Something in the ink

Updated: 2012-12-07 07:36

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

 Something in the ink

Giving public lectures was a major item on the agenda of Joel Pett's latest China trip. Provided to China Daily

Cartoonist's bond trumps nationality, language and ideology says Pulitzer Prize winner Joel Pett

When US political cartoonist Joel Pett toured China recently, the highlight, not surprisingly, was the chance to meet fellow cartoonists working in such a different country.

"This morning I met with 10 or so Chinese cartoonists," the 59-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner blogged from Shanghai this summer.

"There is a very special bond among cartoonists around the world, which is difficult to explain. It trumps nationality, language and ideology.

"Somehow we all feel a collective mutual affinity, probably because of our shared labors of futility, railing against injustice. Or maybe it's just something in the ink."

Pett spent two weeks in China on a speaking tour sponsored by the US State Department, meeting with business, media and academic groups to talk about his creative art.

When he returned home to Kentucky, where he has been the editorial cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader since 1984, the American political conventions were on the horizon, and he was quickly back at the drawing board.

Looking back on his China trip, he told Public Radio International that most audiences were surprised at "how rough I was on Obama".

"You know, the art form is generally negative," Pett told host Marco Werman.

"So there aren't a lot of laudatory cartoons about him. They kept asking me, 'What you got against Obama? Why do you hate him so much?' and I kept saying, 'Actually I don't - this is just part of the job to push authority to do better'."

Like many editorial cartoonists in the US, he is happy to point his barbed pen at leaders of either political party. Likewise, don't read too much into his trip representing the US when ther's a Democrat in the White House.

Pett says he has traveled overseas for State Department programs twice before, in Cameroon and Bulgaria, during the George W. Bush administration.

Pett, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial cartoons in 2000, says the job seems fun from the outside but that it's all about making a point - concisely - and that's hard work.

After four years, he says, the way he draws the current US president has changed some.

"A little grayer, certainly," he tells China Daily. "Maybe more weary-looking, beaten down. It's hard to gin up the same level of excitement on your fourth anniversary as on your wedding night."

Asked whether he found it easier to draw Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Pett replies: "Everyone is eventually easy. I usually get them down right before they lose."

In China, Pett was intrigued by his meetings with a broad range of cartoonists, from veterans who generally worked in established print media to young artists who are finding expression on the Internet. He jokes that the latter phenomenon is just like in America - "You reach a huge audience but you don't get paid".

He adds that "the young ones seemed very excited and energized by it" - more so, he says, than he found 17 years ago when he first visited China.

One cartoonist he enjoyed meeting signs his work with a tiny cartoon of an animated pepper with its middle finger extended.

"Certain things transcend language barriers, and make us feel more like one big human family," Pett says. "Things like a cool breeze, a tired smile, the warmth of playful children, and cartoon vegetables flipping the bird."

Like many cartoonists, Pett does not take himself too seriously. His bio lists his proudest non-cartooning accomplishments as "college intramural golf title, shutting out a University of Kentucky player in a game of horse, two-second quarry-frisbee-grabbing cameo on TNT" - while his embarrassments, he says, are "endless".

His blog posts from China were humorous and often self-deprecating, as he described coping with ganbei (Bottoms up!)and getting his clothes cleaned.

"I just spent two weeks in China on a low-level diplomatic mission," he wrote to his readers back home, "sponsored by you, the generous taxpayer, and your United States Department of State. By 'low-level' I mean I think the chain of command was: Obama / Hillary / Herald-Leader Cartoonist. Close, anyway."

He told newspaper readers that his 2012 trip to China was "an unbelievable privilege, for which I thank you, the American taxpayer. May I also take this opportunity to thank you for the delicious room service, club sandwich, minus the bacon, and mango juice. And while I'm at it, my apologies for the computational error which resulted in a $150 taxpayer-financed load of laundry."

Pett says he was interested to find that there are more English-speaking Chinese than Americans, some 400 million.

"When I arrived, my Chinese was limited to 'tai chi', 'Yao Ming.' But I now know Chinese for 'super PAC donor,' 'friend of coal' and 'pepper spray,' which translates approximately to 'perv remover.'"

"I spoke to history students, English students, art students, journalists, cartoonists, whomever our helpful embassy folks booked," he wrote in another blog post.

He says he also visited a company that is developing a frighteningly immense theme park.

"No doubt it will also feature dancing oversized stuffed tigers, long after all the wild ones have been killed for their alleged virility enhancement, which is tragic for animal lovers, but may strengthen the critical international market for perv remover."

China Daily

(China Daily 12/07/2012 page21)