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‘Cartoons are a tool to keep powerful people in control’

“A positive cartoon would be a propaganda,” said cartoonist Martin Rowson,who works for The Guardian.

Written by Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
February 17, 2010 2:00:30 am

“A positive cartoon would be a propaganda,” said cartoonist Martin Rowson,who works for The Guardian.

To Rowson,newspaper cartoons are a powerful tool “to keep people who are powerful,in control.” Currently chairman of the British Cartoonists’ Association,Rowson was at the National Institute of Design,Ahmedabad,for a talk on “Cartoons for Climate” organised jointly with the British Library,Ahmedabad.

“In the Indian press,cartoons are getting sidelined. They need to be in the middle (of the page) and shout out,” he said,adding that in The Guardian,the cartoon’s size has increased by 3mm in width and height even as the paper’s overall size has shrunk.

Rowson,who describes his work as “visual satire”,said his cartoons,which have in recent years been in colour,get as much space as five columns with no other visual or graphic on the page. Cartoonists “capture the world around them and (recreate) it”,he said,calling the process “witchcraft,really”.

“If you like,I’ve stolen his (a person in power’s) soul,” he said. “Politicians hate them (cartoons),but they can’t do much about it.”

Rowson has worked for various UK newspapers including The Daily Mirror,The Independent on Sunday,The Times and The Spectator. Rowson,who never went to art school or received any formal artistic training,said his work ethics confined him to “attacking” persons who are in power.

“You should only attack people more powerful than you,” he said,and added that attacks should never be carried out on people on the basis of gender or ethnicity.

“I attack people on the basis of what they think,” he said.

Asked about his work process,Rowson said he listens to the news on radio every morning and takes note of at least three headlines. He then checks again post-lunch,he said,and “if the story is still running by 2 pm,then it is major. After that,my mind goes freefall,and I sketch it out,and start painting over it.”

He said he did not watch the TV news for this because the visuals would interfere with his own. Only radio. In a short workshop after the talk,when students picked on the Pune blasts as a subject for a cartoon,he called it “a difficult task” drawing about such topics and confided he “did not do any political cartoon for a week” after the 9/11 terror attacks in America because he was worried it might seem “disrespectful” and that he would “be spitting on the memory of the dead.”

On a lighter note,when someone asked him how cartoonists could make out if their work is being appreciated,he replied,“I know my cartoons have lots of effect,because of the number of hate mail I get.”

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