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Toon Town is under siege

Most threatening dialogue aimed at cartoonists usually comes from editors or ex-wives, or the occasional pissed-off politician, who might offer a few “expletives deleted,” but now we’ve got an entire segment of society in the form of Islamic world terrorism to worry about. Don’t they realize that Mort Walker’s “Beetle Bailey” military uniforms might as well be sequined tutus for all the military prowess they exhibit?

Socially, we (cartoonists) are among the least threatening folks on earth, aside from what we might do to ourselves. On the East Coast there’s an occasional alcohol fatality, and the West Coast drug scene has claimed some casualties. Drugs and neurosis do so much damage in southern California that they’re on their way to being described as death by “natural causes.”

But the Islamic terrorist world has already taken cartoonist lives and actually imprisoned a cartoonist in Iran for producing an innocuous drawing of a football (soccer) player that they say looked too much like the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Nope, not much of a resemblance, but the cartoonist was jailed anyway.

In Turkey an entire convention of cartoonists was attacked; the attackers set fire to the building where the convention was held. Cartoonists died in a blaze set by people who prize the teachings of a wonderful holy book that says, “Let there be no violence in religion.”

Now we’ve still heard of plots to kill that Scandinavian cartoonist and I’ve only followed it in the dribs and drabs of occasional TV news broadcasts or newspaper articles. I’m so far behind in that story that I don’t even recall which Scandinavian country is involved and what exactly the artist is accused of drawing. Religious likeness … something like that.

I’m in this field, I keep track of stuff like that, but I still don’t know what it’s all about. Terrorists gathering to plot violence toward an obscure cartoonist whose name I’ve never heard, about an unknown drawing seen by a handful of people who spend most of the year freezing their cojones off, eating herring, drinking aquavit and producing (wow) gorgeous blond ladies. Fact is, if it weren’t for those blondes I’d probably never even think about Scandinavia.

Cartoonists aren’t governments or political creatures. They’re a loose confederation of artists who just ain’t grown up yet playing with pen and ink and (now) computers, hoping to plug into a James Cameron-type or Disney or a media syndicate as a possibility of getting to own a Mercedes. It’s an art form and like all art forms it’s born in financial grief. That’s “financial,” not “physical.”

That threatened cartoonist probably lives in a small flat with a pet cat or dog named Lars, drives a used Volvo and keeps his milk on the windowsill ’cause he can’t afford a refrigerator. Does he sound threatening? Who’s playing God out there with dangerous interpretations of cartoon art?

People who worship in a religion of peace, kindness and charity claim to take action against guys who draw funny pictures? I couldn’t make that stuff up.

Bill Lee lives in New York City and Sharon, and has drawn cartoons for this newspaper, and many other publications of note, for decades.

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