Friday, October 14, 2011

RACIST CARICATURE? in the eyes of the beholder

As a professional live party caricature and humorous illustrator for over ten years, I've drawn at every conceivable party event, fundraiser, and corporate venue. I actually think I've done more Bar Mitzvahs than the average Rabbi!
I'm taking a long time to say that over the years I've drawn thousands, if not millions of faces and that's not even counting what I've drawn on the subways of this city as the "Subwaysurfer" that you loyal readers are well familiar with if you follow this blog.

Caricature, by it's very nature, exaggerates, amplifies,stretches, squashes, and liquifies the facial features of the extended target. Webster defines the word, caricature, as a "loaded portrait" one that has "weight," and " "impact".

Some people find it difficult to receive that impact. From time to time, I've heard the words, "THAT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE ME!" "YOU MQDE ME LOOK LIKE A WITCH!""MY NOSE ISN'T THAT BIG!"
I'm accustomed to hearing these remarks and totally understand them. Heck, I've even said them myself when I was caricatured for the first time by fellow artist, Kenly Dillard. My objection to the artists depiction was the same as most others. We all have a physical image of ourselves that we project onto the screen of our minds, and think every one else sees the same altered image objectively that we see in our imagination. This altered image we project onto our mind screen is crucial to our self esteem. We see ourselves as having chiseled features, soft curves, seductive eyes, where none exist. Most artists, even some caricature artists, and illustrators, are willing, for a price, to engage peoples fantasies and draw that "imaginary image".
And then there are some who aren't willing.
I'm one of THOSE artists. At least when it comes to drawing political editorial caricature.


A distinction needs to be made between political editorial caricarture and party caricature.
PARTY CARICATURE is drawn in drawn in 2-5 minute time frames. Which necessitates that an artist uses a streamlined approach so that the maximum amount of party goers get drawn. The overall vibe is lighthearted and whimsical.

Is more illustrative. More time is given to the picture, and facial features and subtle nuances can be pushed squashed and pulled for effect.

I've taken a while to get here, but wanted to set a tone for my answer. Recently, the above caricature featuring Sen Smith and Con Meeks has gotten a reaction out of some people, perhaps supporters, I'm unsure whether or not the politicians themselves feel this way, that my representations are racist.
I received a call from a reporter of a major Queens weekly, asking for my response to peoples response to the picture.

My reply can be summed up in my general approach to caricature.

First off let me say that no other artist has any control whatsoever of how their work is going to be received by the viewer. I do, however, have control over what I draw and know what my intent is.

It's not divisive, I can tell you that.

I'm an AFRICAN AMERICAN artist myself, and more than familiar with derogatory images and their power to incite, demoralize and ridicule. I did not depict anyone in Blackface, I seimply amplified facial features, of an Afrucan American man. Period. Because I am a caricature artist, I have a tendency to see things through a fun house mirror, so to speak. In other words, if you have a big fore head, it gets bigger, if you have a weak chin, it "goes into your neck" if you have large eyes, they become saucers, and your eyelashes, wings.

And if you have big lips

They become BIGGER.

It's not racial, some of us Bkack folk have big lips.

We do.

Perhaps it's the color, which is a darker gray, than the face, cases attentioned to be drawn, pun unintended, to them. In this case, I simply used a darker color to separate the lips color from the rest if the face. It could be argued that I could have used a lighter shade of gray, but, what's done is done.

I've seen JayZ in person.... trust me, some of do have big lips.

Beautiful full lips are a known, observable physical trait of African Aericans that vary in terms of shape and size.

If a person has a reaction to the way they are drawn, it might have more to do with thoughts they have internalized on what is racist and divisive.

For me, I'm being objective, making an observation, caricaturing it, and drawing a picture. That's all. Sen Smith seems to have, in my opinion, a lot of space, visually, between his nose and his top lip. It's long, comparatively speaking, compared to what caricature artists call "the average face prototype"

Unlike a political columnist who can make his point in two or three paragraphs, I must make my visual point in a single panel, using the strongest images. Can I draw them humorously? Yes. Divisively? No. Keep in mind also, that the editorial artist, in some cases, acts as illustrator to the editor writing the copy. Although I have done cartoons on my own of political figures like former Sen Anthony Weiner, in most cases I am interpreting editorial copy, and coming up with the cartoon angle that I feel expresses visually the overall article. I am, since coming on board at the Wave, have increased the visibility of African Americans in my cartoons, many if which feature African Americans in prominent roles.

I have no Ax to grind.
If some one thinks the toon is racist, it's in the eyes of the beholder,

A past cartoon featured Anthony Weiner, following the Twitter fiasco. Weiner, a Jewush Politician, s depicted with a large Nose. Is that to say, I'm making a statement about Jewish People?

NOPE I'm just making fun of Weiners facial features.

At the end of the day, as a CARICATURE cartoonist, I'm using making fun of their FACES. I've even made fun of mine.


 Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling

CARICATURE OF ME DRAWN BY ME. Folks, I'm African American, right now I'm built like a chocolate version of the pillsbury doughboy(but I'm losing!) I have large eyes full lips bigteeth with some spaces,a full nose, bug nostrils, and I'm full of enthusiasm! I've posted this in hopes of clarifying what CARICATURE IS as I express it. Your comments are welcome...and feel free to hire me,


RAA: Writers Group said...

Hi Elgin,

I'm not sure if I followed...did you get a letter from someone complaining about the image? I was at a RAA event and someone identified me as a Wave cartoonist, thinking I was Elgin, she proceeded to let me know that she thought my depiction of African Americans was racist. Confused, I soon found out that she was--in fact--referring to you. I explained that there were caricature and you were an African American (though that shouldn't be the standard by which one can excoriate a black public figure). This seemed to simmer her down, but I doubt that had I drawn the offending image, I would have gotten off so lightly. Typically when I worked for the times, I usually got the edgy editorials. Everything from Dems vs. GOP on race issues to the "wilding" in central park. Some consider them minefields, but I'm pretty good at not painting (or inking for that matter) myself into a corner. Historically, Charles Philipon faced criminal charges for his broadsides of Louis Philip (the citizen king) and Thomas Nast's caricatures of Boss Tweed, did--in fact--help capture him while he was on the lamb in the Basque region. The poisoned pen leaves an acid tinged line that politicians truly dislike. The next mayor attempted to ban cartooning entirely. Since 1990 staff cartoonists at newspapers dropped from about 1800 to less than 50 today. What does this say of our editorial pages? My guess is, The Wave won't take any steps to reign you in. Personally, I'm more offended by milquetoast editorial art than something that has teeth, or in your case--lips--to it.

vhpayes said...

What?! Are they saying that your depiction of their faces is racist? That's ridiculous! There was nothing general about how you drew them. If anything seemed racist it was the way their speach was represented. Saying "you right" instead of "you're right". But, I completely disagree with your physical depiction being racist. As I understand it, you weren't depicting a black man in general, but two actual men, who happen to be black and look the way they do.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

I haven't been anyone in regards to the cartoon, and quite frankly, I'm genuinely surprised by the current reaction, since the cartoon appeared initially in The Wave a few months ago. This recent cartoon, is a reprint of that original, with new editorial copy attached.

I received a call from a reporter of the Queens Tribune, Weds evening regarding the cartoon, gave my rebuttal, (a lengthy articulate one I might add) and went about the rest of my activities. I called the Tribune yesterday, and asked if I had been quoted, which I had, and welcomed, and that the article was to appear in their paper today.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

I'm speculating that the reporter may have thought I wasn't African American, and I went out of my way to establish that fact. I'd personally love to see peoples faces when they receive THAT revelation! LOL it probably makes for a great caricature drawing.

I went on to give a lesson about the art form of caricature, the nature of political caricature, as well as racial stereotypes, both actual and precieved.

As beauty, in some cases s in the eye of the beholder, so also is racism. One hears and perceives things through their own cultural, physchological, and emotional lenses, some seeing more clearly than others.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

Great reference there to Thomas Nast. I'm impressed with your knowledge base on that one! kudos! I'm honored to be even mentioned in the same sentence as Nast.

I suppose you could say that once your cartoon is recognized my people other than your mom who hangs it kn the refrigerator, that you've arrived, in a sense.

I can't say that I'm not happy to bask in the sunlight of public noteriety.

But must emphasize that I don't draw just to gain notoriety . This toon, and others like it were drawn to point to an ISSUE, and it's THERE where the focus needs to be. In an attempt to divert attention from the issue at and, some feel that going into "victim mode" may buy them some time to get some breathing room.

I totally understand.

Breathe deeply while you can.

The issue at hand isn't going anywhere.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...
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Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

.. If anything seemed racist it was the way their speach was represented. Saying "you right" instead of "you're right..

Ive thought about this.

I can see your point, and why you, or anyone else would come to that conclusion......almost.

"SURE YOU RIGHT!" is as common an expression in African American speech vernacular. As the phrases,

have we heard some Bkack folk speak like this? Sure we have! 

Oops, I meant, 


But I've heard Italians say,
I've even heard Jewish People actually say,

If I write a joke where that vernacular appears, is it RACIST???? REALLY???

Of course not.

It's the way people speak. Everyday in certain neighborhoods and cultures.

Caricature is amplification. That can apply to speech as well.

Now that's not to say I would use the N word in a toon even though, sadly, many African Aericans use it to refer to themselves and each other. Advocates of this word usage say it's "a term of endearment." when WE use it.

It's ignorant when ANYONE uses it.

RAA: Writers Group said...

Hi Elgin,

My guess is that this will blow over and that you're equal opportunity with your broadsides. Want to hears something rich? In a bill presented to congress, they intend to make it illegal to satirize the TSA. That any satire; be it graphic, filmed, written would be subject to a jail term. I wonder which artist will be the one to go into history testing the 1st amendment on that one!

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

Whether it blows over or not.people are entitled  to express their opinion. 

This cartoon has prompted Congressman Greg Meeks to address the Wave directly in an open letter, and they printed it in today's paper. 

That's a GOOD thing. It gives the congressman a chance to answer allegations that are fired against him by the paper and gives people unfamiliar with the story, a chance to get informed. 

Con Meeks  mentions my name in the article, and is pretty ticked off at me, which given his point of view, I can understand. 

Thank God we LIVE in a society and under a system where we can express our points of view without being censored. I applaud Meeks for coming forward.

It's disturbing though that there are forces working in some sectors to limit our free speech in America. funny how the shutdown always begins with the artists, the poets, and singers. The stage is being set for something....

RAA: Writers Group said...

I wouldn't worry about Meeks too much. He is at the top of the list for congressional corruption. You don't hold that position for nothing. He may be cheesed at you, but his electorate should be cheesed at him. The fact your image raised his hackles means it was doing it's job.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy cartoons and caricatures but i do see the racial content in the drawing,although this may not have been your intent the language and facial features appear racist. I also think the wave is a waste of paper
and is a biased paper that only depicts african americans in a negative light(in handcuffs) or some other kind criminal act. If you search deep enough you can find positive articles relating to good deeds from both blacks and whites in the rockaways, but this will never see the front page. In my opinion the cartoon reminds me of reconstruction era cartoons that degrade black people and we tend to think, that was so long ago. In america the racist head always surfaces to divide and KEEP US ALL BLINDED FROM WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON.

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

I thank you for being moved enough to respond even if you have chosen to not identify yourself.

I am glad that you enjoy cartoons and caricatures. By enjoy them, I'm thinking you mean you like looking at them, and experience a measure of pleasure from looking at both. When you say you like cartoons and caricatures I'm sure you also, to a point, KNOW something if what the art form is about. In my article I painstakingly lay out what caricature IS, namely, the art of exaggerating and amplifying facial features for humorous effect. Furthermore, I explain how I am not maliciously and divisively depicting any race, black or white, to make a statement, my goal, a d I reiterate it here, is simply to make fun of my intent ended target.

People who say they like cartoons and caricatures, like you say you do, understand this.

Which is why your remarks confuse me a bit. In spite of your, " I enjoy cartoons ad caricatures" declaration, in spite f my aforementioned article explaining the art form, I still hear you say you see the racial content in the drawing!

I'm not arguing your opinion, you're certainty entitled to that, I'm just puzzled about how you can still come to the conclusion the Congressman does!

But when I read a little further, I find out the answer.


I also think the wave is a waste of paper
and is a biased paper that only depicts african americans in a negative light

It all boils down to expectation. The Wave, in your view is a "waste of paper" by that I guess you mean not worth reading. You also say it's biased and ONLY depicts African Americans in a negative light.

If you're coming to the paper with the expectation of reading biased race baiting reporting, then you will not see, and apparently don't see anything positive.
Basically, what you see, is what you get, even if it applies to a cartoon.

What, exactly, would a non racist, caricature look like, I wonder. If a person leaves out African American Features, and fails to NOT exaggerate them, what you're eft with is a PORTRAIT, which isn't a CARICATURE?

As an African American, I think we're being a bit thin skinned about this issue.Are we a people who can NEVER take a joke? Where s the outrage from the Jewish community when Anthony Weiner was drawn with an unusually big nose?

Elgin Subwaysurfer Bolling said...

The outrage from the Jewish community was absent, in Weiners case, because of the understanding,perhaps, KF what a caricature is.
I've done thousands of Var Bat Mitzvahs and other Jewish events were the art frm is recognized, and celebrated. By contrast, I've drawn at parties wit Afrucan Americans where the practice isn't as popular and have gotten similar "accusations of racism" based on a misunderstanding and unfamiliarity with the art form.
concerning neativereporting...
If an African American does a crime that is worthy of handcuffing and incarceration, how is the reporting of this objective fact, racism?
The aforementioned Anthony Weiner, I can tell you was DEFINITELY a favorite of the staff and particularly the editorial editor of the Wave Newspaper.

I KNOW for a FACT when It was found out that Weiner was found guilty of lewd behavior inconsistent of his position, he was "attacked without mercy", and shown NO favoritism my the staff.

These people are news reporters reporting on facts. The fact is there ARE African Americans guilty of violence, drug trafficking and crimes worthy of incarceration. They SHOULD be "told on" and it is not racism to do so.