Showing posts with label Cartoonists Rights Network. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cartoonists Rights Network. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Meet Nik Kowsar, an Iranian-turned-American cartoonist

by Mike Rhode

Soon after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Cartoonists Rights Network International began a fundraising campaign. I reached out to Nikahang "Nik" Kowsar at the time, but for one reason or another, his interview stalled in cyberlimbo. Sadly, Nik's thoughts will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. Since this interview was conducted in February, we've seen American writers of PEN sharply disagree about whether to give a courage award for Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists and presumed attempted murders at a Mohammad cartoon contest in Texas.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
I do editorial cartoons, as well as running, that's an online platform made for helping non-cartoonists making their own cartoons.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?
I use felt tip pens, scan with my iPhone using Scanner Pro app, and color the work with Photoshop, so it's a combination of all.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
I was born in 1969 in Tehran, Iran. I'm technically Canadian, but a US resident. Canadian cartoonists helped me get out of Iran.

Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?
I think Washington is the most relevant place on earth to work in relation with politics on Iran, and I've been running a Persian citizen journalism platform since 2009, and living in DC and the DC metro area since 2010. I'm now living not that far from JFK's "Eternal Flame" in Arlington.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
I studied Geology, and started drawing cartoons and caricature after buying a collection of David Levine's artwork when I was 21. A year later I was hired by Golagha Magazine, Iran's top satirical publication at the time and started working with professionals, that helped me get better with the trade. I also attended painting classes in Iran.I studied Journalism in Canada after leaving Iran.

Who are your influences?
I was in love with David Levine's lines and views, discovered Pat Oliphant and Kal through papers and magazine that reached the University library in Tehran. I also was influenced by Iranian cartoonists such as Iraj Zareh, Ahmad Arabani, Ahmad Sakhavarz and Afshin Sabouki. The last two are now residing in Canada.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?
I would have started again by taking sketching courses and quitting Geology! I would have loved to study Journalism and  Design simultaneously and work harder. I would also get more sleep!

What work are you best-known for?
The Crocodile cartoon I drew in 2000, that lead to a National Security crisis in Iran and was the cause of a 4-day protest by the clergy in Qum, and hundreds of thousands of people attending Friday prayers chanting for my death. I had portrayed a crocodile, shedding "Crocodile Tears" strangling a journalist with its tale. Crocodile in Persian is "Temsah" that rhymed with the name of the cleric I had try to mock, who was Ayatollah Mesbah (aka Professor Mesbah). He was, and is, a pro-violence high ranking cleric who had made allegations against Iranian journalists. He also alleged that a CIA operative was in Tehran at the time, with a big suitcase full of US dollars to bribe Iranian journalists against Islam. This was a few weeks before the parliamentary elections in Iran. Many responded, and my response was that cartoon. I was arrested and spent 6 days at the notorious Evin prison, and was literally kicked out after the backlash of my arrest had become bigger than the parliamentary elections. I was on the covers of newspapers and a distraction for political parties for a week.Because of that single cartoon, the Ayatollah is called Professor Temsah (Crocodile), and I always wear Lacoste shirts to remind myself of the cartoon that totally changed my life.I have received death threats, and lived in exile as a refugee since 2003. Canada was my safe haven at that time, and my family joined me in 2007.

What work are you most proud of?
I was part of the group that founded the Iranian Cartoon House and we started the classes that became a center to discover talent. Many of those young kids are now seasoned and experienced artists; some are working as professional cartoonists and animators. It was great seeing two of them in San Francisco a few weeks ago.My work in the late 90's and after had impact on the newspaper readers and editorial became very popular in Iran, where I had to work for 3 different newspapers a day. I somehow became my own competition. We have very great cartoonists in Iran, and possibly I was a good communicator who was helpful in creating jobs for many of those highly talented but shy artists. Cartooning became a serious business in those years and politicians used to respond to this sort of critique. That also turned me into a target of the Islamist hardliners.At last, being with Cartoonists Rights Network International is something I'm really proud of. I was once their client, and now a member of the board, trying to find ways and means to support cartoonists who have experienced hard situations and need their voices to be heard.

What would you like to do  or work on in the future?
I love to find enough funds to turn to a tool for masses, to give them a voice through cartoons, and help local and national campaigns against dictators. This cannot happen without technical help of brilliant cartoonists. I would also love to create a safer situation for my colleagues in Islamic countries to who are under threat and have to self censor themselves in fear of radical Islamist retribution.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
I watch movies. I also have a Fibromyalgia block! Sometimes I can't even draw a line without pain. Fibromyalgia attacks or flares really block anything...mind, muscles, wrist...I think I can't take anything for granted anymore!

What do you think will be the future of your field?
It's been a really hard decade for editorial cartoonists, but I think millions of people have understood the impact of cartoons and I hope publishers learn from the masses as well and hire more cartoonists.In the digital age, we have to find a way to connect better and deeper and possibly mixing cartoons with applications that could also give audiences a chance to communicate with us and other people would give a new meaning to our profession.

What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?
I usually attend meetings or events at the Newseum, National Press Club and sessions at a number of think tanks in DC.

What's your favorite thing about DC?
It's a beautiful place. I love the National Mall, museums, theaters, Georgetown,  National Airport, and the monuments. DC is not only a historical place, but you sense the history in the making.

Least favorite?
Ummm...some taxi drivers who expect you to be a devoted Radical Muslim and discuss matters that you hate! I'm a Muslim lite! I drink alcohol and love bacon and avoid people who tell me what I should do or be!I've met many cab drivers who were in love with Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I told one that if he loves Mahmoud that much, he should leave DC immediately, go to Iran and work for him! He changed the subject after I made that suggestion!

What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?
I love Lincoln Memorial for many reasons. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Udvar-Hazy center near Dulles, remind me of the days I hoped to become a pilot! National History Museum gets me back to the days I studied mineralogy and  paleontology. And as a journalist, who could not love the Newseum? I've also taken friends to the Library of Congress and the Congress.

How about a favorite local restaurant?
For meat loving times, Ray's Hell Burger and Ruth's Chris Steak House.
For Pizza, Pupatella in Arlington.
And for Iranian cuisine, Amoo’s House of Kabob in McLean.
For fast food, I cannot love Moby Dick House of Kabob enough.

Do you have a website or blog?
I run and I'm the editor in chief of
I'm not a journalist, but I should probably note that Nik recently turned the tables and interviewed me for the CRNI on “Supporting Mohammad Saba'aneh,” the Palestinian cartoonist  who also ran afoul of Islamic cartooning.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Supporting Mohammad Saba'aneh

Apr 17, 2015

Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Saba'aneh, talks about how global support can help cartoonists in distress. Kal, Mike Rhode, Ann Telnaes and Matt Wuerker talk about the importance of putting the spotlight on cartoonists like Mohammad.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cartoonists Rights Network award to Palestinian cartoonist

The Northern Virgina-based organization issued the following press release.

Palestinian cartoonist awarded 2008 Courage Award
Friday, 20 June 2008, 10:27 am
Press Release: Cartoonists Rights Network International


19 June 2008

Palestinian cartoonist awarded CRNI's 2008 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award

SOURCE: Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), Burke

(CRNI/IFEX) - The following is a CRNI press release:

CRNI announces annual award winner

June 19, 2008, Burke, Virginia - Today, Cartoonists Rights Network International announced the winner of its 2008 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award: Bahaa Boukhari, a Palestinian. CRNI, the only international organization devoted to defending the human rights of cartoonists imperiled because of their work, will present the award to Boukhari at its annual dinner on June 26. The dinner is to be held at the Hotel Contessa in San Antonio, Texas.

A group of cartoonists deemed the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award the "Nobel Prize" of the cartooning world several years ago.

Every year, CRNI recognizes a cartoonist who has shown exemplary courage in the face of unrelenting threat, legal action or other pressure as punishment or disincentive for cartoons that were too powerful for some officials, sects, terrorists or demagogues.

Bahaa Boukhari has a long career in political cartooning in the Middle East. Last winter, Gaza authorities arrested him and suspended publication of the newspaper that published a cartoon that ran in November. Boukhari and two colleagues were convicted of insulting the Hamas Parliament on February 3 2008. Although their fines and prison sentences were suspended, an unprecedented series of demonstrations took place in Ramallah on February 27 in defense of Boukhari and the right of Palestinians to express themselves freely without fear of intimidation or reprisal.

CRNI has affiliate organizations in 15 countries throughout the world; it conducts workshops and other training in freedom of expression issues for cartoonists. Its programs include actions to reduce violence with impunity against journalists. CRNI is a member of IFEX and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Please contact CRNI for more information about Bahaa Boukhari and former awardees who are once again endangered. Algerian Ali Dilem, the most popular cartoonist in North Africa, is facing his third trial since January. In February, Danish security forces thwarted an international plot to kill Kurt Westergaard. Dilem and Westergaard were CRNI honorees in 2006. CRNI has witnessed an alarming rise in reprisals directed at editorial cartoonists due to the power and influence of their work.

For further information on the February 2008 conviction of Boukhari and his colleagues, see:

For further information on the Dilem case, see:

For further information on the Westergaard case, see:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cartoonists Rights Network PR on Dutch cartoon issues

Live from Northern Virginia...

May 27, 2008 11:19 ET
Cartoonists Rights Network, International: CartoonBombing of the Dutch Ministry of Justice
Hundreds die of laughter!

Freedom of expression buried in the ridiculous.

BURKE, VIRGINIA--(Marketwire - May 27, 2008) - Following the arrest in Holland of a free lance cartoonist last week, the head of the Federation of Cartoonists Organizations (FECO), the largest cartooning organization in the world, called on cartoonists all over the world to send their cartoons, all their cartoons new and old, to the Dutch Ministry of Justice. Since the arrest it has come out that the Dutch Secret Service apparently have a division dedicated to checking all the cartoons being published in the country for their political correctness. Responding to heated complaints from some extremist Muslims, the Dutch police last week arrested cartoonist Gregorious Neskschot ("shot in the back of the neck") for cartoons considered "offensive to Muslims and other people of dark skin".

With his arrest, the Minister of Justice revealed the existence of a heretofore secret working group that has been screening cartoons in Holland since 2006. At the same time, the Minister revealed the cartoonist's identity (Nekschot is a pen name) exposing him to the real possibility of assassination, a long standing threat against cartoonists made by various militant groups. Dutch film maker, Theo Van Gogh, was stabbed to death in November 2004 for a film that offended some Muslims. Three men were arrested in Denmark earlier this year when a plot to assassinate one of the 12 Danish cartoonists was uncovered by Danish police.

The campaign to drown the so-called Cartoon Police of the Ministry of Justice with hundreds and thousands of cartoons from all over the world is the brain child of Dutch cartoonist Peter Nieuwendijk, founder and present Secretary General of FECO. The viscous cartoon attack on the Ministry is now supported by the Dutch Cartoons Association, the Dutch Foundation Pers and Prent (Press & Print), FECO International and Cartoonists Rights Network, International.

In a letter to the Minister, dated May 21, 2008, Nieuwendijk factiously asks the Minster to appoint a few of the working group members to sit on an international cartoon competition jury for the Dutch Cartoon Festival of 2009, "in order to alleviate any fear of reprisals and/or uninvited police raids!"

Cartoonists Rights Network International asked all of its affiliate organizations around the world to join the fray, encouraging cartoonists to send their cartoons to the Dutch Ministry of Justice for their considered approval.

To read the email to the Dutch Minister of Justice and the email addresses to send the cartoons, please visit:

For more information, please contact
Cartoonists Rights Network, International
Dr. Robert Russell
Executive Director
(703) 543-8727
Email: or