Art Spiegelman is an American comics artist, editor, and advocate for the medium of comics, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book memoir, Maus amd Maus II and the Garbage Pail Kids.
In September 2004, he released “In the Shadow of No Towers”, in which he relates his experience of the Twin Towers attack and the psychological after-effects.
In 2005, Time Magazine named Spiegelman one of their “Top 100 Most Influential People.”
In the June 2006 edition of Harper’s magazine, he published the article ‘Drawing blood: Outrageous cartoons and the art of outrage’ on the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy which had occurred earlier in the year. At least one vendor, Canada’s Indigo chain of booksellers, refused to sell the particular issue. The article raised the ire of Indigo because it seemed to promote the continuance of racially-motivated cartooning.
Spiegelman writes: ‘Cartoon language is mostly limited to deploying a handful of recognizable visual symbols and clichés. It makes use of the discredited pseudoscientific principles of physiognomy to portray character through a few physical attributes and facial expressions. It takes skill to use such clichés in ways that expand or subvert this impoverished vocabulary. Cartoonists like Honoré Daumier, Art Young, and George Grosz were masters of insult and were rewarded for their transgressions: Daumier was imprisoned for ridiculing Louis-Phillippe; Art Young, the Socialist editor of The Masses, was tried for treason as a result of his anti-World War I cartoons; and George Grosz was tried variously for slander, blasphemy, and obscenity before fleeing Germany as the Nazis rose to power.
‘Spiegelman goes on to criticize the Muhammad cartoons: most of them are not well drawn, they lack a discernable message, and — in his view — they fail to “speak truth to power.”
Cartoons are important: why aren’t they better? Quite aside from the issue of stirring up religious fundamentalists by depicting Muhammad, there’s the problem of decline in cartooning, an argument you pick up almost instantly upon looking at the old cartoons Spiegelman has chosen.
Hard-hitting cartoons have mostly been replaced by topical laffs in gag-cartoon format or by decorative “Op-Ed” style illustrations whose meanings are often drowned in ambiguous surrealism. “Rancorous visual satire” is in short supply these days. Spiegelman wants more of it. I agree.
To download Spiegelman’s article ‘Drawing blood: Outrageous cartoons and the art of outrage’ click on the cartoon above.