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Overseas Opinions Offered at Meeting: South African Artists and International Experts Talk to Editorial Cartoonists at New Orleans Convention

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Overseas Opinions Offered at Meeting: South African Artists and International Experts Talk to Editorial Cartoonists at New Orleans Convention

Article excerpt

South African artists and international experts talk to editorial cartoonists at New Orleans convention

WHAT WOULD IT have been like to be an editorial cartoonist in 1776?

Maybe something like what it was for Dov Fedler of the Johannesburg Star this year.

"He's really living through extraordinary times in South Africa, as if we were cartooning during the American Revolution," Jerry Robinson said as he introduced Fedler to attendees at the recent Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention in New Orleans.

Robinson is president of and an editorial cartoonist for the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate, which distributes Fedler's work.

Fedler told the AAEC audience that he used to have "a doctorate in cynicism." Now, he added, "You see me for the first time as a proud South African .... We lost hope, and overnight it changed."

The cartoonist gave the lion's share of the credit to Nelson Mandela, who, he said, deserves "sainthood." He noted that the black leader even made such an impression on some of the whites who guarded Mandela in prison that several attended his presidential inauguration this spring.

How did Fedler, as a white editorial cartoonist on an anti-apartheid newspaper, fare during the years when Mandela was in jail? Fedler said the government ignored him more than anything else.

"Nobody gave a damn"' he recalled. "We were never, ever taken seriously."

David "Andy" Anderson, another white Star and CWS cartoonist who addressed the AAEC, did emphasize that there were problems for newspaper people. He cited government censorship, "self-censorship" and more.

"But I was never directly threatened," Anderson said.

Another difficulty for Anderson was getting enough information to do cartoons about Mandela during his lengthy prison term. "He was not allowed to be quoted or photographed," said Anderson, who emigrated to Canada around the time of Mandela's release in 1990.

The South African native added that "the speed of change has been incredible" since then. "You would have been called crazy if you predicted that Mandela would be president in four years," said Anderson, who still contributes two editorial cartoons a week to the Star.

For Fedler, editorial cartooning was not his original career goal as a South African youth. He grew up reading American comics, and wanted to be a comic strip creator himself.

But Fedler eventually realized that his dream could be seen as kind of "frivolous" in a country with the problems of South Africa, and he started doing art of a more political nature.

Still, inappropriate American metaphors kept cropping up in Fedler's work. He said, by way of example, that drawing a diner telling a waiter that there's a fly in his soup didn't exactly resonate with black South Africans too poor to eat at a restaurant.

So Fedler began trying to "redefine" the metaphors he used to make them more relevant to the Star's growing black readership. One way he did this was to use more references to sports such as soccer that are very popular with blacks.

South Africa is one of several world hot spots that U.S. editorial cartoonists have been commenting on in recent months. But a speaker at an earlier convention session on "America and the New World Disorder" asked AAEC attendees to do even more to increase the international awareness of readers.

"There's a big discrepancy between the importance of what's happening in the world and the relative lack of attention it gets here in the U.S.," observed session moderator Daniel Franklin, Washington bureau chief for the England-based Economist magazine. "Anything you can do to bridge the gap between foreign policy importance and foreign policy awareness would be appreciated."

Franklin said opinion polls show that Americans are most concerned about issues such as crime and the economy, with foreign policy "barely registering on the scale" despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, and so on. …

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