Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte is the first non-American to be awarded the Thomas Nast Award since its creation over 40 years ago by the Overseas Press Club of America.
The award is recognition for his work for the International Herald Tribune, for which he has been a regular contributor for the past 11 years.
The prize, considered the most prestigious after the Pulitzers, also highlights the American roots of the International Herald Tribune and cements its place among the US media.
Chappatte also contributes to two Swiss dailies, Geneva’s Le Temps and Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
An interview with Rita Emch of Swiss Info:
swissinfo.ch: How important is it for you to work for a paper like the IHT which has a global audience?
Patrick Chappatte: It's been a privilege to work for the IHT for the past 11 years and to be given this chance to comment, to look at the world and to translate the big and small issues into cartoons, as well as to convey my view of the world in a media that is global, but still American. And they let me comment on US politics as well, not just world affairs.
swissinfo.ch: Would you say political cartoons are food for thought?
P.C.: If they provoke a smile, it's a first success. And if they can start a thought process, that's another good step. But cartoons don't make people change their mind. They don't have that kind of transformative power. That’s not what they are meant for. You can use them as a communication tool, not a tool of transformation.
swissinfo.ch: How did a French-speaker end up working for English language publications?
P.C.: Switzerland is a small place – you reach its limits very fast. So I was at the top in my part of the world and couldn't really do much more. This is kind of boring when you're 25 or so and you think, well, what's next?
I was very interested in English-speaking media, which I still consider to set a standard of excellence in journalism, and my wife and I decided to travel through South America and then move to New York. I quit the Tribune de Genève and just kept doing a weekly cartoon for L’Hebdo magazine.
I thought maybe I would try to find my way into the US press, become a cartoonist for the New York Times. I had that kind of American dream.
swissinfo.ch: What happened then?
P.C.: In 1995, we came to New York and I actually did start to work for the Times, but only as an illustrator, not as a cartoonist. When you're an illustrator, you just put your art at the service of the story. It shouldn't be too personal, only in the style, not in the content. So I did this for three years and it was a good opportunity to learn how to work for Americans.
We went back to Geneva in 1998. There I started working for L'Hebdo again, than later for Le Temps – I had already started working for Die Weltwoche in 1997.
swissinfo.ch: And how did you end up with the International Herald Tribune?
P.C: The IHT had been reprinting some of my cartoons once or twice a month, through a syndication agency subscription.
So I wanted to work for them. I had to convince them to pay me, when they were already getting the cartoons at a low price. It was a bold move on my side, but I could do it, because I had that American experience and the nerve to do this. I convinced the opinion editor of the IHT to meet me. I gave him my reasons why he should hire me. And in the end he said they were good reasons, that we should try it. And this is what I really love about America, that kind of pragmatic, open-minded spirit.
swissinfo.ch: Are there different sensibilities you have to take into account when working for different papers?
P.C.: There are differences between the various kinds of media, but it's not so much so between Le Temps, the NZZ or the IHT. They have a similar kind of readership. The difference is that two of them operate in Switzerland and the other has a global audience. But in the end, these audiences are not so different from each other.
There is more difference between Zurich’s Blick [tabloid] and the NZZ than between the NZZ, Le Temps and the IHT. So, I feel comfortable with those three publications, even if they are in different languages.
I'm not drawing for everybody. I think I'm drawing for an audience that already knows quite a lot, an audience that's sort of sophisticated. I feel good working in that kind of environment.
swissinfo.ch: What is the biggest challenge coming up with cartoons that work in different languages?
P.C.: I need to find the kind of image that speaks to the readership of the publication. For the IHT I need to find a language that will speak to a global audience, which can require more of an effort. This doesn't allow for much local references or word play, which you can use a lot in French for instance.
It could be easier to work for the IHT using just images. But my type of humour or comments very often need words, because I create a sort of comedy to pass on my comment, so I need the text too.
The challenge is to condense my message in the drawing in a way that can be understood by a global public – independently from a specific cultural background.
But it's true, you never know exactly how a cartoon will speak to people the world over.
swissinfo.ch: Are there religious or moral boundaries that you have to respect for the IHT?
P.C.: Yes. You cannot draw naked or partly naked women, which you can do in Switzerland. It can happen there's a breast to be seen, even in a neo-classical way. They don't like that – and will tell me to cover that up!
swissinfo.ch: What drives your work?
P.C.: I do it for myself first. It's an incredible chance – a chance to digest the atrocities, the horrors and idiocies of this world. I don't know how other people do it, but I have the chance to do drawings about those issues and it's my way to trying to make sense of it, translating it into something. And then you have that good feeling if on top of that you can make people smile or sometimes even laugh.
Rita Emch in New York, swissinfo.ch
An article by Barry Nield on the CNN website:
(CNN) -- With frizzy hair still standing to attention, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il drops dead, narrowly missing the nuke button as he slumps face-down onto his desk.
Welcome to the world of Patrick Chappatte -- a cartoonist whose knack for summing up major global events in a few simple brush strokes this week saw him become the first ever non-American to win the Overseas Press Club of America's international cartoonist award.
Chappatte will be familiar to regular readers of the International Herald Tribune, the global version of the New York Times, which prints his works of satire, slapstick and political comment on a daily basis.
But while his day job is producing illustrations to match the headlines, Chappatte is one of a new breed of cartoonists who do their own reporting; taking their sketchbooks and pens on to the front line of news gathering.
Such "graphic journalism," says Chappatte, is often the most effective way of telling a story in a digital age where people are bombarded with information from all directions.
See a high-res gallery of Chappatte's prize-winning cartoons
"Cartoons in their simplicity can help tell news stories and I think we will be using them more and more because they have a very special effect on people," he told CNN by phone from Geneva, shortly before flying to New York to accept his prize.
"I personally feel the need to report and I feel that cartoons will help us in a world that is overwhelmed with videos and images where we're dealing with so much information every day.
Among the dozen or so cartoons for which Chappatte is being honored is "Ground Zero of the Revolution," a striking example of graphic journalism for which he traveled to Tunisia to record the story of Mohammed Bouazizi, the man whose suicide sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
Chappatte also recently completed "Death in the Fields" a powerful animated film, produced with the International Committee of the Red Cross, that documents victims of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. It is a project he hopes will lead to other similar work.
"People react very strongly in an emotional way in that kind of storytelling, so I see a lot of hope for that genre in the future," he said.
Born in Pakistan to a Swiss father and Lebanese mother, Chappatte says he became an international cartoonist because he was an avid reader of newspapers in the numerous countries he grew up in.
After placing his first cartoon (about a man who broke out of jail for the seventh time) in a local Swiss newspaper at the age of 20, he worked his way to America, where he was employed first by the New York Times as an illustrator, then by Newsweek, which hired him to write a comic strip.
Chappatte then landed the IHT job in Geneva just a few days before the attacks of September 11, 2001, an event which tested his ability to "convey the feeling of America and the sense of the moment."
He must have done something right because, as he points out with typical deadpan humor: "They kept me."
Chappatte puts his own success down to the ability to "translate into a simple idea and a few brush strokes the gravity or the reality of things... to show things as they are.
"When you look at it and say, that's exactly it! That's the best compliment people can give me."
This is no easy task, particularly when the internet exposes cartoons to global scrutiny, as was the case in 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllens-Posten sparked controversy and demonstrations throughout in the Muslim world by printing a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed.
"That was the 9/11 of editorial cartooning," says Chappatte. He says he is wary about causing outrage with his own work.
"We don't all agree where the line is or where the balance is," he adds. "I have a simple rule for myself. When I do a cartoon that can be seen as shocking for people, I want to be able to defend that cartoon eye-to-eye with the person that feels offended."
While he describes the Jyllands-Posten episode as a "controversy of the internet age," Chappatte -- who has just returned from a graphic reporting assignment on urban violence in Guatemala -- remains enthusiastic about the potential of cyberspace.
"The internet is full of possibilities in the language of cartoonists. You can do animated stuff and you can do multimedia stuff -- a whole new range of creativity."