Documentary Captures Cartoonists’ Struggle Against Censorship

A small independent film team in France is making a big statement for freedom of expression with their 2014 documentary Cartoonists — Foot Soldiers of Democracy, which was recently released on DVD as a tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack, played at Cannes, and is showing at the Reel Artists Film Festival in Canada later this month.

The film is designed to spark conversation and critical thought regarding the precarious position that many artists face around the world with its coverage of a variety of global topics and issues. Loosely following three cartoonist friends who are actively involved in the capturing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in pen and ink, the film builds into an expose showcasing 12 cartoonists from around the world, revealing what it means for them personally to use the power of the pen to depict issues in their respective countries and ultimately why it is important that freedom expression be exercised and protected in these turbulent times.

One cartoonist in Tunisia, Nadia Khiari, comments upon how she uses her art to uncover the prevalent “nepotism, corruption, fundamentalism, worship, and oppression” in her country since its adoption of democratic elections. Another artist from the Chinese animation industry, Pi San, tells the story of a complicated society freed from Communism but still victim to a variety of contradictions, including the “random censoring system” that he must overcome in order to produce his art.

Director Stephanie Valloatto’s aim with the film is just that, to incite conversation and thought not only about the issues that these artists face in their home countries, but also the challenges, obstacles, and often acts of censorship that they must overcome in order to produce their works. From French cartoonist Jean Plantureux, professionally known as Plantu, who has used his art to comment on the Israeli-Palestian conflicts, to Rayama Suprani, who sheds light on governmental corruption in her home country of Venezuela, to New York based editorial cartoonist Jeff Danziger, whose controversial work on American politics has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor, the film’s focus is on the challenges and motivations of these global artists to spread the word with their pen—what it means to be, as the subtitle appropriately dubs, a foot solider of democracy. “A drawing that doesn’t hurt anyone, doesn’t exist,” notes Plantu. According to Danziger, “the cartoon is a visual metaphor, it’s a warning.” Suprani adds, “Freedom makes you think, it makes you grow.”

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!