by Joan Pons
So, on a particular Tuesday morning, Luis Cerveró and I appeared at the Palau Robert. Our plan wasn’t going there as exhibition crashers, helping themselves into room 2, in which La política retratada is exhibited until June 11th (we’re not so ridiculous, entrance is free), but to become two silent infiltrates on the guided visit that the illustrator Jordi Duró (one of the curators of the exhibition with political scientist Jordi Torrents) had programmed on that day and time with his students from Eina, the Art and Design University Centre of Barcelona.
Since Jordi Duró is one of O’s usual suspects, our silent intromission was well received and we were even granted some privileges. Many questions (some asked then and others at a later date) came up from the contemplation and enjoyment of the 200 cartoons by around fifty authors that make up the show.
These forty years of cartoons in Spain do not only represent our reality (political, social, economic, business, cultural… you name it) throughout four decades, but also interpret and question it and even reveal deeper truths than those hidden in the journalistic texts they share a space with.
A cartoon in a newspaper (or a blog) is a subjective doodle about reality that, sometimes, can be deeper and more of an epiphany than a feature article, a report, a column or even a photojournalism award. But since they’re drawings, they don’t enjoy the same fame, as if they were somehow inferior. This exhibition, thus, is a way to prove that this appreciation is, to say the least, false, vague and aprioristic.
In the end, out of all the questions that were asked during our surprise visit, we kept ten, and each of them is accompanied here by the cartoon that provoked them.
Political cartoons in the press should talk about just a time and a place? Up to what point can they be read/de-codified away from the headlines they accompany?
Cartoons, as can be appreciated in this exhibition, are opinion pieces in themselves. The truer and wiser, the longer they will last. The really good ones end up going beyond the headline of the day, but I’d say that almost all of them could be used to explain what really happened. Cartoonists have always been freer because they probably weren’t taken too seriously. Whenever they have been taken seriously, they have ended having a hard time, poor souls..
Do political cartoons have a best before date?
Jokes become obsolete when the reader no longer understands what they are referring to, if the context to understand them is lost. There’s a classic joke from 1905 by Junceda for magazine ¡Cu-Cut! that appears in all textbooks because it was very controversial and brought about a lot of violent reactions on behalf of the army. Today we wouldn’t understand it without a ten-line footnote. It no longer works as humour. It can illustrate how annoying humour can be for certain people, though.
However, you can find a wordless joke by Cesc in which a woman is watering her neighbour’s plants because they have reached her own window, and this still works. Some things portray the human condition and make you smile; others are meant to understand a historical moment, which is useful too.
Which cartoons were more difficult to get for this exhibition? Why?
Finding cartoons about the Basque problem was difficult. On the one hand, authors didn’t seem satisfied with their own work. And on the other, what we found available didn’t have the same quality as the rest. Although the exhibition always uses as a base a press headline and is not an anthology of best cartoons, we wanted to preserve a minimum of quality. It was harder, but in the end we managed to get very wise pieces on such a tough topic as terrorism, which was always present in our recent History, whatever its form.
Why do we connect more with the black and a bit over-the-top humour of Chumy Chúmez than with other authors from his generation?
J.L Martín explains in the audiovisual piece that can be watched in the exhibition that his generation used a politically hopeful kind of humour, but he wouldn’t do it now. Chumy’s humour is very hard. There’s no moralizing or redemption. In my opinion, it’s current because it grants you space to close it with your own opinion. It isn’t trying to convince you of anything, and in this day and age that is almost a blessing.
If I’m not wrong, there are only four female illustrators included in the exhibition (Flavita Banana, Núria Pompeia, Raquel García and Mery Cuesta). Why do you think there are only a few of them?
Although there were many female illustrators, there weren’t many women cartoonists. I guess this must have had to do with timings, with work having to be handed in daily, upon the closing of the newspaper, a job which wasn’t compatible with anything. Today’s ratings are getting better and I hope inequality will soon be forgotten, although when preparing the exhibition we saw that it is still something painfully unbalanced.
Flavita Banana, for instance, is an amazing observer and she had already earned the respect of the whole trade before she had even published her first book. I think she understands the digital medium very well and knows how to synthesise the necessary. In her cartoons, everything is a lot more carefully thought of than one would assume. Today I was reflecting on this and realised there are only two people who have ever talked to me of French cartoonist Chaval: Juanito Wau (from band Wau y los arrrghs!!!), who knows a great deal about cartoonists, and Flavita. It can’t be a coincidence, they’re both great.
Political cartoons have to share the editorial line of the medium in which they are published? Is there such a thing as free opinions, as happens with some columnists?
We have realised that many cartoonists do not necessarily share this editorial line, that we have prejudices as to what we can expect from each medium and that in fact cartoons follow their own rules (the ones by Ricardo in El Mundo are a good example). It’s a combination of two elements: on the one hand, the cartoonist turns around the editorial approach of its publication, questioning it. On the other, the cartoonist feels compelled to bite without looking where. As Manel Fondevila says in the audiovisual piece, we should look at each author’s whole body of work before reaching any conclusions.
Is this exhibition useful as well to rediscover-vindicate some forgotten cartoonists?
Oli and Máximo, for instance, deserve to be revisited for the volume of their work and also because of their quality. I think Oli’s kind, and often caustic, drawings would connect very well with today’s readers. Máximo is maybe too philosophical to appeal to a wider audience, but I think he’s a master. As an author, I probably feel closer to Máximo than to the rest. Not so much for his use of drawings as for the reflections his works have and ask. Besides, he seems a very sensible man, like my beloved Cesc.
Jaume Capdevila said to me that he tragedy of a cartoonist is that once he ceases to publish daily he disappears completely for the readers; he disappears from their everyday environment. Except in some cases, like Cesc or El Perich, who have been revisited in books, the rest end up disappearing from the collective imagination.
And in parallel: is this exhibition useful to discover new cartoonists from other less general or more local environments or media?
While preparing the exhibition we discovered wonderful cartoonists, like Esteban, who has an exuberant line that reminds me of Mingote and who publishes in media I don’t tend to read (Diario de Sevilla, La Razón or even army publications). As I said, if I hadn’t told you, you wouldn’t know which ones they are: cartoons encapsulate only the author’s, not the medium’s, opinion. I also loved to discover Pepe Carreiro, who changes his register depending on the publication and who for A nosa terra uses a ligne claire that is vey rooted in Castelao, but very contemporary at the same time.
The newest cartoon: how fast did you discover it and then manage to get it? As for digital media and personal blogs: are cartoons consumed there in the same ways as on paper?
Some concrete topics, such as transsexual rights, for instance, took a lot of effort. This one made it last minute because Javirroyo gave his opinion on the infamous bus.
In the digital sphere, humour is the same, but the context disappears. That is, the cartoonist no longer counts on an editorial and some articles that accompany, comment and contrast his piece and that he can even question. Now his cartoon stands on its own and should be able to stand multiple readings on behalf of people with very different stances, culturally and politically… That limits the cartoonist’s options a great deal.
What should we ask from cartoons? A drawing style? Content apart from the drawing itself? Both? A clear message? Minimalism, as in Javier Jaén’s Campaña? Is it better a shocking drawing, a joke that makes an impact or a well-formulated opinion?
I’d answer those questions differently for each of the authors. And that’s the great thing about it, that each of them has his own voice. The author has both drawings and words. That is to say, he has double the possibilities of a painter or a writer… So from the beginning he has enormous richness available if he knows how to take advantage of that potential.
Having said this, I’m biased towards silent cartoons. One day, talking to master Ferreres he said they were the most grateful because the reader could complete them in his/her head and that created an intimacy with the author that was difficult to surpass.