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