Monday, 18 April 2016

The Materialization of a Yes

Helle Scheffmann, April 9, 2016: The sketch.

It was rather magic that summer's day in 1999, when Eva Bendix called the director at The Royal Library in Copenhagen to ask if he would be interested in taking on the originals of cartoons for a museum of Danish cartoon art.

He said yes on the spot.

The sun had been baking until moments before the call. The sky turned black and heavy rain was howling down on all sides of us to a degree that there was no signal and the sunroof had to be opened. Moments later the birds were singing and the sun was baking once again and the drama of minutes ago had evaporated as had our anticipation of the one answer securing a home for cartooning in Denmark. Yes? We are off? It worked? We were so happy.

Helle Scheffmann has done the impossible for the Copenhagen Comics challenge soon to be transformed into a book. This was a scene of people seeking refuge in a car in a huge, empty car park, with loads of rain outside and quite a bit of it trickling inside from the sunroof. Boooring. And yet, it was not and Helle has wrought the car open, using the props as tokens to that call connecting to an objective beyond our own lives. The magic of the moment...


Helle Scheffmann, April 17, 2016: The finished drawing.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Helle Scheffmann and must not be reproduced without her permission.

Monday, 11 April 2016

"Of bodies changed to other forms I tell"

Angel Boligán, Stoning, March 5, 2016.

When future history books on cartooning shall be written, grand master Daumier will have a new companion by his side.

Angel Boligán is to the late 20th and now 21st centuries, what Daumier has been since the 19th. The influence of Boligán cannot be exaggerated. It is to be detected everywhere in the works of his colleagues and much more intensely so than we can even discern today.

Angel Boligán, Populist government,
February 26, 2014.

Boligán holds his pen at the far end while working forth his idea, giving him room to work loosely, while using his pen as a camera; sliding over one angle here onto another which in turn may be exaggerated, creating for a number of angles incorporated into a sweeping camera move for the spectator to embark on upon seeing his work.

One instance of color here and another placed precisely there may serve to focus our attention, such as the dotted bloodlines as seen above: The stone in art and stoning, death penalty and the eternal life of the sculpture, surviving millenniums in its headless state, solid substance about to take off, she, the goddess of victory.

Speaking across centuries, her headless neck voices the pain beyond the individual; of the wrongdoing man does to man.

Boligán chooses the universal for the specific with no need for words or portraits. The full story literally unravels itself before us by way of the human body. The body is fluid of character, constantly undergoing metamorphoses, at times being joined to the next being, or it may be dissolving before us if not sprouting metal parts.

Angel Boligán, The era of isolation, August 24, 2014.

We have before us the Ovid of our age. This time telling his tales in imagery.

"Nothing retains its form; new shapes from old Nature, the great inventor, ceaselessly contrives", as Ovid wrote two millennia ago.

Angel Boligán, The Puppet of the Winds,
April 25, 2015.

Ovid unfolded the life of man through the tales of the gods, seldom wise, but demanding, jealous, greedy, passionate and by attempting to reach each their desired goal, a transformation was put in motion. Boligán tells us of environmental unbalances, of despotic rule, of consumerism, of corruption and young demonstrators being abducted and murdered. All that eats us or by which we let us get eaten.

Yet, he is no political cartoonist. He is a political agnostic in his own words, nodding a polite yes to this side and to the other if caught up in a discussion. His perspective remains the universal; never the who in power as what power does to us, forcing and being forced, or adapting itself and in all of this seeking out the human within the human form.

The forceful may be present in the sleeve of a jacket, the solidity of which sets off the cartoon, but the protagonist is the immaterial: Our spirit and with it our dreams, longing, love, hope, all that encompasses the notion of life. Power attempts to get to it, still it ultimately defies incarceration, resisting even definition.

Yet, Boligán has in fact given freedom of thought and speech a corporeal presence. Humans are capable of growing wings in his work. Those majestic new limbs rising from behind, speaking of the strength of our inner spirit as in the woman in the drawing below, having used her all to be no longer held back by the violence of technology and politics.

She is another monumental figure in a monumental oeuvre. Boligán is the muralist among cartoonists; his is the public art speaking in the clear lines to be seen from afar. His horizons curve with that of the earth.

Angel Boligán, January 15, 2014.

One of my most treasured moments of cartooning is sitting next to Boligán while he was drawing, describing as he went along why this curve and how this twist, making the content one with the form.

The ultimate metamorphosis in his art is his pen, the graphical expression making true the words of Svetlana Alexievich in her Nobel Banquet Speech 2015:

"The purpose of art is to accumulate the human within the human being"

Angel Boligán, January 12, 2011.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Angel Boligán and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Battle Hymn of the Republic

On the anniversary of the Nazi Occupation of Denmark in 1940, I have a practical note that Nervestregen is now available at, besides at its usual site. It is free and can be downloaded from here too:

As for Hans Bendix the past year has been interesting in the reactions to his family forbidding the use of his anti-nazi drawings from the 1930'ies. The mere word the family is sufficient explanation to shut down any interest in him from international curators and authors at far sides of the world. No one wish to waste time planning and writing only to risk it all go to waste.

Which is very sad, but the family made their wish unequivocally known and we must act accordingly.

The one who came to define the reactions following the prohibition was the designer Bo Bonfils, cartoonist in his own right at Politiken for 1 1/2 years until 1962, when he left for the art scene in Amsterdam: Bo called me, when he heard about the family's prohibition.

He was fuming, calling the family the worst of names - Those F...heads, A...holes, Tiny, miserable souls not worthy of Bendix' legacy...

As it happened, I was hanging midway on a hedge at the time, clinging on with one arm and phone in the other to avoid being hit by police cars hunting down a car thief.

The thief had driven a bit in this way and then in the opposite direction and something like 21 police cars of all calibers drove by at maximum speed in a wilderness of this direction and that too. Bo phoned me at the heat of the commotion, when we all fled the pavement.

I never got a word in, while Bo gave the family the all of his gall. By the time he concluded the degeneration of our times with the family as the frontrunners of all that is wrong, I was climbing down again and reaching the nearest corner, where the police was red-taping a side street. His verdict seemed to have even visual truth.

Bo Bonfils had known Hans Bendix and he had worked with him. His indignation was not about any book. It was first and last on all that Hans Bendix stood for, which made his reaction so significant.

So, on a day in which the flags begin their day on official half-mast in remembrance, let us reflect on the courage of the cartoonists and their equals, who then as now dare step outside the noise; creating a space before us as necessary as it is new:

Per Marquard Otzen, Battle Hymn of the Republic, July 6. 2014.
The Trial The US Army vs. Whistleblower Manning.

ETA: I was asked if anyone was hurt in the car chase and happily all ended well. The thief abandoned his car and continued on foot, and well, he was soon picked up. He is long out of detention by now.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of Per Marquard Otzen and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The double standards of economical censorship

There is an element of ethnocentrism to the Western support of cartoonists in peril in geographically distant regimes, as Riber Hansson argues.

Riber's pen is as sharp in word as in imagery, in this case on the double standards of economical censorship, which cuts short the livelihood of their own cartoonists, while cultivating a supposed exotic ignorance of papers on other continents.

Riber himself is a compelling paragon of the necessity of cartoonists whatever their geography. The present drawing is from 2011 on humanity standing trial before a mock tribunal at the Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien / The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Without further ado I shall give the word to Riber Hansson, English translation in italics below:

Riber Hansson, May 18, 2011.



Onsdagens DN (30/3) ägnar två helsidor åt att den kenyanske tecknaren Gado har fått sparken. Jag känner Gado, vi har träffats och jag förtvivlar över hans situation. Ändå kan jag inte låta bli att ironisera över DNs reaktion. Jag kan inte påminna mig att det gavs särskilt mycket utrymme i samma blad när tidningens egen Magnus Bard, Sveriges sista anställda satirtecknare, nyligen avskedades från tidningen.

Svenska redaktörer gråter gärna ut över att de politiska cartoonisterna i andra länders tidningar hotas av att inte få sina bilder publicerade. Jag talar inte bara om DN. Indignationen är i pressen som helhet stor över hotet mot satirtecknarna, en harm som verkar öka med de drabbades avstånd till Sverige. Men därborta är det förstås ett utifrån kommande hot som är orsaken till problemet. Svenska mediers tystnad om den svenska tecknade satirens utplånande beror kanske på att det i Sverige är tidningarna själva som undergrävt satirtecknarnas möjlighet att väcka opposition mot massmissbruk, övervåld, och allmän idioti.

Jodå, jag vet att tidningarna av ekonomiska skäl skär ner på personalstyrkan. Och förstår att journalisterna med sin numerära överlägsenhet kan klamra sig fast längre. Jag skulle säkert ha gjort likadant. Men det vore befriande att slippa hyckleriet. Ett alldeles självlysande exempel på detta hymlande förekom efter Charlie Hebdo-debaklet då Publicistklubben hade ett bekymrat samtal om satirteckningens utsatthet. Fantastiskt nog utan att bjuda in en svensk tecknare. Jag ringde till PK och frågade allra ödmjukast om jag kunde få komma dit och närvara, gärna som en tyst mus i ett hörn, men detta var helt uteslutet. Nu sändes ”debatten” på teve så jag missade inget. Det hade jag för övrigt inte heller gjort om jag missat även teveutsändningen.

Det är begripligt om skrivarfolket känner sig hotade av att en 10 cm hög tvåspaltig teckning kan säga hundra gånger mer på några sekunder än en tungläst helsidesartikel. Men kära journalister förtvivla inte och var inte rädda! Vi tecknare är helt beroende av era ord, referat och rapporter, av era analyser och intelligenta slutsatser. Utom förstås, den egendomliga slutsatsen att de politiska satirteckningarnas existens behöver försvaras i alla länder utom Sverige.

Wednesday's Dagens Nyheter (30/3) devotes two spreads to the Kenyan cartoonist Gado being sacked. I know Gado, we have met and I despair of his situation. Yet, I cannot but be ironic regarding the reaction of DN. I cannot recall that much space was given to the sacking of the paper's own Magnus Bard, Sweden's last staff cartoonist, recently dismissed from the newspaper. 

Swedish editors are happily bewailing how political cartoonists in other countries' newspapers are under threat of not getting their drawings published. I am not just talking about the DN. The indignation in the press as a whole to the threat against cartoonists is great; a resentment, which seems to increase with the distance of the threatened from Sweden. But way out there it is of course threats from the outside, which are causing the problem. The silence from Swedish media on the extinction of Swedish drawn satire is perhaps due to the fact that in Sweden it is the newspapers themselves that have undermined the cartoonists' right to bring about an opposition to mass abuse, violence, and general idiocy.

Yes, I know that the papers are cutting back on staff for economic reasons. And I understand that the journalists with their numerical superiority can hang in for a longer time. I would certainly have done the same thing. But it would be liberating to be rid of the hypocrisy. A truly luminous example of this goody occurred after the Charlie Hebdo-debacle, when the Press Club had a worried debate on the vulnerability of the drawn satire. Amazingly without inviting a Swedish cartoonist. I called the PK, and humbly asked if I could attend, if need be like a quiet mouse in one corner, but this was completely out of the question. Now, the "debate" was aired on TV, so I did not miss anything. Nor would I if I had missed the broadcast.

It is understandable if writers feel threatened by a 10 cm. high two-column drawing, which can say a hundred times more in seconds than a heavily read the full-page article. But dear journalists, do not despair and do not be afraid! We cartoonists are entirely dependent on your words, abstracts and reports of your analyzes and intelligent conclusions. Except, of course, the strange conclusion that the existence of the political cartoon needs to be defended in all countries but Sweden.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of Riber Hansson and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Censor Reiersen

Pages for a new History of Political Cartooning in Denmark 

Censorship had a name in the 1840'ies Denmark: Christian Reiersen.

Peter Klæstrup for Corsaren, No. 213, October 11, 1844.
Corsaren on its fourth birthday recalling its hatching
cleverly playing onto its innocence.
Reiersen has gone down in history as a man weighed down by the constant barrage of critical articles and magazines, he had to keep in check, first and foremost Corsaren.

The annals are telling us of the embittered final decade of his career in which he had to work still longer hours having to be relieved from his other duties and in the end writing the King for a pay-rise to be compensated for the "manifold humiliations destroying health and serenity, the insults and undeserved defamations" in full-filling his task.

The compensation was duly given and let us be blunt: With the mix of the strict and the irritable all through the 1840'ies, throwing tantrums, when rules were tempered with, another bureaucrat come to mind; the one who came to define the danger of mistaking dutifulness with the reason for fulfilling his task. The latter was a bureaucrat to the core of his being and made himself one with his task making certain the trains left for Auschwitz as scheduled: Adolf Eichmann, who in his own words were "the best to get the job done", and consequently - according to his line of logic - had to take his fate upon him:

Peter Klæstrup for Corsaren, No. 814, September 25, 1846.

Abraham would sacrifice his own son at God's command, however the Age of Miracles was no more, in the words of Corsaren. No hand from above would stop Reiersen from killing Corsaren No. 313. Not that week either and in the six years, 1840-46, the weekly was in the hands of its founder, the young author M.A. Goldschmidt it was seized in a total of 43 weeks.

Peter Klæstrup for Corsaren, No. 302, July 3, 1846.
Corsaren arming itself.
Like Eichmann, Reiersen never asked to be transferred to other duties and at one point his dedication led him to censure a speech by the king. He gave presence to the censorship of printed matter and the cartoons on his person of which Corsaren was brimming, symbolized the response from King Christian VIII on the existence of critical magazines: NO, NO and NO - and keep an extra eye on those troublesome personages.

Peter Klæstrup for Corsaren,
No. 320, November 6, 1846.

Christian VIII himself was a no go in terms of being drawn unless done so in regal splendour, which Corsaren cleverly played on in cartoons such as the case of Abraham above in which we even have a double layer at hand. The king was officially the hand of God to a degree that he has here taken on divine powers deciding life and death on his whim. Life as in the free spirit of his fellow men.

Ultimately everyone - the king, his censor and the critical voices of the day - all found themselves in a frustrating stalemate. The king stubbornly holding on to his rights, while democratic ideas were surfacing from still new corners. Corsaren characterized itself as a picador, irritating the bull with fine pointed arrows, but with no intention of killing it. Only, it found itself in a tournament for which it was totally unprotected and having to arm itself to withstand.

To Reiersen it must have been all the more provoking having his physiognomy known as but the self-serving servant having his moment. Beware, as Corsaren mocked him at one point, one day the table will be turned, and we shall be the conceited ones bedecked with honors.

In the meantime Reiersen saw himself as "The cold-blooded murderer and yet a man; a tragedy according to the Statute of September 27, 1799" (the law of censorship) as the cartoon was titled above on the editor of De Frisindede (i.e. The Free Thinkers) Claudius Rosenhoff. The allusion to his day job teaching the guitar serves likewise as the illusion of his critical nerve getting cut.

Reiersen personified the absurdity, the business, for which there would be no need the minute a constitution of democracy was signed. Which took place in 1849. Three years before Goldschmidt had sold on Corsaren giving Reiersen a final salute, portraying him having A Spot of Lunch:

Peter Klæstrup for Corsaren, No, 327, December 24, 1846.
- Bon appetit!

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