By: Dave Astor
Jonathan Shapiro of South Africa received the “Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award” Friday night at the annual Cartoonists Rights Network International dinner.
The CRNI event was held during the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention, and many AAECers came to the National Press Club to see Shapiro receive the honor.
“Freedom of expression is something I treasure more than anything else,” said Shapiro, whose work is distributed by the U.S.-based Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate (CWS).
The honoree, who draws under the pen name “Zapiro,” was slapped with a $2-million lawsuit by South African politician Jacob Zuma afer doing cartoons critical of Zuma. Shapiro responded to the suit — and to late-night threatening phone calls — by doing more cartoons critical of Zuma.
Ironically, Shapiro told the audience, he used to admire Zuma. Both the cartoonist and the politician were anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s, and Shapiro was harassed by police and eventually jailed for opposing South Africa’s racist government of the time.
Shapiro thanked CRNI Founder/Executive Director Robert Russell for his organization’s work helping threatened cartoonists around the world. And Shapiro thanked Russell for mentioning (while presenting the award) the sacrifices his wife has had to make living with a cartoonist facing the wrath of government officials.
“I’ve received other awards,” he said, “but no one has ever acknowledged the role of my wife Karina” who was in the audience.
Russell noted: “Violence works. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t have it. But most of the cartoonists who win this award and who are our clients are taken unawares. Suddenly, the full weight of a government comes down on their shoulders. A minister, a head of state, or a goon squad wants you dead and you’re absolutely helpless. That’s why CRNI exists.”
Indeed, Shapiro said there are cartoonists in various parts of the world who have it much worse than he does.
After Shapiro described some of the dangers he’s faced, CRNI President Joel Pett of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and CWS/New York Times Syndicate quipped: “That’s impressive. But I want to point out that we [American cartoonists] did some great Paris Hilton stuff.”
There were also plenty of laughs from Will Durst, the political humorist and syndicated Cagle Cartoons columnist, who performed at the end of the event.
“It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to George W. Bush,” he said. “Satirizing him was like slam-dunking from a stepladder.” Durst noted that Bush seems like the child of Ronald Reagan and Dan Quayle.
Just repeating some of Bush’s actual statements can be hilarious, said Durst, citing gems such as “I think we can all agree the past is over” and “More and more of our imports are coming from overseas.”
One reason some people still support Bush is they consider him a “God-fearing” man. “As well he should be,” Durst said wryly.
Durst said Republicans lost the election in 2006 more than Democrats won it. “Bush had a 29% approval rating, Cheney had 22%, and Mark Foley was ‘dipping into the teens,'” deadpanned Durst.
“What’s the difference between Paris Hilton and “Scooter” Libby?” the speaker asked. “Twenty-three days!”
“The most important man in the Supreme Court? John Paul Stevens’ doctor,” added Durst, referring to the liberal Supreme Court justice who’s in his 80s.
Durst said the court might not outlaw abortion completely, but will continue to whittle it down. “Soon, you might need a 10-month waiting period,” he said.
The humorist also slammed Democrats, quipping that they support stem-cell research because they need to “grow themselves a spine.”
Durst reported that Monica Lewinsky of Clinton White House fame is now 34. “It seems like only yesterday that she was crawling around the Oval Office,” he said. “They grow up so quick.”
Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, once said he needed the votes of “every thinking American.” But, noted Durst, “you need a majority — and sometimes that’s not enough.”
Another dinner speaker was Flemming Rose, the Danish newspaper editor who published the Muhammad cartoons that sparked riots about 18 months ago.
Rose, who previously spoke Thursday at the AAEC convention, said “cartoons can be offensive but so can the truth.
Also speaking at the dinner was Michael Wilson, Canadian ambassador to the U.S., who praised CRNI for the “very important job” it does.