17 Women Cartoonists + One

Gala Tenth Year Anniversary Issue.
ISBN 1531-6793

By Marlene Pohle, President General FECO
(translated into English by Frank Hoffmann)

(Translator´s note: the cartoonists Piyale Madra, Irina Iosip, Marie Plotena, Katharina Greve and Elena Pini made their statements in English; I did not change anything about these)

I have always felt annoyed at the question of why are there so few women cartoonists. I thought about it, developed theories, interviewed colleagues (men and women), stepped to the scales and looked into myself; the answers I found were not at all satisfactory nor were the cartoonists´ answers.
A short time ago, I was asked to write a report on women cartoonists in Germany, the country where I have been living for sixteen years by now, and in Europe in general. My best idea was – so as to escape the empty white sheet as soon as possible – to make an enquiry: my colleagues were to answer a few questions honestly and thus, at the same time, enable me to take a closer look at their world, which is my world, too. We are, though, individualists and their world might not be mine. Yet, a woman is a woman, and we want to talk about women, don´t we?

Quite naturally, I also posed that controversial question in the following way:

(1) Do you think that even today, in the year of 2008, the question we women are confronted with over and over again, “Why are there so few women in the
cartoon business?”, still makes sense?

As a majority said yes, it still does make sense, it occurred to me that fewer women than men are engineers, clerics or astronauts. So what? Over a very long time of human history we have hardly anything been but mothers, wives and soup pot keepers, but such things do change in the course of time.
In a report by Christopher Knight, published on the occasion of the exposition WACK! at the Moca, Los Angeles (March 2007), the critic says that but for the feminist revolution of the seventies Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton´s candidacy would not have been possible (Alicia de Arteaga, in “La revolución feminista”, newspaper La Nación, Buenose Aires, March 18, 2007). Having been mothers, wives and soup pot keepers does not at all mean that we cannot think!
I had called together the colleagues (their answers came quickly and with solidarity) from FECO´s member list and with the help of acquaintances of mine. The result was a majority of German or Germany-based cartoonists, a proper group of Spaniards and two Latin Americans living in Spain, together with women from Switzerland, Austria, Romania, the Czech Republic and a cartoonist from Istanbul, which is in the European part of Turkey, as everybody knows. Although I am on good terms with France and the French cartoon scene, I regret to say that I did not receive any feedback from there. I do hope that this was because, for reasons of work, they did not have the time to fill in my questionnaire.
Back to our question: a majority said yes and this needs going into details because I find it most interesting to see the many subtle distinctions in their answers.
Thus, e.g., German cartoonist UTA WEISS admits that she has not published so much until today and says: “... the question is, in my opinion, what kind of fulltime job can a mother do.
From a biological point of view women are often closer to their children than their husbands; they consequently tend to abstain from any time-consuming work commitment. Whether a woman cartoonist can be successful in a second job I cannot say.”
Quite similarly, PIYALE MADRA from Istanbul states: “... the cartoon scene requires to be open to the world events, to better understand the social, cultural, economic structures of the society. Women, irrespective of their activities, are basically expected to fulfil domestic work including child care and this has a negative effect on the career which depends on intellectual potential.”
Am I to conclude from Piyale´s words that the women of her milieu do not or cannot inform themselves of what is going on in the world because their daily lives as mothers and wives will not allow them to deal with things like that? This is, however, not the first time I have heard such an opinion, and from my own experience I cannot but confirm it: I myself could not enter upon a professional career until my children were nearly full-grown.
NANI, a successful cartoonist from Spain (born in Colombia), does not believe that it is an old question ago; in the past, nobody thought about whether women were able to practise graphic humour. In her opinion, women succeed in drawing jokes that escape men´s notice.
FLORENCE GAYRAL, born French and living in Germany, finds belonging to a minority a pleasant consolation, whereas Austrian SILVIA WICHTL simply puts up a counterquestion: “Are there only few? One should try to find out.”
IRINA IOSIP, from Romania, shares my opinion (that the cartoon can and should be a weapon) says: “Cartooning shows effects in rather long time. The woman takes everything in a very serious way: life, love, politics, children, etc. She must do many things at once, thus she seeks for the shortest way to solve things.”
Deliberately, I have kept an interesting statement in reserve, perhaps simply because I am not only of the same opinion but because it is a plain, pragmatic and realistic answer given by MARIE PLOTENA, from the Czech Republic: “Yes, there are still few women-cartoonists in the Europe of 2008. If we give women more freedom and equal conditions to what men have, then there will be a better proportion of men and women in the cartoon scene.”
The very last answer, which might, at the same time, answer my next question, too, namely whether we women have a sense of humour, comes from MARIA FAEHNDRICH, Germany: “Indeed, do keep asking! Constant dropping will wear away a stone!” Thus a humorous confirmation of Marie Plotena´s idea.

Well then, let us turn to another question:

(2) Is there an intellectual difference between man and woman in drawing gag or editorial cartoons? Are those people right who claim that women have no sense of humour?

SABINE VOIGT, Cologne, puts it like this: “Nonsense.”
In the opinion of UTA WEISS men can laugh at politics, sports, cars and technology because these are their fields of interest and because they know more about it.
FRIEDERIKE GROSS, Stuttgart, feels that there is no intellectual difference between men and women but “... due to their conditioning in our male society, men are more brazen and self-confident, which is not a disadvantage to caricature at all. Saying that women have no sense of humour is, however, sheer nonsense.”
I like Friederike´s view. Good cartoonists - the more so when they are brazen – are a
pleasure. I do not want to generalize but brazenness is a quality we women sometimes lack.
RENATE ALF, a well-known German cartoonist, takes a similar attitude: “I suppose that being witty and showing off is more characteristic (but, of course, not only) of male behaviour.”
In this context, too, I would like to add something personal: men do have that habit of
meeting in bars and cafés, which we consider unnecessary because we would prefer entering a shoe shop. And nobody should believe that in bars or cafés it is only great intellectual subjects that are talked about! Jokes - dirty, stupid or witty jokes are the order of the day. Many a male colleague confirmed that such occasions provide him best with ideas. Being funny is perhaps really a male preserve.
The last statement concerning this subject comes from KATHARINA GREVE: “Well, yes, there are big intellectual differences between cartoonists: stupid and clever, talented and not talented, good and bad – but this is not a question of sex.” Isn´t she intelligent? And she contradicts what was said before – women can be funny and hit the nail on the head, too. I find her answer fantastic!
Our talented Czech colleague MARIE PLOTENA answers the question as follows: “I do not think so. A sense of humour is a matter of gift, intelligence and talent. That gift is given to both genders, but women find it harder to apply it.” A somewhat philosophical idea, which goes well with our typical irresolution, doesn´t it? We ought to think about it a little longer.
ELENA PINI, Switzerland, brings us back to earth: “Women and men certainly have different subjects that make laugh. But so do professors and hairdressers.”
Similarly, SEX states that “... men and women, whether we like it or not, are not equal. We bring children into the world, we menstruate, our feelings towards life are different, we are fond of protecting, we weep more easily and we care about everything. So, our sense of humour is different, too.”
Nearly all the women interviewed agreed on the main point: fun. We find pleasure in our work, in thinking things over, in producing and, last but not least, in conveying fun.

This leads up to my next question:

(3) What kind of message do you want your cartoons to contain? Or are you not at all interested in leaving a message?

A little caustically, MARIA FAEHNDRICH, like SILVIA WICHTL, points at the minor faults of mankind. UTA WEISS likes exaggerating everyday situations for the sake of funny moments. ELENA PINI wants to leave messages concerning environmental topics but, apart from that, be only sarcastic and witty. RENATE ALF is more interested in the subject of education but, as a contrast, she wants to be just funny.
NANI thinks that she will have won by 80% if she made people laugh.
Rather aggressively, MARISA BABIANO says that the essential thing is criticism so as to make clear that nobody should try to fool us women.
ANGELINES depicts situations she experienced, while MARIE PLOTENA once again turns philosophical: “... I would like my cartoons to contribute to the respect of human dignity, and to bring a message of hope, love, solidarity and optimism.”
SABINE VOIGT´s purpose is to reveal social connections which otherwise would perhaps not be noticed.
Though FRIEDERIKE GROSS´ comment may seem a little too intellectual it is worth
thinking about: “My attitude towards messages is specific. There is a message in the
background but, ideally, it will not be noticed straight away. My drawings do not have to be funny. The joke is to come up freely or not at all. I do not like gag cartoons. Educational intentions would be too narrow and moralizing, too.” I feel exactly as she does. Personally, I like caricaturing people from my surroundings. I do not make much ado about it, I just get my sketch pad out of my large and overfilled bag and draw my stick men bustling about me in reality (or not?). There are funny things in abundance. These I use in my cartoons, they always come at the right time. Although the situation I am drawing will be funny and, if possible, also a little witty, I will not by all means try to make it funny. A ridiculous and absurd situation is all I want. There are people, however, who ask me, “What is funny about it?” Come on, does it always have to be like that?
Finally, I would like to mention KATHARINA GREVE´s laconic comment: “My message is: don´t believe in messages!”

The next question was answered unanimously:

(4) Referring to your own activity, in short: Why did you become a cartoonist?

All of the interviewed said that they could not do without, that they enjoy it or that they like making people laugh. SEX also finds it good to make her fellow men think.
Apparently, the answer to the question is easy, but look at the comments made by both of our East European cartoonists.
MARIE PLOTENA says: “Cartoons interested me. Pen and paper are simple instruments, but it is possible through them to appeal to a large number of people. Humour allows a shift from the everyday view to a higher view, leads to laughter which liberates us and to selfreflection.”
And IRINA IOSIP states: “Cartooning is a way to stand. And I don´t like politics.”
Such is what I call courage of one´s convictions. Now you will understand what we mean by saying that cartoons can be a weapon. The politicians of the world know that and I have no doubts about them looking at the daily editorial cartoon before they turn to the news, no matter in which country they may be.

Question no. 5 hardly needs any comment:

(5) For what kind of media do you work? Are you employed or a freelancer?

Is it a surprise that 15 out of 17 colleagues are freelancers? Only one of the remaining two is permanently employed (in Spain), the other one, our Turkish colleague, has “... always been a temporarily employed staff.”
They draw for magazines or newspapers, but almost all of them have a second job, which is not too far from the cartoon business, like graphic designer or so, or they work in EDP, in the educational field or they are painters. None of them has become rich and if they live in a partnership they are said to be double-wage earners.
Only IRINA IOSIP believes that her male colleagues sometimes earn more money than she does. All the others think that they are on an equal footing with men or that they do not know.
I find this a little strange since we women cartoonists do fight for our position in the world of humour and, consequently, should try to find out where we are.
According to statistics, even in a wealthy country like ours far more jobs are taken by men than by women, together with respective earnings. Certainly, our subjectivity is a stumbling block in this respect. What is my work´s price to me and what is your work´s price to you?
This may be extremely different, and it is the employer who will profit, because he is most likely to employ the artist who is cheapest.
Our job is surely one of the best ones in the world, but most probably we will not get rich by it. Nevertheless, we find it a pleasure. Right so!
All the more astonishing did I find the answers to the following question. I even thought I might have phrased it too difficult. Or do we really love our job so much that we sometimes act with a certain naivety?

(6) How do you see the future of our job? There are colleagues who think that,
partly thanks to globalization, it is bound to disappear.

According to UTA WEISS, “... the respect for good drawing and the recognition of the crucial point will last.” I cannot help wondering: last? Does it exist at all? We are talking about globalization, which means that no job will be safe any longer, nowhere on this planet.
MARIA FAEHNDRICH was evasive: “There will be satire as long as it is permitted. Each civilization laughs at itself in a different way. Nobody can dictate what can be laughed at and what not.”
Well, I am not asking about our wishes but about reality.
FLORENCE GAYRAL starts by saying that she will quickly get her rose-coloured spectacles, and SABINE VOIGT hopes that “.. there will always be an interest in well-drawn and deliberate cartoons.” RENATE ALF admits that today´s newspapers publish fewer cartoons than they did in the past, but she believes in the need for cartoons, e.g. on the internet or with lectures.
FRIEDERIKE GROSS tells us a truth we have always defended: “No no, on the contrary, this graphic form of expression is the most direct (i.e. without lots of technical resources) and most immediate manifestation of pictorial and verbal ideas, which was active throughout the past and will continue so in the future. It is in our very time, which favours the visual, that it will become more relevant than ever. It will, of course, depend on what we have to offer.”
I share this view as a wish but, at the same time, I am doubtful about whether the globalization might not destroy it altogether.
Now is the turn of our colleagues abroad.
To begin with, there is ELENA PINI, Switzerland: “The problem is that there will be less and less daily newspapers with enough money to buy cartoons ...”. Not so nice an answer but realistic; Elena completely understood my question.
According to SILVIA WICHTL, Austria, the computer will never be in a position to replace ideas; print media ought to publish creative drawings rather than those bad serial comics.
I am of the same opinion – however, dear Silvia, the latter are cheaper. Nobody understands them, translations are often bad enough, comics belong to countries with different customs, they are old, yet in terms of globalization it is low costs that count.
IRINA IOSIP, too, thinks that “cartooning is needful any time and society – the history turns around.” Clear-headed MARIE PLOTENA, however, feels doubtful about it: “Cartoons are also a strong weapon. I am afraid that cartoons are disappearing, because today´s media look at cartoons with distrust. The global society has different goals than having class-conscious, informed and sophisticated citizens.”
Since we women are fond of dreaming and because having nice dreams is so good, PIYALE MADRA´s comment means a pleasant compensation to me. Even though the newspapers may disappear some day, the internet will remain, she says and goes on: “If one day, the world could become a place where there would be no wars, no injustice, no conflicts, no contradictions and it becomes a paradise, then cartoon might disappear.” Quite so!
Now the Spanish cartoonists are speaking.
What does NANI say to that? “What we should do is get on the globalization train. People are afraid of changes, but changes are challenges – either you keep developing or you will go down; so, only those who can adjust themselves will survive; our job will never die, though.”
SEX observes a current revival of the cartoon, which has not yet reached its climax.
Though a jolly, communicative and sparkling person, ANGELINES has always preferred short answers. In her eyes, the future of the cartoon world can be described by one word only: “Dudoso”, which means “doubtful”.
I like butting in once in a while. At the moment I am wondering why opinion is so divided. Is the publishing business prospering in Spain? Or is it due to the artists´ characters? Do some of them just think positive while others are more realistic? On comparing the opinions of the Spanish cartoonists with those of the East Europeans it occurs to me that East European draughtsmen have always been great artists with a sombre, bold stroke, ironical and profound with rather dark, black tones. You need only think of Topor, Sliva, Kucsynski, Szumowski, Kazanevski ...
A mirror of their soul? If so, then there is no difference between male and female cartoonists, hurrah! Their mentality is the same.
Since in Spain they are obviously more optimistic, things cannot but go along well. We have to look at reality pragmatically, though, and watch out in order to prevent globalization from devouring us.
Finally, there are three stirring and relevant questions left: the question of author´s rights, my colleagues´ understanding of “suspicion” and the issue of autocensorship.
To all my colleagues author´s rights are a matter of importance, they all insist on the return of originals and act respectively: instead of originals they submit printouts or will not take part in contests whose organizers do not return originals. Bravo, girls, that´s the way!
With respect to “suspicion”, they were not unanimous, perhaps because the term is ambiguous with connotations like “distrust” and “deceitfulness”. Spanish “suspicacia”, however, is identical with what I mean by my question.

(7)Cartoonist Luis Eduardo León considers the term of “suspicion” to be the very great right of the cartoonist. Do you like that term?

(Translator´s note: English “suspicion” covers different meanings in German, like Verdacht,Misstrauen, Argwohn, Zweifel, Vermutung, Ahnung; if you, e.g., look up “Argwohn” in a German-English dictionary, you will be offered “suspicion”. What the author of this report, Marlene Pohle, and L.E.León mean is a principal attitude towards things, an inquisitiveness best expressed I think by E.Pini, v.i.).

To this, MARISA BABIANO says that she prefers the term “criticism”. Well, criticism, yes, but to be cunningly served I would say.
ANGELINES is indifferent about it, but SEX regards León´s definition as quite interesting and appropriate. PIYALE MADRA, too, likes the idea: “It´s a nice definition.” MARIE PLOTENA is totally opposed to it: “I do not like the word ´suspicion´. I am afraid that this word characterizes the Czech media´s attitude as regard to published cartoons in our country.”
Thus, there is cunning on the part of the employers, the media, too. Interesting yet not surprising. IRINA IOSIP favours “Open eyes – open mind”. Does that not mean the same thing?
ELENA PINI looks at it like this: “If suspicion means trying to find out more than what meets the eye, yes.” Exactly, Elena.
FRIEDERIKE GROSS also accepts the idea in the sense of “having a suspicion of” and FLORENCE GGAYRAL likes “healthy suspicion” better: “I would call it a helpful attribute of a cartoonist rather than a great right.”
MARIA FAEHNDRICH discovered a better translation: “suspiciousness”. As you like,
Maria, in Spanish it still sounds better.
I think I have pumped my colleagues, and if they had not replied so diligently and quickly, I would not have had the material for writing this report. They represent, of course, only part of the European women cartoonists, but they all are talented and mostly well-known. I had mailed my questionnaire also to cartoonists in Italy, Sweden, Greece and France, yet these seventeen found the time to tell me their ideas, doings, pleasures and problems; I am very grateful to them.
As I, however, like the word “suspicacia” (cunning) best of all I, perhaps unjustly, laid a trap.
I wanted to know what they understood by “autocensorship”, a term misunderstood once and again, so lousy and loathsome that it ought not to be contained in any dictionary at all because each of us should act with a good conscience, honestly and with dignity without having to be asked to do so. Disgracefulness and vulgarity are out of the question with regard to myself, I need not censor myself.

(8) Does the word “autocensorship” make sense to you?

UTA WEISS (abbridged) answers the question as follows: “I can by no means approve of amusing oneself at the expense of other people and not laughing with them.... In my opinion, newspaper cartoons now and then make use of personal attacks and in this way, similar to reality, set up standards of social intercourse.”
KATHARINA GREVE: “I try to censor my self-regulation.”
MARIA FAEHNDRICH: “Cartoons must not be censored – even not by me.”
FLORENCE GAYRAL: “Yes, there are limits beyond which I would never go, e.g. hurt
human dignity.”
FRIEDERIKE GROSS: “Too much (sense), unfortunately, consciously as well as unconsciously. It is part of my daily struggle.”
ELENA PINI: “There will always be people that are offended by a joke. If I would have to take that into consideration I wouldn´t draw anymore.”
SILVIA WICHTL: “Thank God, I have not often had to face censorship.”
IRINA IOSIP: After all, a living cartoonist is far more useful than a dead one – figuratively speaking. A cartoon is a weapon but not an A-bomb.”
MARIE PLOTENA: “Yes, it does. I ´autocensor` very often. I select from my ideas, some of them I prefer not even to draw.”
PIYALE MADRA: “A cartoonist should be free. However, I believe all cartoonists are
autocensoring. I know they think they should be sensitive about topics which might hurt people, about sensible life facts and beliefs. The common sense of cartoonists decide on where to draw the line.”
NANI: “What makes sense to me is ´coherence´.”
SEX: “I believe that all of us have some autocensorship within ourselves, because society educated us in such a way because of things you cannot talk about or because we are forced to be politically correct without us noticing.”
ELENA OSPINA: “This word should not exist among artists ... but it does.”
MARISA BABIANO: “No, understanding would be better.”
I feel this topic needs discussing. As I mentioned before, our own moral principles - critical, acquired by education and respectful of humanity – will not allow us to hurt other people with our pen; we do draw against institutions, politics and struggles for power, this is our right. We can draw about any topic. Once we censor ourselves we will have lost.
At the very end I would like to mention MARJANI SATRAPI, a young and gifted cartoonist who achieved a success recently with her film “Persepolis”. I am choosing this statement of hers: “Humour is also a matter of intelligence, and , besides, laughing is a most communicative affair.”
Is not communication what we want to obtain through our graphic presentations? And do we not also need a certain intelligence to watch out cautiously and skewer what we dislike about politicians and the mighty of this world or simply to arrange our innermost thoughts so as to commit them to paper with fun and pleasure? We do need, though, the intelligence of the other people who are to understand our message and think or laugh about it.

Here is the question:

(9) Interviewed by Stuttgarter Zeitung on November 20, 2007, Marjani Satrapi, an Iranian artist living in Europe, author of the film “Persepolis”, said: “Humour is also a question of intelligence; besides, laughing is a most communicative affair.
You may weep alone in your corner, but you laugh with your friends. To me, humour is a polite way of talking about hopeless situations, too.”
What do think of it?

KATHARINA GREVE: “Humour is a way of life. To end with Billy Wilder: The situation is hopeless but not serious.”
FLORENCE GGAYRAL: “... humour is a gift coming from an intelligent heart. Humour is, quite pragmatically, a pressure valve. Humour will make men more human.”
MARIE PLOTENA: “In our corner we cannot only weep, but we can also laugh and discover many things. Good cartoons help to confront hopelessness, lead to recognition and to a liberating laughter, help us to have a healthy mind and a healthy body, too.”
ELENA OSPINA: “At any place in the world humour will be the best guest.”
MARISA BABIANO: “Well, you can laugh when you look into the mirror every day, which is the best way of making sure that you will never miss laughing. ... You should laugh ´peacefully´with (people) and not at (them). This is why the mirror exercise is so important.”
PIYALE MMADRA: “I can add to this a saying of a master of Turkish cartoon world: Where there is something which doesn´t go well, there is a caricature.”

Note from the editor:
Marlene Pohle is president general of the Federation of Cartoonists Organisations (FECO) and a world-known, award-winning cartoonist. Originally from Argentina, she now resides in Germany.

Frank Hoffmann is an award-winning German cartoonist who is vice president of FECO Germany.

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