John A. Lent
Fang Cheng (1918-2018). The doyen of Chinese cartooning, Fang Cheng, died the morning of Aug. 22, 2018. He was 100 years and two months old, an achievement that pleased him immensely, and one that he predicted in one of the dozens of interviews/chats Xu Ying and I had with him. In our initial visit with Fang Cheng, he told us he was going to live to 100, and each year, publish two books, continue to write newspaper columns daily, paint many humorous drawings and calligraphies. On a visit, Aug. 2, 2010, I reminded him of that prediction: he said he was down to compiling one book yearly. Up until a few days before his death, even while hospitalized, he continued to draw self-caricatures and, a bit earlier, calligraphy; with the help of his son, Sun Jihong, he gave the works to the Red Cross to be auctioned off, the proceeds used to educate less-fortunate children.
After our first interview with Fang Cheng (June 10, 2001), which lasted from 9:10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (71/2 hours), Ying and I always looked forward to visiting him, mesmerized by retellings of his life and career, his theories on humor (see, IJOCA, 8:2 ; 9:2 ), his philosophies on life, his hopes and dreams, and his singing of songs in English, Russian, and Chinese that he remembered from his childhood. He still sang upon request the last time I visited him in March 2018. More often than not, Fang Cheng, from our first meeting until he was 99, challenged me to arm wrestle; usually the “match” ended in a draw, me holding on for dear life to prevent the embarrassment of this older man with a vise-like grip whipping me.
Knowing of Fang Cheng’s desire to share his knowledge about humor and cartooning to a wider audience inside and outside China, I invited him to speak at conferences and symposia that I was active in at University of Western Ontario in 2000 (invitation cancelled for lack of funding); Singapore and Malaysia, 2004; Communication University of China in Beijing and U.S. in 2005; Guiyang, China, 2007, and Spain, 2009 (which he was advised by family not to attend because of his age). In the U.S., he stayed for a week at my house, during which he spoke at two universities/colleges, practiced his English reading David Copperfield in his room at night, drew a Zhong Kui painting for my house, and told (even retold) his life story in installments at the dinner table for a few days. Asked if he had dietary restrictions, he replied he ate everything except people, anything with legs except tables and chairs. Has he eaten mice? “Yes, three kinds; tastes delicious, like frog.”
During his stay, he requested visits to a comics shop where he was disappointed (“these are not comics, just manga. No humor”), and a toy or novelty store where he wanted to buy something to “make me laugh.”
Fang Cheng said in our 2001 meeting that he stayed healthy through love, humor, and openness and by riding his bicycle and swimming. The secret of a long life (he was 83 then)? “In one word, busy,” he replied, but then added, “not worry.” And busy he was those last 17 years of life -- doing calligraphy, writing his many books and daily newspaper columns, illustrating others’ books, drawing humorous paintings that included his own poetry, arranging the donation of his works to museums in Zhongshan and Shanghai, refining what he considered his unique theories of humor, lecturing in China and abroad, and helping less-privileged people. He even managed to run one leg of the torch carry to the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing before the 2008 Olympics; he was 90 at the time.
On more than one occasion, beginning in 2001, Fang Cheng described how the route of his life was guided by fate. In the Winter 2003 issue of Persimmon, Xu Ying and I wrote about friends Liao Bingxiong and Fang Cheng and their careers and views on cartooning. In that article, Fang Cheng credits fate and heaven and the gods with determining his destiny. I end this remembrance with a section from that article that gives an overview of his career, and fate’s role in it.
Fang’s own cartooning career stretches to the 1930s and was determined, as he says, “by heaven, by the gods.” Fang was born in Beijing, but at the age of four moved to his family’s ancestral home in Zhongshan County, near Macao, in Guangdong Province. When he was nine, his family returned to Beijing, and he attended middle school there. Originally his goal was to become a doctor, but he did not pass entrance exams for Yanching University (on the campus of what is now Beijing University). Instead, he enrolled in the chemistry department at Wuhan University in 1936, but returned home the following year, when the Japanese invasion occurred. In 1939, he resumed his studies at Wuhan, where he also got involved in acting, at the same time learning on his own to draw cartoons. “I was one of the activists there; six of us who were involved in drama started a weekly wall newspaper. I drew cartoons on the wall each week for the two years the newspaper lasted,” Fang said.
After graduation, Fang went to work as a chemist in a laboratory in Sichuan Province when “the gods” intervened again: “I was in love with a girl and wanted to marry her, but she said no. I could not sleep or do anything else, so I left and went to Shanghai.” Fang said he had seen Shanghai periodicals with their many cartoons and decided he wanted to draw professionally. In Shanghai, he had no job and no place to stay, but the American director of an advertising company that represented cosmetics clients employed him as an artist. Not long after that, the chief editor of the Chinese newspaper Observer asked him to draw several cartoons weekly, and he began contributing to other newspapers as well.
In 1948, as the Guomindang realized their days were numbered, they made plans to flee to Taiwan -- hoping to take the most famous artists with them, Fang said. Not wanting to follow Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan, most artists escaped to Hong Kong, which is where Fang went in 1948. Although he wanted to return to Shanghai after Liberation in 1949, fate changed his course. “There was a sunken ship in Shanghai harbor, so [the ship we were on] went farther north and I ended up in Beijing,” Fang said. There, he worked for the Xinman Daily, but recognizing that the People’s Daily had the best opportunities for cartoonists, he joined that newspaper and not only drew cartoons but also wrote humor essays.
Fig. 1. Fang Cheng still drawing in his 100th year. Beijing, China. Feb. 23, 2018.
Fig. 2. 99-year-old Fang Cheng arm wrestling IJOCA editor.
Fang’s apartment, Beijing, China. 2017. Photo by XuYing.
Sudhir Tailing (1960-2016). Veteran Indian political cartoonist, Sudhir Tailing, was a delight to interview. He said it the way it was, did not mince his words. He spontaneously spiced his answers with metaphors, anecdotes, and bits of humor, all the time staying on course. He was very articulate, multi-talented (a documentary filmmaker, animation producer, sculptor, and television show anchor too), highly-connected, and knowledgeable.
He was his usual vibrant self when I last saw him at the 2010 Asian Youth Animation and Comics Competition that I invited him to in Guiyang, China; thus, my surprise when I recently learned that he died of brain cancer at age 55 on Feb. 6, 2016.
I interviewed Sudhir the first time on July 6, 1993, in his Hindustan Times office. We talked for four hours. At that time, his professional career was only 11 years old, yet, already, he had been on the staffs of Illustrated Weekly of India, Navbharat Times, and Hindustan Times.
That first meeting with Sudhir was a history lecture on Indian caricature and humor, a rundown of his career, a lesson on how to draw effective cartoons, and a critique of the good and bad aspects of Indian cartooning. The conversation continued over dinner at the Embassy Hotel, with his journalist wife Vidha Chaudhary joining us.
Sudhir told of his beginnings as an “artist,” drawing with chalk and coal on his family’s floors, even though he knew a “beating” from his mother awaited each time. By ten years of age, he was seeing his cartoons appear in many of the national dailies, making him a “star” in grade school and a “rich man” with the five rupees per cartoon that he received. Sudhir said,
The newspapers did not know my age. I thought if I went to see an editor, he would stop publishing me because I was so young. Readers did not know my age either. They wrote, ‘Dear respected Mr. Tailing.’ I’d get letters like that.
He had considered being a medical doctor but abandoned the idea; instead, he was graduated in biology, chemistry, and physics from the University of Rajasthan and finished a post-grad program in English literature later. His switching from medicine, he said, “saved a few patients.” Sudhir said his cartoons are “neat and clean,” with all details removed and the focus on the protagonist, adding, “I’m not here to show my prowess as another Michelangelo, but rather, to convey an idea with clarity.” The “politics circus” in India was his main source of ideas, and the “jokers in politics,” his “stars,” Sudhir continued.
Comparing India’s leaders of the post-independence period with those of 1993 (time of the interview), Sudhir said the earlier ones merited respect and, as a result, cartooning was more difficult. In 1993, however, to attack national leaders was not difficult because “we have less respect for them, thanks to the leaders themselves,” according to Sudhir.
A couple times during the 1993 interview, Sudhir decried the lack of tolerance in India, on the part of politicians relative to what is drawn about them; senior cartoonists and their reticence in recognizing younger colleagues, and the public and their sensitivities because of growing concerns about communal rights and political correctness.
Generally, Sudhir Tailing was positive and optimistic about political cartooning in 1993, pointing out that a new generation of cartoonists had broken into the field in the 1980s, that he (and presumably other cartoonists) enjoyed a high degree of freedom, and that newspapers used political cartoons regularly (on the front and an inside page; as pocket cartoons).
His position and views changed by the time of our second interview, July 9, 2009. He had left the Hindustan Times three years earlier, and the daily decided not to replace him. As he lamented: “The first Indian newspaper to have political cartoons in 1936 does not have a political cartoonist now. The paper that invented political cartoons has no cartoons.”
Sudhir explained that during the previous decade, there had been an “onslaught” of private television channels that squeezed out newspaper reading and replaced the one “C” (cartoons) with the three “C’s” (crime, cricket, cinema). He said Indian newspapers had either stopped using political cartoons entirely, or moved them to inside pages, or replaced them with safer, no-opinion illustrations. Sudhir went on:
No newspaper wants to offend the powers-that-be. Anything without opinion is favored. Anything with opinion has to be thrown out or toned down. My generation is the last of the political cartoonists. Like the tiger, we are nearly extinct, but unlike the tiger, there is no law to protect cartoonists.
The future of Indian political cartooning that Sudhir foresaw grew bleaker as we continued to talk that night. Sudhir saw the newspapers as co-opted by government, abandoning their adversary role, sharing a common interest with government to make money, trivializing and dumbing down content, and beautifying pages with illustrations and decorations in place of political and social commentary drawings. He felt a void had developed in the cartooning community, in that the post-independence cartoonists were completely gone and his own generation was “running on the runway at high speed, but just before takeoff, the tires are punctured. My generation was starting to have an impact before the blowout.”
As for the present group of Indian political cartoonists, Sudhir said, “they can’t come up [advance] because they lack outlets,” and they don’t have stars to look up to, adding, “If we don’t see a future, how can the next generation?” He also deplored the death of the institution of relatively-independent newspaper editors, replaced, he said, by managers and business executives.
Sudhir Tailing also told a few anecdotes before ending the evening, one relating to R. K. Laxman (see my remembrance of Laxman in IJOCA, 17:1, 2015), a very well-known cartoonist of the generation that preceded Sudhir’s:
In 1982, at age 22, I was in Mumbai. I was being published in The Times of India publications, when, one day, the editor called me to this office and said the TOI liked my work. ‘But,’ the editor continued, ‘Why don’t you just come in, do nothing, and we’ll pay you.’ When I asked why, he said that Laxman [the star TOI cartoonist] thought my success might go to my head. I decided to call Laxman and asked to talk with him. He said, ‘You want to talk to me? Come by on December 20.’ This was in March. I continued to do cartoons [despite Laxman’s rude discouragement].
Fig. 3. In No Prime Minister. Sudhir Tailang.
Fig. 4. Sudhir Tailang with editor of IJOCA at AYACC festival, Guiyang, China. Aug. 17, 2012. Photo by Xu Ying.
Barry Linton (1947-2018). If anyone exemplified the “my way” mantrum, it was New Zealand artist, cartoonist, guitarist, Barry Linton, who died Oct. 2, 2018 in Auckland.
Early on, Barry knew he was not “cut out” to be a 9 to 5 clock puncher. He was working in a shoe store after receiving his school certificate when he was singled out to become a management trainee. As he told Arthur Baysting (2016), “I suddenly thought, ‘This is the end of the world. I’m selling shoes in Hannah’s in Hamilton and they want to make me a manager!’” He quit, hitchhiked to Auckland, attended art school, and published cartoons in Auckland University’s newspaper Craccum. Soon, the art school kicked him out for non-payment of his fees and distracting other students. Without money and not willing to become a wage slave, he hit the road again, hitchhiking all over New Zealand.
In 1977, he self-published on a photocopier his first real comics character in Spud Takes Root, and for quite a few years after, Linton worked various jobs, constructing buildings, cleaning offices, washing restaurant dishes, and helping in a record warehouse. During these years, he contributed many comics to Strips. Later, Linton held jobs on newspapers and magazines that provided him a regular income.
Dylan Horrocks arranged for me to meet up with Barry Linton when I was in Auckland doing research on New Zealand comic art in August 1999. He set up a gathering of eight cartoonists at the flat Barry shared with fellow cartoonist Cornelius Stone. During the little time allotted to Barry that night, he said he was repulsed by New Zealand culture as portrayed on television, calling it “nonsense.” His alternative was to portray “New Zealand landscapes in my work. Palm trees. Capture the local bush, not glass buildings that are everywhere. Phoenix palms, steep hillsides covered in bush. Lots of hippies in the cities -- people I knew. Students, bums, drunks.” He traced the start of his career to the mid-1970s, especially after the comic Strips (1977-1987) and the collective behind it were established. Of the books that he created up to that point, he singled out One Short Life with the Atom and the Elf and Chok Chok! as his favorites. Barry said he also “doodled a lot of erotica which I don’t know what to do with.”
The next night (August 10), I invited Barry, Dylan Horrocks, and Lars Cawley to the hotel where I stayed, from which we went in search of book stores and stalls, and settled at a kebab place. For nearly five hours, Barry regaled us about his career, lifestyle, motivations, shortcomings, interests in aliens, educational comics, music, and erotica, and the status of New Zealand comics.
Without a regular paying job at the time, Barry explained that “raising a family, paying taxes is not my thing. I don’t see this as appealing.” He elaborated,
I’m terrible at business, at asking for my worth. I get little progress, because I don’t ask for my worth. In that regard, the opposite of ambition, that’s me. But, not in art; my storytelling and art get better. I’m not trying to avoid money. It’s just annoying to have to put a drawing aside to go talk business. … I’ve carried on doing part time work or none at all.
Decrying the lack of importance younger cartoonists gave to portraying New Zealand, he said he, like them, also thought globally, but never lost sight of the need for him to depict New Zealand. Barry said his drawings reflected his lifestyle; when he drew Mona Magnet, Beauty in the Beast, he was in his “party animal phase, only interested in fun and games.” But, overall, his main issue for years was multicultural, depicting Maori people and Polynesians to the north of New Zealand, a number of whom he knew. To Barry, it was important to use these cultures as subjects from an identity point of view. He said,
I drew nude women, drunks, Maoris, Polynesians, junkies. I don’t care if the public liked this or not. I had to draw it. I became more refined as I went along. The subjects included less nudity and more criminality. I refined my work on my own, and not because of criticism.
His multicultural friendships had dwindled by 1999, he said, because he was spending more time with artists and there were not many Maori artists.
Barry reflected on his past, describing the late 1980s as a “dry spell” for him, perhaps, because he was more into music, “trying to draw comics that had the feel of music.” From those years on, he said, he had “not been organized, with very little plan,” adding,
I have had no ambition to publish for years. I just draw and collect it now. I am interested in ancient history and aliens … and educational comics. I’d like to do much more way-out alien stuff. Educational, spiritual without being didactic, preachy -- my way to do this. After reading ancient history, I realize we have to catch up spiritually.
What was different in 1999 compared to the 1970s? For one thing, Barry said, comics carry on without him:
If I were to ignore comics, they would carry on. There are far more people involved now. Other towns, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington -- small towns are doing small run-offs. Cartoonists are communicating with the rest of the world. That did not happen in the 1970s. Even at the grassroots, there is a lot more carrying on in comics. It feels like it is all starting over again, or it may be it is just changing. I used to say I knew all cartoonists in New Zealand. I can’t say that now.
Barry accused punk of “liberating” people from quality, allowing them to make comics and music without worry about quality, “to put out rubbish and work on quality later.” He admitted his early work was “not great.” But nevertheless, he wanted it to be “refined, not to look like it was done by a burnt stick.”
Later in the interview, Barry launched into his aspirations to draw both alien and erotic comics, but said alien theory was mind-boggling, that it was difficult to visualize futuristic technology. After four years of thinking about and conceptualizing an alien comic, he only had one six-page story to show for his efforts. On the other hand, erotica came naturally to him, because he always drew figures nude, and put clothes on them later, always making sure the clothes were “appropriate.” He was able to finish six 20-page collections of erotic comics.
In recent years, Barry Linton published an expanded version of Chok Chok!, Conversations with Barry Linton, My 10 Guitars, and Galacticians, about extraterrestrial intelligence.