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Iranian elections

newspaper article illustration

ink and Letratone

© David John 1985
Iranian elections 1985  

Politics and economics - illustrations

A friend recently wrote, "Time isn't real, deadlines are." How right he is, and there are no tighter deadlines than in the newspaper business. A pile of articles arrive on an editor's desk at noon and he may decide he needs an illustration for one or more of them - by 5 pm! And there can be four or more editors on duty on any one shift.

While working for various publications in Athens I sometimes had to produce as many as five drawings in one day. The working conditions were spartan: each journalist had a desk in a noisy, hectic open-plan editorial office without air conditioning (at 40 degrees celcius you need to use sweat-proof drawing ink). There were no computers, no photocopiers, nothing. My toolbox consisted of a range of pencils, pens, brushes, gouache, watercolours, a water jar and a pile of Letraset. Very lo-tech.

The toughest part was trying to squeeze an arresting visual image from several thousand words of text with my only muse being a harrassed editor yelling across the room "Hey, have you finished that graphic yet?" Sometimes I was able to escape from the chaotic inferno to the cool garden of a friend who lived nearby. While trying to dream up a pocket masterpiece, I would pray that the phone wouldn't start ringing. "Where's that goddam graphic?"

Very quickly I developed a fast, rough-and-ready line drawing style. However these illustrations are not strictly speaking cartoons. It is true that they owe much to the journalistic caricature tradition, but true newpaper cartoons are self-contained, needing only a caption gag or speech bubbles. Whereas much of this work is an adjunct to an article, which you need to read to fully understand the image.

Iranian elections

newspaper article illustration, ink & Letratone

During the 1980s Iran was in turmoil. Ayatullah Khomeini's Islamic revolution brought brutal repression of minorities and all forms of opposition. Revolutionary Guards even terrorized anyone who wanted to watch TV or listen to western music. The regime's negative relationship with western countries led the US to back Saddam Hussein's Iraq in a protacted and terrible war. Once again the great powers were fighting their wars by proxy under the motto "my enemy's enemy is my friend".

Not surprisingly, the western press was extremely skeptical about the elections held in 1985. Who would dare to run or even to vote against the ayatullahs?

My take on this situation is not subtle. Khomeini manipulates a blindfolded puppet voter at the ballot box from the minaret of a mosque. The puppeter's ropes hang from a Kalaschnikov AK47 rifle. The only face to choose from on the ballot paper is that of the Ayatullah. In the background thick smoke rises from yet another burning oilfield.
  Iranian ayatullah
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