It’s not easy being an artist whose work is shown to an empty room. I should know. A few days ago two men apparently tried to express reasoned and evidence-based criticism of my (and others’) art at the Curtis Culwell Center in Galveston, Texas. That, or their intent was to kill comic artists and comic fans with the firearms and perhaps bombs they had with them.
Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi were prevented from making their case, but the attendees of this sold-out showing were forced out of the building. My art (inset above) and the other entries remained in situ, no one there to see them, and I have yet to read that the art has been removed from that empty room. Perhaps the ritual contamination of cartoon art cannot be scrubbed away, and the drawings will stay there forever like some funny-book Fukuyama.
I made the drawing in March for the Muhammad Art Exhibit & Contest, submitted it on March 31st, and it went on exhibition on May 3, 2015. The drawing is pen on paper, measures 8.5 inches vertical and 5.5 inches horizontal. The theme was a drawing of Muhammad, and my challenge was to make a drawing that identified the subject in a clever way.
I suspected that there would be other entries that were crude and so I wanted to make something more subtle, yet blasphemous. Perhaps Muhammad playing backgammon or singing or playing catch with a dog; innocent enough activities for many, black sins for most Muslims. But this left me with the need to identify that it was Muhammad doing these things.
A T-shirt saying “I am Muhammad,” perhaps? Not subtle. Then I remembered the comic strip character “The Yellow Kid.”
In the late 1800s comic art was still finding its basic vocabulary. While today we recognize techniques such as stink lines and word balloons, at the time there was no standard. Some characters talked by word balloon, others by captioned text, and the Yellow Kid conveyed his words by having them appear on his nightshirt. Here was my clever, subtle solution: portray Muhammad as the Yellow Kid.
Entries to the Exhibit & Contest were made electronically. I took a photograph of my drawing and emailed it to the organizers. They acknowledged receiving it on April 4. Prints of all the entries in a roughly uniform size were shown on easels. A prize was offered to the best entry as chosen by the organizers, and a people’s choice prize was offered to the best entry as chosen by the attendees.
The winner received a book reproducing all the entries. I think that’s the only copy of that book in the world. The Exhibition & Contest requested entries have the name of the artist visible on the work, and the right to publish the work online. Copyright of the work is retained by the artist. Congratulations to Bosch Fawstin for taking home both prizes for his entry below:
I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had to go into hiding, Bosch. If you’re lucky like some of the Jyllands-Posten cartoonists, you’ll have 24-hour police protection and only occasional hatchet attacks in your home. If you’re of more modest means, like cartoonist Molly Norris of ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’, you’ll have to change your name, abandon your friends and family, give up your career and live in hiding for the rest of your life. Good luck.
I like comics. I’ve taught myself to draw, and while I’m not as good as I’d like to be I am more skilled than I used to be. I’ve had a few showings of my art in coffee shops. I have art in the book “Revelation X” (New York: Simon & Schuster 1994) and “semiotext(e) USA” (New York: semiotext(e) 1987) and I have many decades of self-published art, both from the days of zines and online.
I make my own comics, and I’ve published comics by other people. I published the work of comic artist Mike Diana, above, shortly before he was arrested in 1991 for obscenity. For drawing pictures, Mike was sentenced to three years supervised probation, a fine of $3,000, mandated over one thousand hours of community service and required to attend an ethics in journalism class.
Mike Diana was ordered to stop drawing, a first in the history of comic art in the United States. All terrible, but nobody’s tried to kill him for his drawings yet. Maybe he’s a lucky cartoonist as well.
The webcams were still on when security cleared the exhibition room in Texas. That is how the United Kingdom newspaper Daily Mail was able to get a photograph of the drawings on display with only security officers there to appreciate them.
But the Daily Mail did not think their readers sufficiently mature enough to see a screen-grab of a video of a drawing (ritual contamination from cartoons is strong!) and so when the Daily Mail published a photograph of the event, they blacked out the drawings.
There’s a strange thing about censors. A censor can view an image and not be contaminated by it, but they prevent other people from seeing the image because other people will be contaminated by it. It’s almost as if there’s nothing contaminating at all about art, but instead it happens that some people want control over what other people can see and say and do. And the best way to sell such a limited diet is to say it’s all for the good of the patient. The doctor, he somehow doesn’t need the same treatment. Only your compliance and a modest fee.
I am an atheist. I don’t think of myself as the angry kind, or the new kind, more of the point and laugh kind. Because there are only a few big religions in the world they have the appearance of stability. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism – with only five major competitors they seem to have a corner on the mysticism market.
There are five religions today that hold the attention of almost everyone who believes in an invisible monster that lives in the sky. But there are millions of religions that came before them, that in their day seemed just as permanent that are now gone and forgotten. All an atheist has to do is be patient and he will see all religions rise up and die out.
It can be difficult to be patient when some people express their concern for an unseen all-powerful being by way of beheadings, throwing people off buildings, establishing rape-gangs, setting people on fire, throwing acid in their faces, hijacking planes and flying them into buildings, enforcing blasphemy laws – you know, being religious.
I am entirely confident that over time all major world religions today will be gone and forgotten. In the meantime, and these are mean times, there are a few places in the world where a cartoonist can point and laugh and probably (probably) not be jailed or killed for it. Don’t think of it as a duty to use your freedom of speech, but as a rare privilege that is under attack.
I am an amateur comic artist and an atheist, but I am more than that. Being known as “the guy who draws Muhammed” sounds as bad as being known as “the guy who was forbidden from drawing Muhammed”. I have family and friends, hobbies and favorite foods. I get out when I can and stay in when it’s rainy. I wrote a book called Confessions of a Failed Egoist, and I have a podcast called “A Man of Letters“.
I like Islamic architecture and calligraphy and feel a little sad there’s no such thing as Islamic sculpture, but it’s not my business to change that. My business is waving a tiny flag to signal those who like their freedom of speech that the light is dimming as the dhimmis increase.
All things are connected, but not all things are equally connected. There are attacks on freedom of speech from secular and religious angles, from the left and from the right. But these are not equal attacks.
From the left come the hives of politically correct insects, busybodies and fainting ladies, ready with their sensitivity trainings and their diversity quotas. From the right come, well, murdering Muslims.
Both have a steaming cup of “shut up” for you to drink, but I’m not confused about which offers more awful offal. I do my share of tweaking the nose of the scolds and bullies, but it’s the religious extremists (a code word for traditional and scripture-based religious people) who deserve a thorough mocking.
That’s the main difference between me and them. The worst thing I can do to them is draw a picture and write an essay. The worst thing they can do to those who draw pictures and write essays? They haven’t seemed to touched the bottom of that barrel yet.
I’ve read a few articles about the exhibition. A theme I see is that many people don’t think of Muslims are human beings. They don’t even think of Muslims as animals. Many people think of Muslims as numbers, or as chemicals. If you expose a Muslim to a certain stimulus, they will always and forever have a predictable response.
Two plus two is always four, two hydrogens plus one oxygen is always water, and cartoon plus Muslim is always death. I hate Islam – hate it plenty bad – but I have more respect for Muslims than most of their apologists do. I think Muslims are capable of being offended and not being driven to murder. I think Muslims are capable of all sorts of feelings, and having the moral and mental skills to recognize when acting on those feelings does well or ill in the world.
If I am wrong and the apologists for Muslim murderers are correct then there’s a case to be made for expelling every Muslim from every non-Muslim nation – or worse. But I am not wrong, and it is upon the peaceable Muslim world to use their numbers to root out the scripture-based rottenness in their religion. Join the secular 21st Century or be quarantined in lands that time forgot.
Muslim apologists keep pointing to the definition of Islam, saying it says of itself it is a religion of peace and therefore it is a religion of peace. But nothing can be defined into existence.
I can say that a unicorn is a horse with a horn on its head, but that doesn’t mean there are unicorns. Definitions are of limited value in understanding or describing the world. I keep looking at the actions and inactions of Muslims. I never fail to hear that it’s a minority of Muslims who act in traditional and scripture-based ways to convey their faith.
But what I don’t hear is why it is the majority of peaceful Muslims cannot clean their own house. It only takes a few Roman Catholic clergy to rape children, but it takes millions of good Catholics to keep their collection plates full. It only takes a few Muslims to try to kill cartoonists, but it takes millions of good Muslims to wail about Islamophobia and go silent about killing cartoonists. Some day I’d like the phrases “good Christian” and “good Muslim” to have the same bitter taste as “good German” used to have.
I don’t want to see even one more trigger warning. I don’t want social justice warriors insist an author or artist provide a trigger warning for their work, and I don’t want security officers warning of Muslims with their hand on the trigger.
• Editor’s note: Fawstin has since denied the report that he has been forced into hiding.