Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cartoons Featured in "No End of Blame"

From the Sydney Morning Herald.

Cartooning turned deadly serious after Charlie Hebdo.

"Suddenly everybody had an understanding of the weight of what it is we do," says Cathy Wilcox. "It made everybody realise what we do is not just us being jolly jesters."

Wilcox, who has cartooned for Fairfax newspapers for more than two decades, knew one of the artists who died when two gunmen with affiliations to Al-Qaeda stormed the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Twelve people lost their lives in that attack. Eleven were wounded.

"Before Charlie Hebdo, whenever cartoonists got together internationally, all the talk was about the Muhammad cartoons [published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in 2005] and about the threats being made," Wilcox says. "Charlie Hebdo was that ramped up 1000 per cent. Now you can die for drawing."

Wilcox is bringing that insight, and her cartooning skills, to Sport for Jove's production of British playwright Howard Barker's drama No End of Blame.

Written in 1981, the play tells the story of a cartoonist, Bela Veracek, who flees the horrors of Eastern Europe during WWII and works his way to England.

There he discovers censorship and the repression of ideas – though more subtle in its expression – is no less present and powerful.

The story is a fiction inspired by the life of the Hungarian-British artist Victor "Vicky" Weisz, one of the most influential British cartoonists of the post-war years.

A cartoon showing Vicky caricaturing Harold Macmillan, October 1958.
It's a topic of immense interest. I've a long history of involvement in issues of press freedom and the rights of cartoonists, says Wilcox, who is a member of the international organisation Cartooning for Peace, an initiative led by Jean Plantureux, aka Plantu, who draws for the French newspaper Le Monde.

"Plus I have always loved theatre. An actor friend of mine once observed there is a little piece of theatre going on in my cartoon because I'm setting up a scene and giving people dialogue and directing the players. So to be involved in something that takes place on a stage for an audience is completely thrilling to me."

Director Damien Ryan and cartoonist Cathy Wilcox. Photo: James Brickwood

Wilcox and fellow cartoonist David Pope (The Canberra Times) and Dobell Prize winner Nicholas Harding have created a series of animated drawings for No End of Blame using digital pen and projection technology.

"The audience sees the cartoon drawn in front of them as Bela [played by actor Akos Armont] draws them," says Damien Ryan, the show's director. "It's like a Brecht play in a way. Each scene proceeds from a statement and in this case the statement is a cartoon. Over a couple of minutes, the audience absorbs the sheer skill of the artists and then the actors play the scene that caused that cartoon to be drawn."

Ryan says he's had his cast on "cartoon watch", trawling the world's newspapers for the best and sharpest. "Every day they turn up something that is terribly shocking and terribly true, something that has caused an uproar. There is a great line in the play to the effect that cartooning is the lowest form of art but it's also the most important form of art."

Wilcox says cartooning is about "shining a light".

"It's asking questions of what is presented as truth, it is unspinning the spin," Wilcox says. "At the moment, when you have politicians and the president of the United States actively seeking to undermine journalists' credibility, it feels like a very urgent job. It's a really serious business shining that light just so people don't start thinking that the situation we're in is normal. A cartoonist's job is to call bullshit as soon as they see it."

No End of Blame plays at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale, until October 28

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