Cartoonu Habba: From navigating the digital age to dealing with trolls & threats, editorial cartoonists share the challenges of drawing truth to power

ByFathima Ashraf

Published Dec 12, 2023 | 2:39 PMUpdatedDec 12, 2023 | 2:39 PM

Featuring cartoon drawing workshops, contests, exhibition and discussions, Cartoonu Habba is oragnised to inspire youngsters to cartooning. (Supplied)

Cartoonu Habba (Cartoon Festival) held annually in Kundapur brings together cartoonists, enthusiasts and students under one roof since 2014. Featuring cartoon drawing workshops, contests, exhibition and discussions, the event is oragnised to inspire youngsters into cartooning.

Children at Cartoonu Habba drwaing contest. (Supplied)

Children at Cartoonu Habba drwaing contest. (Supplied)

“I’m from Kundapur. There is a legacy of producing so many cartoonists from here. When I came back from Mumbai in the early 2000s, I observed that a lot of youngsters are not interested in cartooning anymore. So we wanted to create an atmosphere – with exhibitions, contests and interactions – to inspire them to take up this artform,” says popular cartoonist Satish Acharya, who coordinates the event every year.

This year, the four-day event took off on 9 December. The theme, Satish says, is 2024. 

“We all know how important 2014 is in Indian history. A lot changed after that. So we thought 2024 would be a fitting theme for our tenth edition,” he adds.

Also Read: Bengaluru’s annual Kadlekai Parishe is back with a nutty crunch of history 

Challenges of drawing truth to power

The highlight this year was an interaction between popular editorial cartoonists — Sandeep Adhwaryu, Sajith Kumar, Panju Gangoli and Satish Acharya. In an engaging session, they spoke about their work, journey so far,  working style and challenges.

Cartoons exhibited at the tenth edition of Cartoony Habba. (Anusha Ravi Sood/The South First)

Cartoons exhibited at the tenth edition of Cartoony Habba. (Anusha Ravi Sood/The South First)

Editorial cartooning used to be fun earlier, but now it’s become difficult, shared Acharya.

“We are living at a time where just doing your job has become a difficult thing to do. Now people call us brave, courageous etc. and I laugh at that. It used to be fun to do cartoons of politicians but now it’s become something ‘brave’,” he shared at the event. 

For Sajith Kumar, cartooning is about voicing the thoughts and concerns of the common man.

“When I think of a cartoon, I think from the perspective of a common man. How it affects him, what his perspective is. I’m just giving voice to their thoughts and concerns,” he shared.

“When I go out and talk to people, I understand how they perceive news. I have realised that my readers are more knowledgeable and up to date than me. I keep that in mind when I start a cartoon. That’s a challenge I take everyday,” Kumar added. 

Also Read: Virat Kohli’s One8 Commune opens its doors in Bengaluru

Digital age is a double-edged sword

A lot has changed in the digital age.

“Earlier days, political cartoonists were the prime attention-getters. Now with all the social media platforms, every second you come across witty one liners and new memes. So we no longer get the most attention,” Sandeep Adhwaryu pointed out.

Sandeep Adhwaryu virtually attending the interaction on Day 2 of Cartoonu Habba. (Cartoonist Satish Acharya/ YouTube)

Sandeep Adhwaryu virtually attending the interaction on Day 2 of Cartoonu Habba. (Cartoonist Satish Acharya/ YouTube)

Social media has its positives also.

He added, “In terms of the competition it’s good because it strives us to work harder. Then there are the tools – the iPad, the tablets, the stylus, and all of those add to our productivity.  For me, the old process of pen/pencil on paper was tedious. Even though the end product will be good, the process was taxing. When I started drawing on the computer, it became easier. Then I could focus more on ideation and concept.”

Paper and pen has its own beauty, Acharya added. “However, the iPad is about convenience. You have lots of features there. It gives a better quality output for printing. Work becomes efficient. You can undo, add layers, copy-paste,” he shared with the audience. 

Also Read: Start eating positive grains, says Millet Man of India, Dr Khadar Vali

Will AI take over?

AI is definitely a challenge, especially to illustrators, Adhwaryu shared his concern.

“There are software these days using which one can give very short prompts to get wonderful illustrations within minutes. It could take us 2-3 days to do that work. And you can also tweak it to your liking,” he observed.

However, the ideas they generate may not be up to standard.

“It won’t be anywhere near what we (cartoonists) come up with,” he added.

Creative block is a luxury

During the session, all four cartoonists also shed light on their individual processes.

Satish Acharya and Panju Gangoli speaking at the session. (Cartoonist Satish Acharya/YouTube)

Satish Acharya and Panju Gangoli speaking at the session. (Cartoonist Satish Acharya/YouTube)

Panju Gangoli said, “When you have an idea of what you want, you start drawing. Then you erase, redraw and repeat until you get it. There are times when you get it right in one or two strokes.”

All of them admitted that just like writers get writers’ blocks, cartoonists also get creativity blocks.

“Off late, it’s much more frequent,” Adhwaryu quipped.

“When we are walking on a tightrope, blocks are bound to happen. We have to figure out how to navigate it during the times you are clueless,” he noted. To tackle it, he goes for a walk, plays with his daughter or listens to a song.

However, with a deadline in place, almost always you can’t afford to have a block, he added.

Also Read: What’s the secret behind Mysore Sandal Soap’s historic sales in November?

Demanding accountability

While talking about his political cartoons, Acharya highlighted the need for all to question the establishment.

Students visiting Cartoonu Habba 2023 at Kundapur. (Supplied)

Students visiting Cartoonu Habba 2023 at Kundapur. (Supplied)

“There is a huge machinery to promote the good things that the government does. Being a citizen, it’s our duty to question the government. It doesn’t mean that we hate them. We just want accountability. That’s the reason they hate journalists and cartoonists because we question the PR machinery,” he remarked. 

Satire has to be against the powerful, Adhwaryu chipped in.

“By definition, satire can’t be used to target the ones that are hurting. That’s not satire, that’s bullying. When 90 percent of the news cycle is driven by the government, 90 percent of cartoons have to be against the establishment. There is no other choice,” he added.

Also Read: How to make heritage site visits in South India an inclusive experience 

Facing the trolls

“Trolling is not new in our country, it’s become a profession now. That’s the only difference. Have faced backlashes before,” Ganguly said as he shared earlier instances of him facing backlashes.

Visitors at the Cartoonu Habba exhibition. (Supplied)

Students visiting Cartoonu Habba 2023 at Kundapur. (Supplied)

Acharya feels trolls take his cartoons more seriously than he does.

“Trolls are more organised now. They are not organic. Every political party has an IT cell, all of them troll me. Even cricketers and film stars have their army of trollers. So it’s become difficult to draw without offending anyone,” he detailed.

Adhwaryu added that he wants people to take his work seriously.

“The legitimate goal of a cartoon is to provoke– provoke people into thinking, not violence. For that, cartoons have to be taken seriously. It’s difficult to engage with people these days. Trolling doesn’t impact me anymore. You keep doing what you have to do,” he explained. 

Do they worry about court cases and being jailed?

Acharya nonchalantly said, “I have accepted my destiny. Whatever comes in my way. You can’t worry about things that are beyond your control. You just have to be sincere about your job.”

Adhwaryu added, “The environment has changed and is more challenging now the ever. But things are changing in my head too. The thing with satire and humor is that you can’t contain it. It will find its way. So you adapt. You have to say what you have to. That’s where the effort is.

Towards the end of the session, the cartoonists also demonstrated their drawing techniques, shared their processes and also took questions from the audience. 

Also Read: Chennai’s iconic Crowne Plaza bids farewell after nearly four decades

Cartoonu Habba, the annual cartoon competition, workshop and exhibition will be on till 12 December, 2023.