Ukrainian media have been using fewer and fewer cartoons, especially political ones. This is mostly caused by the media environment which dictates self-censorship. Many media owned by oligarchs and those in power are afraid to criticize their owners and prefer to keep critical cartoons out of the public eye. The US is also seeing fewer cartoons these days. However, this is guided by the market as many print publications switch to online. Pulitzer-winning cartoonist David Horsey talks to The Ukrainian Week about cartoon art in America today.
UW: You section on LATimes.com is one of the most popular sections. Are cartoons as popular in the US in general? They were a very popular component of Ukrainian newspapers in the Soviet times, but now their popularity is fading.
Maybe it is not quite that bad in the US, but it is similar - partly because there are fewer newspapers. In the past, newspapers used to employ one, two or three cartoonists. These times are gone. I belong to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, and the membership of it has dramatically fallen in last few years. I think the cartoons are very popular with readers, but I don't think they are popular with editors! I think it is wrong. But what is good about the online environment is that you know exactly how many people are reading cartoons. In the newspaper you don't know that number. I think one of the reasons why my cartoons are one of the most popular things on the website of the Los Angeles Times is simply that they are cartoons, not because I am so brilliant. People like cartoons!
UW: What do you do first – the text or the drawing?
It just depends on the first inspiration. It is interesting – now that I have text I don't need to explain much in the cartoon. Sometimes cartoons have too much information. Now it is much more simple and straightforward. If people feel confused, they may always read the column.
UW: When attacking some issues or personalities, do you think a political cartoonist should have some taboos? Do you have them?
I don't have too many taboos. I don't think I'll draw Mohammed! If there is a sensitive subject - religion, race, ethnicity – I am trying to make it very clear that I'm talking about an individual. That is very difficult to do in cartoons, because they are all symbolic. So, I try to be as specific as possible. But I am freer to do more outrageous things online. Traditionally, American newspapers were the family newspapers – the children could see them. Sometimes that would limit the cartoonist. The internet is much more open. The editors actually like if we may have a little more edge online, because it adds traffic.
UW: Freedom of speech is severely oppressed in Ukraine. What is your advice for Ukrainian journalists in this situation?
All Ukrainians, especially people in the government who think that it is a clever idea to suppress the media, should look at the most successful societies in the world – the US, Britain, France, Australia, Japan. They all have free media. Even if it is annoying and making governance more difficult, free society is more successful. The more ideas are out there, the more good things will happen. Politicians in the United States are never happy with the media. But somehow even they realize that it works. Having all these ideas and debate is good for society in countless ways. As for Ukraine, few powerful people may be better off controlling the media, but not society as a general. So, people may arrange a sort of a quiet revolution demanding to have free speech and free press. I don't think Ukraine may be as successful as it should be without that.