered “no”, 33% answered “yes”. An unexpected result was shown by a survey of Iranian artists. The majority, 49% supported the free creativity proposed by the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, 31% found it difficult to answer and only 20% answered “no”.

Thus, according to the survey, there is a tendency towards the manifestation of creative freedom of cartoonists all over the world, regardless of political, religious and social prohibitions and taboos. Self-censorship of a cartoonist sets the boundaries of personal freedom of creativity and determines the degree of the artist’s conformism. Each of the artists for himself establishes his own ethical and aesthetic attitude to the well-established conventions, prejudices and prohibitions. If terrorists react to cartoons committing bloody violence against artists, this is a manifestation of the disease of society devoid of tolerance. The cartoonists by own free creation are fighting against these disease of society.

Illustrations by Vladimir Kazanevsky

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I vote for NO WITNESSES!

On Friday the Senate is expected to vote on whether to call witnesses for the impeachment trial. As of now, it is possible that four Republicans can be found to vote for witnesses, in particular, John Bolton –but it is likely there will not be four Republicans who vote for witnesses. Here’s my cartoon …

I was reminded that people like to see my rough sketches, so here you go.

You can see I fiddled with making the elephant’s butt bigger and moving his head forward, and whether or not to put the tie in front of his shoe. This is an odd angle to draw, but it is the best angle for effective mooning –I’ve done it before. Here’s one that I drew over 20 years ago, during the Florida recount in the Bush vs. Gore election.

My biggest regret from my career as an editorial cartoonist is that I supported the run-up to the war in Iraq, and I believed The New York Times‘ bogus stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (I won’t make the mistake of trusting The New York Times again.) Here’s one of my run-up to war in Iraq cartoons, about Saddam obstructing the weapons inspectors in Iraq –we later learned that what Saddam was hiding was his fragile ego, since he had no such weapons.

I think it is a general rule for editorial cartoonists that whenever there is a good excuse to draw a butt, a dog or a Statue of Liberty, you gotta grab it and run.

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Cole Decade!

Here are John Cole’s favorite cartoons of the past decade! John is the staff cartoonist for the Scranton Times-Tribune in Pennsylvania, and he also draws local cartoons about North Carolina for

See John’s favorite cartoons on USA Today where you can click on each cartoon and see it blown up to fill the screen with a pretty, high-resolution image. John’s cartoons are very impressive in a large scale!  See the complete archive of John’s syndicated cartoons here.

Look at our other, great collections of Cartoons Favorites of the Decade, selected by the artists.
Pat Bagley Decade!
Nate Beeler Decade!
Daryl Cagle Decade! 
Patrick Chappatte Decade!
John Cole Decade!
John Darkow Decade!
Bill Day Decade!
Sean Delonas Decade!
Bob Englehart Decade!
Randall Enos Decade!
Dave Granlund Decade!
Taylor Jones Decade!
Mike Keefe Decade!
Peter Kuper Decade!
Jeff Koterba Decade!
RJ Matson Decade!
Gary McCoy Decade!
Rick McKee Decade!
Milt Priggee Decade!
Bruce Plante Decade!
Steve Sack Decade!

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Every day the news is full of Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine. We just can’t seem to get enough Ukraine.

We have a great CagleCartoonist from Ukraine, Vladimir Kazanevsky, who has probably won more international cartooning competitions than any other cartoonist in the world –but the international competition world is a different world, with different aesthetics that seem strange and foreign to an American reader.

I noticed that Vlad hadn’t posted any cartoons about the Ukraine/impeachment scandal and I told him that he is the only cartoonist from Ukraine that American readers are likely to see. Vlad’s perch in Kyiv could make his cartoons interesting to Western editors. Vlad then uploaded these three.

It looks like this jester-trap will draw Trump in as he is lured into watching himself on TV.



Here Ukraine is a clown-seal that is getting Trump’s attention …


Here the jester appears to be Ukraine’s brain that is commanding heavy-Trump-the-elephant’s attention.

Vlad’s cartoons are charming, although I must admit that I don’t really understand most of them. This is typical of the international contest cartoonists who have a different cartoon language that doesn’t make much sense to Americans like me. Charming, though.

Here are selections of some of Vlad’s cartoons that I can understand – the first one shows refugees fleeing from a repressive regime.


This one shows our climate-change future.


Here man struggles with oil.


Putin doesn’t seem happy as his cold, Russian Trump-Vodka seems to have turned into poop, which doesn’t go well with caviar.


This charming cartoon shows animals who seem to be demonstrating in favor of their own predators.

All of this is only to show that Vlad is great, but I’m not surprised that we don’t see cartoons from Ukraine in American newspapers even while Ukraine dominates the news.

The photo below shows me with Vlad in Vlad’s studio in Kyiv a few years ago. Behind us are some of Vlad’s trophies from over 500 international cartooning prizes he has won in 52 countries. See Vlad’s archive on


… And here’s an endangered tree, praying while stuck in place.

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Ukraine Extortion

The news today is dominated by the Ukraine extortion story. here’s my cartoon …

Yes, I know, Ukraine doesn’t look like this lady. She shouldn’t have blond hair. She shouldn’t be fat. OK. OK. I visited Kiev and I saw this in a gift shop …

And I found her Ukrainian folksy dress on the Web. We go with the chichés we have, not the clichés we want or wish to have, as Donald Rumsfeld would say.

Here are some of my recent favorites on the Whistleblower scandal. This one is by Dave Whamond

This one is from RJ Matson

This one is by Ed Wexler

This one is by Monte Wolverton



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Sessions Kicked Out

President Trump had his mind on the FBI’s Russia probe when he kicked Attorney General Jeff Sessions out.

Remember when Trump kicked out his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, because of Flynn’s ties to Russia?

That seems like a long time ago, but the news happens so fast now, it really wasn’t that long. This seemed like a good time to update this one. Since I drew this one, I’ve started drawing Trump fatter, and with a bigger face and neck. I spent some years living in New York where Trump was in the news throughout the 1980’s, and he was a skinny guy. It has taken me some time to adjust my thinking of him as fat.

Doesn’t it seem like the characters who get the boot are the most fun to draw?

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Kavanaugh Kaveman

I was riveted to my TV all day yesterday. I thought Christine Blasie Ford and Kavanaugh were both believable. It is interesting that so many people talk about how this is a “he said, she said” thing, with no proof, using arguments that relate to trials and criminal proceedings. Of-course, this is a job interview, and courtroom arguments about proof and procedure are not a part of job interviews. Clearly Kavanaugh won’t be a choice that will reflect well on the institution of the Supreme Court, that’s enough reason to choose another eager candidate. Whether it is fair to Kavanaugh or not, that’s what my cartoon is about; I’m illustrating the notion that Kavanaugh doesn’t reflect well on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh isn’t my first caveman. In fact, cavemen are a popular cliché for editorial cartoonists and I’ve drawn my share. Here’s an old Putin caveman from when Russia invaded Crimea.

This old caveman cartoon was from when George W. Bush appointed John Bolton to be the United Nations ambassador. Funny how characters like Bolton never go away. Somehow I think I’ll be drawing lots more cavemen – there are plenty of them in Washington.

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Cartoons and Ukraine

Last week I was in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, for the opening of an exhibition of political cartoons. I’ve been speaking at some universities and getting to know the people and the place.

Ukraine has 60% inflation here and seems certain to default on their substantial foreign debt as Russia continues to press a festering conflict in the east. Since the news about Ukraine is so terrible, I had expected to see some desperation here. Kiev is lovely and it seems like a normal, European capital. There’s no desperation evident.

Photos of protestors, murdered by regime snipers in front of my hotel.

My hotel is in the center of town where snipers killed more than one hundred people as the Ukrainians threw out their corrupt president, Victor Yanukovych in 2014. There are scattered memorials showing faces of the slain protestors, along with candles and flowers. One large, burned-out building on the central square is a reminder of the violence.

One large, burned-out building on the central square is a reminder of the violence.

Yanukovych stole billions from Ukraine and fled to Russia. He built a crazy huge mansion for himself, which has been made into a national park and is now a tourist attraction. The grounds are vast, stretching for kilometers, with manicured gardens, a zoo, waterfalls, rivers, and a giant, pirate, party ship. The grounds are lovely, leaving visitors both charmed and cursing at scale of the of the corruption that could build such a fantastic complex. There was a wedding on Yanukovich’s fancy porch when I visited. It is nice to see these crazy digs preserved as a park rather than seeing it all torn down by an angry mob, as with Saddam Hussein’s mansions. Even the animals at Yanukovych’s giant zoo look happy.

Here I am with my Ukrainian cartoonist buddy, Vladimir Kazenevsky, in front of his impressive, cartoon contest trophy case.

I had dinner with my friend, Vladislav Kazanevsky, who has probably won more international cartoon contests than anyone else. That’s a photo of me with Vlad standing in front of his trophy case at this studio. There’s another photo of Vlad with his most recent cartoon of Obama, smiling out of his butt at Ukraine.

The world of international contests is very foreign to American cartoonists, who rarely enter these competitions, making us seem aloof and arrogant to the Ukrainian cartoonists. The international contest cartoons seem strange to American cartoonists, and I apologize for that – we don’t really fit in with the style, which is very foreign.

There aren’t many editorial cartoons in Ukraine, but here’s a nice one I saw on the side of a building. The girl with the Ukraine flag scarf is gazing at the star logo of the European Union.

I’ve enjoyed the college audiences for my lectures here. I show them my cartoons where I have made Ukraine into a peasant woman character, which they tell me is “a little bit offensive” to them, “but only a little bit”. They ask why I picked this woman to represent Ukraine; why is she fat; why is she blonde? She should have black hair, I’m told, and she should not be fat. “We are not fat. Americans are fat,” I’m told, at each lecture.

The students always ask why I don’t draw Ukraine’s colorful leaders in my cartoons, and I have to explain that American readers won’t know who they are without an explanation. I tell them that Americans only pay attention to Ukraine when there is a revolution, when Putin invades, or when an airplane crashes here, and they all nod in agreement.

I like the thick, heroic, Soviet monuments, like this giant, metallic, World War II memorial. That’s me in front of it on the left.

I had an excellent meeting with representatives from Ukraine’s cartoonists organization, who gave me some books and a copy of their Crocodile Magazine, a throwback to the old Soviet gag cartoon Crocodile Magazine. Kazenevski draws some western style editorial cartoons, but Ukrainian cartoonists are otherwise contest cartoonists, looking to collect trophies and awards to list on their CV’s. That’s the way it is for cartoonists in much of the world.

Thanks to my Ukrainian buddies, Tomas and Adam Lukacka, their cousin Matthew and loyal volunteers Alex and Brian for a great exhibition, also thanks to Eufurion and the Swiss Embassy, and the volunteers from Ukraine who are managing the show as it moves around the country.

My buddy, Martin “Shooty” Sutovec, the star editorial cartoonist of Slovakia, was also in the exhibit and traveled to Kiev for the opening along. The president of Slovakia was there too, which was a bit strange. I told the president that Shooty is Slovakia’s national treasure, and the president said, “many people do not think so.” This president is a little bit rude, huh?

Here I am with the “Mother of Ukraine.”

There are some wacky sights to see in Kiev, and at the top of the list is the “Mother of Ukraine,” a colossal statue of a strong, Soviet woman, holding a shield and a fifty foot long sword in the air. Last year I visited a similar, but smaller statue that towers over Tbilisi, when the exhibition toured Georgia. I’m told that every former Soviet republic has a giant mother statue.

This mother is hollow, with a step ladder inside where fit and intrepid souls can climb to the top of her shield and open little portholes on the top of her shield, just big enough to poke a head out of, and take a photo. It was too much of an athletic feat for me to climb that ladder, so I was content to look up her skirt. The huge Mother of Ukraine is surrounded by a park and giant, metallic, heroic statues of Soviet, World War II statues. The national art museum in Kiev is full of thick, strong, Soviet proletarian hero paintings.

My Ukrainian cartoonist buddy, Vladimir, gave me a tour of downtown and explained that the big, handsome buildings were rebuilt by captured German soldier slave labor after the war. When he was in school, Vlad was taught that the Germans destroyed all the buildings in Kiev, but after the revolution he learned that the Soviets actually destroyed all the buildings, to keep the Germans from claiming anything of value as they took the city from retreating Soviet troops. What goes around comes around, I guess.

The Ukrainians certainly don’t like Vladimir Putin. Tourist shops sell Putin toilet paper. There are images of “Putler,” a combination of Putin and Hitler. I heard a crowd chanting about “Putler” at a rather large protest rally at the main square.

I asked the college students, “since you don’t like my Ukrainian peasant lady as a metaphor for Ukraine, what should I draw instead?” They always say, “Ukrainians just look like regular people – draw that.” And I say, “hey, these are cartoons, that doesn’t work for me,” and they nod in begrudging agreement. I think I’ll keep drawing the Ukrainian chick, the next time Ukraine suffers a new indignity – but now that I’ve learned so much more about Ukraine I’ll draw her with black hair.

Here are some samples of my cartoons with my Ukraine peasant metaphor lady, who suffers from Putin. Judging from the tourist souvenir junk, also pictured below, I think I got her right – but no, I’m told, she has to have black hair, and lose some weight.

Judging from the tourist souvenirs, I think I got my Ukraine stereotype character right – but I will bow to popular pressure and draw her with black hair in the future.





See me in Ukraine

Yes, I’m going to Kiev, Ukraine this month for an exhibition and some lectures, with my buddies from Eurforion and the brilliant, Slovak cartoonist, Martin “Shooty” Sutovec.

We get so much dire news about Ukraine that I’m eager to see if the attitude in Kiev is as grim as it seems to be from here. They are spunky underdogs in Putin’s shadow.




Obama Squeezed into the World Plane

153483 600 Obama Squeezed into the World Plane cartoons


Obama’s Lousy Seat

President Obama’s metaphorical airline seat is a lousy one right now. Here’s my newest cartoon.

Most people see my cartoons in black and white in the newspapers. I like the cartoons better in black and white – particularly if I do them with no gray tone, just line.  Here is what most people see in the newspaper.

I know I should have drawn a Ray Rice cartoon, and I was going to draw something similar to the one that Steve Sack drew below … but I was too slow.  And Steve’s cartoon was better than the one was would have drawn, so if I was a little faster, I would have been embarrassed.

The other thing I should have drawn, but I didn’t, was something on Apple’s big product announcement.  I put this Nate Beeler oldie up on Twitter and it went viral.  Some things never change, from one Apple product announcement to the next.



Obama Squeezed into the World Plane

153430 600 Obama Squeezed into the World Plane cartoons