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The caricature conundrum

July 25, 2012


Cartoonists in Pakistan are living in hard times. It takes lot of practice, time and skill to create a caricature of a politician that reflects the politician’s personality. Generally, people notice the outward resemblance but there are hidden meanings in all caricatures.

The prime time was Musharraf’s era as we had nine years to draw him. Prime Ministers like Zafarullah Jamali, Shujaat Hussain, and Mian Soomro, came and went. For the first time we had enough time to draw a political leader like Gilani, he was sent home. At the rate Pakistani courts are firing PMs, it has become a race against time, by the time we learn to draw the PM, he gets fired. Damn this profession!

Recently a friend told me that the art of caricature is dead as now computers can generate caricatures, but editorial cartoons still need cartoonists as it requires an idea. He was probably referring to digital softwares that can distort a picture. Caricatures are not just a distortion or an exaggeration of some features of a person. It’s about expressing the personality or perceived character of that person. For example, Clinton has lost weight after his bypass surgery but is still drawn as a fat guy. Usually the most distinctive features are blown up to portray the character. Even painters do the same and artists like Picasso seem more like caricaturists than painters. It is also believed that many features of an animal lurk under the caricatures and a feature of an animal is used to depict the character. Great British cartoonist Steve bell made George W. Bush look like a Gorilla.

-Source: Caricarturas Karikamania and Cartoon Stock.

I think one of the most brutally caricaturised person of recent history was George W. Bush. The general perception about him was that of a low IQ leader. His caricatures started from thick eyebrows, scruffy hair, big nostrils, large ears and a distance between his nose and upper lip. The center of his upper lip sometimes came down to touch his chin. But somehow, his ears started to grow rapidly and his head decreased to a point that it looked like a coconut with elephant ears; probably pointing towards the Republican symbol (of an elephant). Cartoonists stopped worrying about the resemblance of Bush and relied only on his big ears to depict him. And then came Mr. Obama. Cartoonist tried to blow up his lips, or nose but again reverted back to enlarging the ear. But this time the ears were growing in one direction and lo and behold, it started to look like a donkey’s ear (the symbol of the Democratic Party).

There are other characters like Mr. Singh in India. Indian cartoonists have made use of his Turban (headgear) the central feature of his character, and ultimately if you draw a blue turban on a spectacled and bearded old man, you’ve got the caricature of Mr. Singh. My friend Sudhir Tailang had actually brought this turban to one side to expose his bald head and made a cubist Mr. Singh whose nose points to one direction and face towards other directions. Yet nobody made a mistake to recognise him.

In Pakistan, the most favourite target of cartoonists was none other than Zia. And the only features that were exploited by cartoonists were his eyes with black shadows, beaked nose and his moustache with a wicked grin. The caricatures always give the impression of a vulture or an eagle. Eventually, we all threw all other features out of the window and any wicked person with large moustaches in a military uniform was instantly recognised as Zia. Interestingly our current CJ looks very similar to Zia in caricatures, except that Zia’s moustache looks like its coming out of his nostrils.

The second most favourite character is Nawaz Sharif, who is generally considered as a simpleton and whose only passion is food – no one has surpassed the great Fieca’s depiction of Nawaz Sharif. The simplicity and complete disregard to his resemblance is evident in the caricature. It was a big zero divided by a zero. Zahoor makes his lower jaw bigger than his head … and you can see what he is hinting at.

Nowadays, the most caricatured person is Zardari, generally considered as a the Machiavellian prince. He is depicted with his signature teeth and scheming smile. But note that the majority of cartoonists make him as a two-toothed squirrel, that is alert and smart.

We have Imran Khan bemoaning the lack of honour and his only mantra is to restore the lost honour of our nation. He struts with his chest out, and hair puffed like a rooster, the symbol of male pride.

Alas my friend, computers can only distort, but can’t create an image of an animal lurking behind the caricatures. Next time, look out for the resemblance of an animal and it will give you a meaningful insight into the caricature.


The author left architecture for painting but ended up as a cartoonist and now writes Hijjo. He is the jack of all trades.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.