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back back gallery 2 | political illustrations | political illustrations info to the images
info: 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.



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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.
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"Reaganomics in action"

newspaper article illustration, ink drawing

Ronald Reagan was ruling America, and he and his neo-conservative pals like Britain's Margaret Thatcher were preaching the virtues of a new kind of economics.

Publicly-owned industries were privatised so that Joe Citizen could buy shares in something he theoretically already owned a part of and had probably been subsidizing through his taxes.

Not to worry, it's good for the economy, and even the humblest would benefit from the much-vaunted "trickle-down effect".

But as economies worldwide spiralled down into recession during the 1980s, it was becoming clear that a few people were getting disgustingly rich while the ranks of the poor were swelling. Soup kitchens started opening across the United States for the first time since the Great Depression of the 1920s. What a giveaway.

A "New York Times" journalist reported the facts, so I drew Ronnie Reagan, dressed in one of his favourite costumes, laughing his head off and yelling about economic recovery, totally oblivious to reality in the form of the line of unemployed outside a soup kitchen.
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7:10 ratio in U.S. military funding to Greece and Turkey

newspaper article illustration, ink & Letratone

Greece's "socialist" government under prime minister Andreas Papandreou were very exercised over their schizophrenic relationship with the United States and NATO.

Greece and its neighbour and ancient enemy Turkey were both NATO members, which on paper at least meant that they were allies. But the two countries were constantly on edge over territorial disputes and the interminable problem of Turkish occupied Cyprus. Turkey's armed forces massively outnumbered those of Greece which made the latter very nervous. But the west needed Turkey as a bulwark against both Communist and militant Islamic regimes on its borders.

All this was reflected in the relative amount of military aid each country received from the US. It became a hot political issue, further compounded by Greece's threats to close down American military bases in the country.

There were torrents of invective in the media, massive protests in the streets and flurries of diplomatic activity. It all seems like a storm in an oozo glass now, but great stuff for journalists.
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"One man's struggle with AIDS"

newspaper article illustration, ink drawing

In the mid 1980s two new and sinister acronyms began appearing in the news - HIV and AIDS. At this time most people knew little or nothing about the syndrome or the consequences it was to have on our lives.

AIDS first came to the attention of the public with the enormous publicity generated by the mysterious illness and death of film star Rock Hudson. It gradually emerged that the disease was highly infectious and more widespread than had been imagined. Fear and confusion spread quickly, especially among gay communities, and it took a while - years in some cases - before governments started public awareness campaigns.

Meanwhile it was left to journalists to explore and explain the disease. Courageously, an American journalist and AIDS sufferer came out with a "New York Times" article, written as a first-person account of what it was like to live with the condition.

In this illustration I have depicted him as a silhouette standing at his apartment window watching "normal life" going on as usual in the street. He feels isolated from this world, set apart by the stigma of his HIV-positve status.
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"Capitalism comes to China"

newspaper article illustration, ink drawing

Following Mao's death, the new Chinese leadership began reforms which included making more consumer goods available. This wasn't exactly Glasnost or the road to political freedom and democracy many were hoping for, but the beginning of China's gradual change from a command economy to a capitalist one.

The Communist Party was still firmly in power, but private enterprise was to be encouraged and Chinese people could enjoy the dubious pleasures of Western luxuries. Vive la Revolution.
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"sex manual controversy in Turkey"

newspaper article illustration, ink & gouache (this version digitally enhanced)

Turkey's population was growing rapidly, and more and more people were moving into the cities which seemed to be at bursting point. Family planning centres started appearing. In Istanbul I saw condoms in shop windows. Shock horror. And as if all this wasn't controversial enough, a sex manual was published, providing a field day for the media.

For an article on this subject I used a new version of an illustration I had drawn a few years before for a children's book. A veiled Muslim woman confidently pilots a hi-tech flying carpet over a middle-eastern village, while a terrified man in Arabian Nights garb hangs on for dear life. Down in the village, a black dog is the only creature to witness this wonder. Some Muslims have claimed that a woman is on the same spirtual level as a dog. This woman is just soaring right above all the restrictions put on her gender.

Knowledge is power, which includes knowledge of our own sexuality. And that goes for both sexes. Or should we have a fear of flying?
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"British tea planters"

newspaper article illustration, ink drawing

Tea is big business. The article reported the continuing dominance of British tea producers on the world market which goes back to imperial times when the Brits started vast plantations in India, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and Africa.

Stirring stuff.
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"Santa's secret silo"

rough sketch for magazine cover illustration, ink & gouache

During the mid 1980s there was a big chill in the Cold War. US president Reagan was calling the Soviet Union "the evil empire", a reference from the Hollywood movie "Star Wars", while he was trying to initiate his own hi-tech and massively expensive Star Wars defence system. A real B movie scenario complete with a B movie actor. Protest movements in the west were making a lot of noise about the deployment of a new generation of American nuclear missiles. Where would it all end?

The editors of an Athens magazine wanted a cover illustration for the December 1984 edition which was "Christmassy" as well as illustrating an article on nuclear disarmament they planned to run.

I quickly did five rough sketches, of which this is one. Here is the Dark Side of Xmas. Sinister Santas, armed with pink sub-machine guns guard a silo. This may be the first time ever that a Christmas tree has been depicted as a weapon of mass destruction. Maybe the guard dog in the gas mask should have been a reindeer, but who ever heard of a guard deer?

Unfortunately, the American Secretary of State made a surprise visit to Athens and they decided to run a photo of his ugly mug on the cover instead of one of my creations. Curses!

But all's well that ends well: I was able to make a finished version of one of the sketches and sell it to another magazine.
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"Dubrovnik"

anti-war painting, ink, gouache & Caran d'Ache

When the legendary communist leader of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito died, a Yugoslavian friend told me of her fears for her country. At the time I was ignorant of Balkan politics and could not believe her dire predictions.

It was not until I had travelled over some years through eastern Mediterranean lands that I began to understand something of the ancient and deep-seated ethnic emnities that festered below the surface.

Even then, the horrors of the brutal conflicts, when they finally erupted at the end of the 1980s, came as a shock. War is always a terrible business, but that such attrocities could still occur in Europe had seemed unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands of people are still living with the consequences.

The siege of the city of Dubrovnik was especially tragic. I was reminded of the Hieronymus Bosch's visions of hell. Among burning ruins, fantastic creatures dressed as hunters and warriors hunt down lost souls to shoot, maim and torture. One such had the head of a spoonbill and carried a bow. In this picture his modern decendant stares out at us from a nightmare of tanks, burning bridges and falling angels. Has he come for our souls too, or his look one of accusation?
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"Grosser Lauschangriff" (Massive Bug Attack)

protest campaign design for a German group of jurists, computer drawing

When a new bill came before the German parliament aiming to give the security forces more powers of surveillance, including the right to bug lawyers' offices, it caused considerable concern in many circles.

Opponents to the legislation considered it crossed the line between acceptable law and order measures and the civil rights of citizens.

Arbeitskreis kritische Jurstisten (Working Group for Critical Jurists) were amongst those who protested against this law and this satirical poster design was part of their campaign.
Design, images and text copyright © David John 1984 - 2010
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