Archive for December, 2010

By Mike V. Derderian

Meeting renowned Editorial Cartoonist Kevin ‘Kal’ Kallaugher was quite unplanned. After receiving an e-mail from the press office at the American Embassy in Amman and having been a fan of his work I knew I had to interview the man, who was The Economist‘s editorial cartoonist and whose career in cartooning spans 33 years.

For a writer who is more and more gravitating to the world of cartooning, comics and graphic novels it was an opportunity not to be missed; and above all it was everything I expected: Amiable, informative and extremely fun.

The whole time he was talking during the press conference at Dar Al Anda I was smiling. Why? I knew and understood what he is talking about, whether it was the discipline, dedication and euphoria after finishing a cartoon or trying to redo a cartoon after an editor had second thoughts about the message it gave out to people.

Kevin, who is known in the cartooning world as Kal, was sitting less than a meter away from me during a press conference, minutes before a collective cartoons exhibition, with the Jordanian Cartoonists Association, was inaugurated.

A day later I was sitting with him at the busy lobby of the Grand Hayyat having a casual friendly chat about cartooning and cartoon characters—it wasn’t until a few minutes later that I pressed the record button of my tape recorder as I just wanted to talk and listen to the man.

“We talked to cartoonists and animators and held a few discussions on the effects of internet on cartooning, “Kal said, before asking me, “That’s were you are heading, right?”

Working as a daily cartoonist in Great Britain for 10 years, 23 as a cartoonist in the United States of America, and 33 years as a cartoonist for The Economist, I asked Kal the question that everyone wants to hear its answer: What motivates him to continue drawing?

“Every cartoonist’s journey is different. It all depends on the type of cartoons they do, the market at the time and the country they are living in; there is no standard. It is not like becoming a lawyer where you know exactly the course you need to take! The one unifying feature for all cartoonists is passion! You don’t go down this path unless you are really committed and so committed that you still want to do it even though that no one is paying you to do it,” Kal explained.

Remembering how he used to wallpaper his wall with rejection slips Kal added, “Even the very best cartoonists had stumbling blocks when they started out. Even the very best at the beginning weren’t very good. It is very rare for somebody to be great from the beginning,” Kal, who considers his visit to Jordan and Beirut a fantastic opportunity to learn about Arab cartoonists, emphasized that everything that one needs to learn about cartooning is done by learning from other cartoonists.

“You have to try and experiment a lot. In my case I was very lucky as my first opportunity turned out to be The Economist but that was only after seeing 30 other publications, shown lots of work and drawn and drawn. I tell people that I was in a very good position over the years of hiring cartoonists for newspapers. This guy is good and this guy is good. I tell people that I would not hire me when I started because I wasn’t very good. I was raw and needed time to mature like a good cheese. I smell like a good cheese now! It is really important to keep on drawing,” Kal wholeheartedly said,” I guarantee you that one year from now your comic strip will be better than it is today. It could be excellent now but one year later it will be better. My cartoons today are better than they were a year ago.”

Kal believes that are no schools or universities for teaching how to draw cartoons. “Everything we learn about cartooning we learn from other cartoonists, either presently living or those who have been in the trenches before us,” Kal stated, “I also hope to share my experience with the cartoonists in Jordan and Beirut.”

On March 17 Kal visited Dar Al Anda again to hold a lecture about the medium of cartooning with Jordanian cartoonists Emad Hajjaj and Nedal Hashem, the creator of http://www.arabcartoon.net.

“I was lucky to travel the world and meet and learn from many talented cartoonists. It is also an honor to have my cartoons exhibited with the cartoons of Jordanian cartoonists,” expressed Kal, who considers cartoonists from around the world individuals belonging to an international brotherhood and sisterhood.

The exhibition’s importance lies in the fact that it brought into attention the efforts of the Jordanian Cartoonists Association in raising knowledge about Jordanian cartooning scene and cartoonists.

“We are living in an astonishingly historic time in the experience of cartooning! Cartooning has been developing for 200 – 300 years and it’s bound to the printed page but now with the advent of internet we are seeing and in a very short period of time that the world’s eyeballs are moving from pages to a screen; cartoonists need to move from pencil to pixels. This has caused a great deal of trauma in the cartoon world. People under the age of 25 in the United States don’t read newspapers ,” Kal stated, answering my question about the impact of internet on the cartooning world, during the press conference, before adding,” the advertisers who help pay for newspapers are leaving to go to the internet. Major newspapers are closing down and firing cartoonists and people are worried that this craft that has been evolving for centuries maybe dying but I see great hope in the internet.”

Kal believes that new opportunities for satire and pictures will find a way.  “Since the time of cave painting when humans tried to capture pictures using their hands and tools man has always used tools at their disposal as an effective way to communicate so the new young generation of cartoonist will find a way to harness and use the internet through comics and animation,” Kal added.

In addition to the works of Hajjaj’s and Hashem’s works the works of Jordanian artists like Osama Hajjaj, Mahmoud Hindawi, Omar Al Abdalat (the cartoonist not the singer) and Amjad Rasmi were hanging next to Kallaugher’s.

People visiting Dar Al Anda will also find the Kartoonjeeeh book, which is published by the association, and that is now available in the market, and that showcases the talents of artists like Jalal Al Rifai, the head of the association, Mahmoud Al Rifai, Baha Salman, Abo Afefa, Hani Masoud, Yazeed Alian, Abd Al Rohman Al Jaabari and Salah Adarabeh is a great reference to any aspiring cartoonist.

Anyone interested in Kal’s Magnum opus should look for Drawn from The Economist (1988), a collection of his Economist drawings, in addition to KALtoons (1992), KAL Draws a Crowd (1996), and KAL Draws the Line (2000), which are collections of his Baltimore Sun cartoons, and a new collection entitled KAL Draws Criticism that was published in June 2006.

First published in The Capital Amman April 2010

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By Mike V. Derderian

Meeting artist, graphic designer and art director Rami Afifi was a bizarre experience. It was like gazing at one of his drawings and posters.

Did I mention it was fun too! An hour and a half was spent on a non-stop conversation about graphic art, drawing, freelancing in Jordan and comics in addition to Jordan’s rising young art scene.

I didn’t press the record button and fire away a flurry of questions as expected during an interview. We talked over beverages at Books@cafe’s terrace where Afifi’s voice was eclipsing the voices coming from surrounding tables.

“I thought you started that thing from the moment we sat! Well, I grew up watching lots of cartoons. I dreamt of being one—a cartoonist. I used to doodle a lot. My mother’s father used to draw caricatures. I thought it would have been cool to do that for a living. Something like creating games and building LEGOS for a living—I am not sure the later is legit!” Afifi started talking with a laugh, “I didn’t think it was going to happen. I told my father and he looked up graphic design which was under engineering so he told me to go for it.”

Long before meeting the creator I met his versatile creations at Foresight Art Center within a collective art exhibition entitled Freshly Squeezed.

I cannot recollect what Afifi wrote about himself in the brochure but I vividly remember loving his misshapen colorful monsters and his style of sublime drawing and graphic design.

A few years later and after a friend of mine invited me to join a social network called Facebook I found Afifi and added him as a friend hoping to meet him in person one day; that day arrived a few days ago.

Afifi wanted to study animation but he soon realized that graphic design was his true passion. “As much as I love drawing I am better at graphic design,” Afifi with a wink stated, “I love to design a character and then give it to an animator. It is easier that way!”

Whether its closed mouths did not hide a set of razor sharp teeth or oversized hands, elongated arms and legs gave it a harmless appearance, a monster is a monster, and believe me you haven’t seen monsters like Afifi’s.

“I just allow my hand and the pencil to guide me through. I don’t lift the pencil off the paper until it is complete. The lines interconnect,” Afifi explained to me how he drew his monsters, “it didn’t take me much time to realize that in addition to drawing them I loved coloring them. It was like going back to childhood coloring basics!”

After graduating from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in England 2006, and upon returning to Jordan, Afifi joined Leo Burnett as their art director.

“Working at Leo Burnett means my career isn’t my hobby!” Afifi, whose art nowadays can be found on Philadelphia Skateboards, which is the first Arab skateboard shop, launched by Jordanian Skateboarder Mohammed Zakaria, in the Middle East,said with a smile.

Afifi’s parents decided to move from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Jordan while he was studying graphic art in England. “I am now really comfortable in my life in Jordan. I met a lot of creative people while living here. I am able to do a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to do if I lived abroad,” Afifi said, adding that Jordan has a budding art scene that revolves around the big fish small pond principle.

Still Afifi acknowledged that sometimes the best laid plans aren’t the best at all. “Initially I wanted to work as a freelancer in Amman but after doing it for a while I didn’t want to do it anymore. Freelance has a lot of politics involved, convincing and trying to get paid. As art director I don’t deal with a client directly. Someone else does that and gets back to me,” Afifi admitted.

Afifi has so far designed six Philadelphia skateboard decks that have attained international fandom among avid local and international skateboarders.

Two of these decks have his bizarre signature monstrous creations, another has a mustachioed man wearing a cape holding a crooked boomerang, and the fourth is called The Three Wise Men, which showcases the faces of three mustachioed men wearing Arabian headpieces that are arranged vertically across the deck.

The new wave, a three deck collection, that was completed a few weeks ago reflect some of the Middle East’s funny clichés like a gray donkey with a word bubble that says “my camel’s in the garage.” The second deck has the hairy chest of an Arab man revealed through an unbuttoned shirt, while the third has seven sticks of dynamite that appear to be attached to the deck with the phrase, “Philadelphia is the bomb.”

Anything that promotes local culture is of interest to Afifi. The young artist has designed posters for local and international musicians and bands like Ramallah Underground.

If you were present during Go Nagai’s recent visit to Jordan and appearance that took place at the Royal Film Commission you would have probably caught glimpse of a mustachioed young man handing Go Nagai a poster of Grendizer waving a Palestinian flag; well that was Afifi.

“I had two exhibitions in England before the one in Foresight. Some of the pieces that I exhibited made it to Computer Arts Magazine, which was at the time the number one creative magazine.”

As we talked about the amazing cover art and artwork of Preacher, a series by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, Afifi acknowledged that he is a big comic and graphic novel fan. Preacher, 100 Hundred Bullets, Kick Ass, Watchmen, and All Star Superman, are among the 100 and more comics and graphic novels that he owns and that he advises comics and graphic novels fans to read.

From where does he draw inspiration? “I am inspired by many things in life but I cannot imagine how some people can work without listening to music, which happens to be one of my main sources of inspiration!”

So any upcoming projects? “There are so many projects that I am working on at the moment like art exhibitions and other creative stuff that I cannot talk about it yet,” Afifi concluded.

Well, keep a lookout for Amman’s cultural calendar entries for who knows when we might all end up singing a different version of The Automatic’s Monster, ” What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a Rami Afifi monster? Is it a Rami Afifi poster?”

To learn more about Rami Afifi and his art jump down the rabbit hole [go online]:

http://ramidesign.kattan.org/

http://ramidesign.deviantart.com/