David Pope and the cartoons that defined 2016

This cartoon by David Pope published on the front page of the Turkish national daily paper Cumhuriyet comments on the Turkish regime’s efforts to censor and punish media coverage critical of the government. Photo: David Pope David Pope with Indian artist Ajit Ninan, cartoonist to the world’s largest democracy, at Ninan’s 2016 exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Nanjing Night Net

David Pope’s cartoon on the front page of Cumhuriyet, in the panel where the work of the paper’s cartoonist Musa Kart should appear.

Pope’s editorial cartoon of July 23, 2016, depicted the consequences for freedom in Turkey of the failed military coup.

In a March 2016 cartoon, David Pope depicted “President Trump” meeting “Pope George [Pell]” under the headline “Men of destiny”. Photo: David Pope

Pope portrayed the rise of Trump as a raging dumpster fire.

In 2016 he depicted Donald Trump as a raging dumpster fire and a Molotov cocktail hurled at the White House, Pauline Hanson as a flaming Redhead match and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as a sensitive schoolboy bullied by the conservatives in his own party.

So, cartoonist David Pope appreciates more than most Australians just how precious are the democratic freedoms that allow cartoonists and independent media outlets to question, criticise and satirise those in positions of power.

Which is why the Fairfax Media illustrator recently contributed a cartoon to the Turkish newspaper, Cumhuriyet.

Pope’s cartoon was published on the front page of Turkey’s oldest daily newspaper, in the spot where its resident cartoonist Musa Kart’s work usually appears.

Musa was arrested in November, along with a number of his editors and journalist colleagues at the national opposition paper, as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on critical voices in the media following July’s attempted military coup in Turkey.

While Musa remains in jail, Cumhuriyet, or “Republic”, is filling his regular page-one panel with symbolic blank space or cartoons of solidarity from around the world.

Pope’s simple illustration, depicting a worried-looking world trying to read a censored Turkish newspaper with its cartoon panel ripped out, was published in December as international cartoonist organisations launched a campaign in support of freedom of speech in Turkey.

In a joint statement, the groups Cartoonists Rights Network International, Cartooning for Peace and Cartoon Movement urged “the leadership of every democratic nation to redouble their efforts” to persuade the Turkish government to release “our friend and colleague Musa Kart”.

Arrested on November 5 and jailed pending trial for “committing crimes on behalf of the Fethullahist Terror Organisation and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party”, Musa is reportedly still behind bars in Istanbul’s Silivri prison.

“On what basis can the drawing of satirical cartoons be considered a crime, much less an act of terrorism?,” the executive director of Cartoonists Rights Network International, Dr Robert Russell, said.

President Erdoğan had previously sued Musa for libel in 2005 and slander in 2014.

“We are witnessing an effort by the president to exact revenge on someone he has long considered an enemy,” Dr Russell said.

“On this occasion a punitive fine or jail sentence is not the worst possible outcome, as objectionable as it would be. If granted his stated ambition Erdoğan will reintroduce the death penalty specifically for those said to be involved in organising the coup. Clearly there is a real threat to Musa’s life should his trial proceed and he is found guilty of the charges given.”

The failed coup in Turkey was just one of the international events and issues the Canberra-based Pope explored in his daily editorial cartoons in 2016.

A Walkley winner for the now-famous “He drew first” cartoon that went viral on social media worldwide in the hours after the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris, Pope’s cartoons are published in The Canberra Times and nine other daily newspapers across regional NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

Over the past 12 months, the cartoonist’s work has often reflected the global news cycle, from the rise of Trump in the US, the shock of Brexit in Europe and the intractable turmoil of Syria in the Middle East to the deaths of popular artists like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Alan Rickman.

President-elect Trump was variously depicted over the course of the year, through the Republican primaries and the campaign race against Hillary Clinton, as a dumpster fire, a Molotov cocktail hurled at the White House, a flaming Hindenburg airship and a Mexican wrestler in colourful Lucha Libre mask.

Back in March, after Pope Francis took aim at candidate Trump by criticising so-called Christians promising to build  walls instead of bridges and with Cardinal George Pell as defiant as ever in his Vatican sanctum, one cartoon depicted “President Trump” meeting “Pope George” under what seemed at the time to be a facetious title: “Men of destiny”.

Political shocks and shenanigans closer to home also provided rich pickings for Pope’s satirical penmanship, especially the electoral and party room travails of Turnbull, the return of Hanson and One Nation and assorted budgets, policy backflips and royal commissions.

The ceaseless chicanery of modern politics is a common refrain of Pope’s visual commentary.

“Politicians spend a lot of time managing their image to appear in control of things,” he said.

“So, I draw a lot of things that portray the contingency and chaos of politics – ‘methodical plans’ announced to dress up policies and compromises cooked up on the fly.

“Very similar to drawing a political cartoon, really. Especially as the deadline approaches.”

In 2016, Pope continued to draw  Turnbull with a tin-can-and-string top hat, a caricature device dating back to the PM’s days as Minister for Communications.

“He now looks naked to me when I draw him without it,” Pope said. “Over time it has become a prop that has taken on a life of its own.”

One of Pope’s favourite Turnbull cartoons of 2016 shows the PM as a chastened schoolboy explaining himself over his part in Coalition attacks on aspects of the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

“The Prime Minister’s relationship with the conservative right wing of his party is complicated,” Pope explained.

“Pressure from peers can mean burying your true feelings and hiding who you really are. So it’s good to provide a safe space in a cartoon where a Prime Minister can talk honestly about how bullying works.”

One of Pope’s cartoons about the heartbreak and courage brought to light by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was a finalist in Amnesty International Australia’s 2016 Media Awards.

“Cartoons about the abuse of power always run the risk of inadvertently reinforcing the powerlessness of victims and the power of the abuser,” he said.

“So it was good to draw these irrepressible survivors of institutional sexual abuse, as they picked each other up on the road from Ballarat to Rome, to bear witness to testimony from Australian cardinal George Pell, and to seek justice.”

To mark the January 2016 passing of pop star David Bowie, Pope steered away from a portrait of the famously androgynous singer.

Instead, he imagined a scene of life on Mars and drew on the enduring lyrics of one of the British artist’s hit songs, Heroes.

“While I did not have that personal connection to his art and music  that many clearly felt, there was no disputing his influence on popular artistic culture,” Pope said.

“This song was my favourite. Played now, at the end of the year, perhaps the melancholy which accompanied it at the start of the year will give way to more of its tragic defiant optimism.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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