Monday, 31 October 2011

Sunday, 23 October 2011

What makes a cartoon attractive?

What is it which makes a cartoon interesting and attractive to a viewer?

Cartoons, like any other piece of artwork, have to appeal aesthetically, but they are often (I'm thinking of cartoons by people like Gerald Scarfe) hideously unattractive.

Newspaper or editorial cartoons must also communicate a particular political opinion swiftly and unequivocally. Quite often, these political opinions refer to several different themes simultaneously.

These images come from New Zealand newspapers, published in mid-October 2011, at the time of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in NZ, a major maritime disaster involving a large container ship called the Rena which spilled oil onto NZ beaches, and the beginning of the general election campaign. The media followed every Rugby World Cup story (including injuries to key NZ All Blacks players) but other news items (including the Rena oil spill) were less thoroughly covered. Was this a manifestation of media obsession, genuine interest and national will, political manipulation, or simply a reflection of human priorities? That's another issue, perhaps, but these cartoons, produced in the same place at virtually the same time, refer to the same themes, and use the same strategies. I'm interested in which one is the most appealing to the viewer, and why?

Body, Great News, Eh?
Tom Scott, Rugby or Rena?
Body, Ooh Look - More Rugby!
I'd like to consider how aesthetic factors such as style, colour, action and text interact with elements such as the underlying political idea, humour, and the viewers own opinions and prejudices combine to produce an image which is appealing to the viewer. 

Oi You!

I recently visited Oi You! The Best of Urban Art from NZ and Around the World, in Nelson, NZ. This is relatively small exhibition, held in very pleasant surroundings. The gallery space, though not well lit, was appropriate and contributed something (albeit a little cliched) to the environment and the appreciation of the artworks. The show included three different collections, which broadened the appeal of the exhibition. Best of the World was undoubtedly the crowd-puller, and provided the most impressive works by far, but the pieces by Milton Springsteen (the unknown NZ artist working under a pseudonym) provided a pleasant surprise element of home interest. Never having seen much of Banksy before, I was really curious about his work. The quality of his work, in comparison with most of the rest of the work in the show, was very obvious. I'm still not entirely sure what it was which elevated his pieces above most of the others, however. His ideas were not more complex or sophisticated, and his execution was no more elaborate or skilful, but the difference on quality was clear.

Urban art's overlap with caricature and political cartooning was the aspect I was most interested in, and it has continued to strike me. Apart from the fact that urban/graffiti art is often political in essence, both urban art and political cartooning are meant to be easily consumable, instantly understandable but also immediately contemporary and therefore quickly outdated, ephemeral and disposable. Urban art and political art also both have links with comics art, of course, and use many of the same artistic conventions.

Furthermore, several of the pieces use images borrowed from, or at least very similar to (and probably directly influenced by) socialist realist art. Socialist realist kitsch has found a niche in modern urban art, and these pieces borrow from it in almost equal measure as they borrow from Lichtenstein.

Faile: Box 1

Cut Collective: 01

Indeed, one piece could have been lifted straight out of Krokodil. Soviet caricature artists made reference to atomic bombs, rockets and missiles in their works, and artists such as Yuli Ganf, Boris Efimov and Kukryniksy often drew characters where these weapons became body parts. Although Pinocchio (I don't think) ever appeared in Krokodil, this image could otherwise certainly have appeared there - many of the other elements of the image did - and the editors would have appreciated the idea behind the image.

Paul Insect: Who's To Blame?

Exhibition of cartoonists' art

Exhibition held earlier this year, featuring many of New Zealand's top cartoon artists. Hopefully a similar event will be held again next year.

The History of Political Cartoons

Very interesting YouTube video interview with Prof. Neil McWilliam on the nature of political cartooning and its history. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Efimov Memoirs

A website which has published Boris Efimov's memoirs online.

The name 'Krokodil'

I have not been able to find out definitively why the magazine was named 'Krokodil' in the first place. The theory most commonly propounded is that it derives from the crocodile in the story by Kornei Chukovsky (1916). I have no reason to disbelieve this, but another story named after, and about, a crocodile was written by Dostoevsky in 1865. The logical place to look for an authoritative explanation would be the first issues of the magazine, but they are extremely rare and I haven't seen an original - only excerpts quoted elsewhere. In one of these quotes, in a poem by Demian Bednyi, the magazine is named as 'the red crocodile' which identifies the magazine with the animalistic logo/character, but I wonder if any of the readers of this blog can answer this question?