An Offensive Cartoon?

As you may or may not know, I’ve been working on a project with Chris Pirillo for a few months now called Blaugh: The Unofficial Comic of the Blogosphere.” Chris does most of the writing and I do the art, and we’re soley sponsored by GoDaddy. It’s a great little gig and it’s been a fun ride with very few, if any, bumps in the road… until yesterday.

Last week Chris emailed me Monday’s gag (which I loved):

Terrorist #1: “Did you bring the liquid explosives?”
Terrorist #2: “Nah, I just scored some Sony batteries from eBay.”

So as usual, I ran with it and by letting my cartoonist instincts take over I created the following cartoon:

Chris emailed me a little while later saying he was woried that it’s too offensive, can we racially neutralize the characters before publishing it? What was that?!? I was pretty stunned to be honest. Isn’t this what terrorists look like? His fear was offending “a sh*t load of people” and my fear was having our work censored.

So after some colorful back and forth IM discussion, and Chris running it by a few members of his crew, the decision was to compromise and put ski masks on the terrorists to diffuse any possible racially profiling interpertations. Here’s the edited version:

At first I thought it worked better due to the language slang used in the caption, like “nah” and “scored”... that’s something I can’t see an Islamist ever saying. But after sleeping on it, I like the original art better and think it’s a better cartoon than the the edited ski mask version if we just un-slanged the caption.

The original seems more real to me, am I really being culturally insensitive?? I don’t think so. Has this country gotten so concerned with political correctness that we have to worry about offending terrorists now? After all, I am caricaturing the people who bombed the stuffing out of us, right?

Does that mean I need to start worrying about all my other characters now? Should I not make african americans with fuller lips?  Should I be concerned about offending audience members with large noses? What about Geeky glasses? CEO’s? Stupid people? Smart People? Women? Kids? SpammersProstitutes? Flight Attendants? Overweight people??

I don’t see any other cartoonists softening up their caricatures of terrorism. You’re always going to offend someone somewhere with something…  it’s inevitable, that’s just how it is in this world of “PC”.  I’ve never been a fan of trying to please everyone or tip-toeing around issues over-populated by the Unaware.

I’m interested in your thoughts about this and would really like to hear your viewpoints so please, don’t let the terrorists win, take a moment to comment below. 

And for the record, my sincere apologies to all those that might be offended by the above cartoons, skiiers and snowboarders included.

51 Replies to “An Offensive Cartoon?”

  1. Pingback: Flight of an Eagle
  2. Brad,

    The original is superior, to be sure. More likely to offend? Only because it is truer to life. It is hard not to notice that truth has become pretty offensive in our postmodern world.

    Just point to Season 4 of Fox’s 24 and say: “It’s okay to depict a terrorist as middle-eastern.” The villain’s name was a Turk with the Arabic name Habib Marwan, for crying out loud. Where was the outrage at that?

    I guess you have to balance being true to your own clarity of sight and not getting a fatwa declared against you.

    Keep drawing, man.

  3. While I don’t subscribe to the popular belief that the terrorists hail from foreign soil i think the first one is great because it is the face of terrorism. Far or not I think we all have our time to be roasted, part of being a human being. There are some who will always be offended no matter what, do we then need to censor? We might as well set aside any personality traits that make us differ cause it’s bound to offend somone. Anyways ou can tell where I stand suppose. And as those hip-hop guys say”keep it real”

  4. I commented on Chris’ site and I wrote:

    I?m not sure who you?re concerned with offending. Are you afraid of offending Islamofacist terrorists? It seems so.

    It?s like making a comic ridiculing Nazis or Hitler and not showing their Anglo faces or that they have swastikas or German uniforms. It would make no freaking sense.

    For the record I think they were both funny but it?s sad that you were worried about offending those that would hack your head off without a second thought.

    Needless to say I think it’s sad that any of this was an issue at all.

    You questioned whether you were being culturally insensitive. Is that the culture of terror. Should you be worried of being insensitive to terrorist killers? No.

  5. Hank wrote: “I don?t subscribe to the popular belief that the terrorists hail from foreign soil …”

    If you’re British, that makes sense. If you’re American, read this list of terrorist attacks against US or her citizens in the past 100 years:

    Of the 30+ incidents listed, only Oaklahoma City was initiated by US citizens.

    Foreign-based terrorism against the US isn’t a “popular belief”, it’s established history.

  6. Brad, I like the first version better. I agree with you – the world has gotten far too PC. Thanks for sharing your original version with us.

  7. Established history is an interesting concept. Not always truth, not always false. I suppose that Brad and Chris’ cartoon is in reference to recent scrutiny from the TSA which is the most recent step stemming from the incident on September 11th. To be more clear I don’t beleive everything that we are being told about that event. If you want to Mark that’s your call and I take the liberty to make mine.

    Brad once again great work!

  8. Personally I find the second comic (with the ski mask) funnier. That’s because I think it looks more goofy than the original. And isn’t the purpose of the comic to be funny?
    bLaugh should be light-hearted, and make people laugh. If you start bringing politics into the picture things get serious real fast. And that’s not funny.

  9. The guys in the ski mask idea does not work because it is too unrealistic. These two would never make it out of the parking lot dressed like that, let alone to board a plane.
    The first idea is better.
    Side note: I draw cartoons. All my characters have giant noses….and they were white. Somebody said I should put some minorites in my comics. So I did. Tons of complaints from minorities, all with the same complaint quite drawing minorities so exaggerated. I said I did whites that way, too. Do what you want to whites, but not us was the reply. I stopped putting minorities in my comics, not more complaints.

  10. I don’t know. I always think the ‘let’s stick it to PC’ argument is a cop-out. Many people complain about our politically correct times. “I can’t believe you can’t call him short, you have to say ‘vertically challenged'” etc. Yet I’ve never known a person to say something like that and not mean it anyway but vaguely (ie. no personal experience being confronted by an angry midget). It’s an easy way for people in the majority-and that’s not always race, it could be height, weight, wealth-to feel put upon and it’s good fodder for the Blue Collar (ugh) Comedy Tour but it really isn’t funny in and of itself.

    Also, this cartoon reminds me a little of an editorial cartoon and those generally leave me flat.

    I think the masks are more ridiculous (did they drive to the airport with them on? go through a Dunkin’ Donuts? kiss their mother goodbye? was she wearing one?) and, so, funnier. I also like how confident they are.

  11. I don’t know if this gag is worth drawing a third time, but I would probably like it best with a Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre character.

    Good illustration, by the way. The Middle-Eastern characters’ design is a little slicker.

  12. I like the original, but they’re both good. I like the joke too. People shouldn’t take everything so seriously. This ‘toon pokes fun at Sony, not terrorists….

  13. Hiya Brad…

    As humour, the ski-mask cartoon is much funnier than the original.

    As social satire, the original is more ‘cutting’.

    In terms of politics, the original is pretty right-wing, even though that was probably not intentional.

    The trouble with the original is that it buys into the propagandistic notion that ‘all terrorist threats against the US at the moment originate in the Middle East’.

    It’s offensive, NOT to Arab terrorists, but to Arab NON-TERRORISTS.

    See… here’s the problem… if you were of Arabian extraction walking down an American street, you’d be ‘under suspicion’ of being a terrorist. Automatically. Without any recourse to logic or anything else.

    And this suspicion is a media-created, media-generated suspicion.

    Xenophobia is a created phenomenon. It’s not intrinsic to a society. If America were intrinsically xenophobic, there would be no Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, African-Americans, Arab-Americans, etcetera etcetera.

    The fact of America is that it IS multicutural. Through non-xenophobia. With another fact loaded on the back of that… Under the Bush administration, America has turned into the most xenophobic nation on earth right now.

    Well… that’s my perception as a South African.

    The value of toning down your cartoon is NOT in turning it PC, is NOT about ‘not offending terrorists’, is NOT about being careful about how you say things. The value lies in understanding how right-wing agendas are spread, and how the ‘typical Arab’ is a meme being used to demonise the Middle East and to legitimise the Bush war effort.

    That’s my theory, at any rate. And yeah… I’m very much a left-winger.

    Blue skies

    PS: I LOVE both versions of the cartoon, regardless. With the ski-mask one making me laugh out loud.

  14. Hey Brad

    Like Roy, I’m also South African and I agree utterly with your views on the PC side of things. You show your openness of mind in that arena clearly.

    Unfortunately you then go on to betray a pretty blinkered view of the world – the point for me is not whether you’re offending terrorists or not – it’s that you (and every other person who has commented, besides Roy) automatically assume that a terrorist is of Middle Eastern origin.

    I hate to be the one to break it to you guys, but there are other issues in the world apart from the beef between Islamic fundamentalists and Americans. Ever heard of Baader-Meinhhof, or the Red Brigades? Or Patty Hearst for that matter.

    The point I’m making is that to a vast amount of people in the rest of the world, BOTH the US and the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are equally to blame for making the world a less pleasant place to live in, each of you in your own way.In fact many people outside the US would actually call America the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world. Case in point: the CIA founded Al Quaeda in the first place, as I hope you realise, so that they could act as a terrorist group against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Altho then they were called “resistance fighters” – but let’s not go into taxonomy here.

    Don’t you think it’s time all decent Americans stood up and were counted?

    Just some broader perspective for you, for what it’s worth. And just in case anyone’s tempted, no I do NOT support any terrorist organisations, be they Islamic or US-sponsored.

  15. i think the only reason the 2nd doesn’t work so well is yeah the slang but mainly you could never be around an airport in those balaclava masks without attracting attention.

    on the other hand i kinda thought real islamic extremist bombers usually dressed in jeans like students, not in extra-cultural-looking clothes.

    but anyway. just my 3 cents.

    and i mean…. it’s just a cartoon, you know?!

  16. In humour it’s the incongruous that makes us laugh. So LOGICALLY you can’t have two OBVIOUS terrorists approaching an airport. But in the world of humour, we look at the ski-mask clad villains, and go, ‘Duh! These terrorists are realllly dumb!’ Which is, in part, why it’s funny. It’s also why the first version depicting the terrorists in traditional clothing is funny…. simply BECAUSE they would NEVER bomb a plane dressed like that.

  17. I think it is pretty clear that you have already decided you don’t find the original wrong or offensive. I’m not sure why you opened it up for public discussion. It sounds like you just wanted to bitch. The fact of the matter is, the first probably could offend muslims or people of Middle Eastern origin, who live in America and are American citizens, and most likely NOT terrorists. You’re apparent anger toward having to be “politically correct” is just a cloaked groan towards having to take the time to be sensitive towards the feelings of anyone other than yourself.
    As a visual artist who is creating images and ideas it is your duty to be attuned to your role in our world and any stereotypes or prejudices which you may be further propagating. I think your collaborator was extremely acute in his original apprehensions. My first impression when viewing this cartoon was, “What is this racist,ignorant bullshit”? To me it seemed like just one of many unenlightened and dim-witted perspectives on our current state of being.

  18. To me, the original drawing continues an ethnic and religious stereotype which portrays terrorists as brown skinned men in traditional muslim clothing, not to mention, gigantic noses which have historically been used in illustrations to degrade or mock non-white ethnicities such as jews and people from the middle east,linking them to a historic characature of “the villain” as well. This drawing could just as easily portray two white kids in black trenchcoats, wearing T-Shirts commemorating Timothy McVeigh. You make it clear that you aware of the possibility this cartoon depiction may offend, and yet you post it anyway, posing it as a forum for debate (which it obviously has become), yet also adding the tagline,”Don’t let the terrorists win”.

  19. I found the original image of uptight Republicans dressed up in Muslim Fascist halloween costumes to be a bit offensive. Nobody would make a costume with such obvious racial characteristics, for fear of being called unimaginative.

  20. I don’t understand how you were able to take this photo. The last time I was at the airport they took my camera away. How did you get the sppech bubbles in there? Do you have a special camera?

  21. As a non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-American, I find the stereotypy of the unedited cartoon *grossly* offensive.

    To my own (admittedly biased) view, the cartoon would be inoffensive to those who:
    (1) Swallow the stereotype that Arab peoples are intrinsically more dangerous than non-Arabs;
    (2) Don’t care who they offend and what stereotypes they propagate, or
    (3) are blind to the presence and influence of stereotype.

    It is my view that stereotypy is the root of racism, and that the way for us all to defeat racism in this modern world is to be deliberate and critical of the stereotypes that we accept and promote.

    The unedited cartoon shows no such care.

  22. Lets see who straps bombs to themselves and blow up innocent civilians?…..Oh yeah that would be radical MUSLIM terrorists. Fitz was dead on with his first cartoon. (Pardon the pun)

    Not all Muslims are terrorists obviously but all terrorist ARE Muslims.

    There is nothing racist in the cartoon. And to shrug it off as a ‘Stereotype’ is a cop-out. I better be offended I guess for assuming all skiers or those who wear ski masks are terrorists then! It’s the same moronic logic your using.

    Go point your finger at the Muslim idiots who have no problem blowing anyone else up to somehow prove a point and leave the legit well executed and accurate cartoon alone.

  23. Oh for heaven’s sake Vonster, how can you have such a tiny world view as to believe that all terrorists are Muslims? Have you never heard of the IRA, Baader Meinhof, the Red Brigades – all lily white and European. And those are just the famous ones. Carry on like you are and you’ll never see it coming dude, ha ha ha!

  24. Look it’s pretty simple and is in context of the war on terror which the last time I checked didn’t involve the IRA or the other two you mentioned.

    Terrorism can be prerformed by anyone that much is obvious, but this cartoon isn’t speaking towards that now is it? No, it’s relaying the recent war against those who stuff explosives in shoes, hide bombs on buses, blow up night-clubs in israel and asia, lop off heads in Iraq and Afghanistan and fly planes full of people into large buidings. All of these variety of terrorists ARE Muslims.

    If you want to think it’s a peaceful and tolerant religion that’s fine, keep on hugging them and expect them to be reasonable. But seeing how they’ll go ballistic over a simple Allah cartoon and demand justice via the sword doesn’t speak very highly of their so called tolerance.

    So my original quote was correct in context of the war on terror. Keep appeasing because that works so well doesn’t it.

  25. Greetings,

    I am an Arab-American Muslim. I can harp on and on about the gross racial and religious stereotype and the negative ethnic undertones for pages and pages. But why? The truth is that Al-Qaeda, a criminal network of thugs and murderers, indeed is responsible for taking thousands of innocent lives. Weren’t they Arab? Yes. Weren’t they Muslim? So they said.

    Your cartoon fits the widely accepted standard for “terrorism” today. This era’s “War on Terror” (as if “terror” never existed before, in any other form or from any other ethnicity/religious group) has deliberately drawn the circles around the terrorists and the spotlight shines brightly on these highlighted groups. But would you consider, for instance, the planned blockade of medical and nutritional necessities that resulted in 2 million dead children terror? Anyone would proclaim an emotional “YES!” to this question — but has the media and politics painted the United States with the paintbrush of evil? Conveniently — no.

    Sure, we can isolate the last 5 years and begin keeping score September 11, 2001. In that case, the Muslim extremists that committed that crime are down. But if we take a peek back a few decades and investigate who trained, armed, and directed Osama bin Laden to fight proxy wars, we start to unravel the story that today’s politics has so tightly woven into a seemingly solitary thread.

    Nonetheless, I don’t enjoy talking history, politics, bloodshed and blame. I say we move forward. I say we forego the wide path of the status quo and seek the straight and narrow path of tolerance, coalition-building, and genuine truth-seeking. I am an American Muslim born to immigrant Arab parents who came to get their Ph.D. degrees. I was raised with stories of the suffering of millions of Arabs at the hands of the West, but it doesn’t matter any more. There comes a time in your life when you realize that blame begets polarization, polarization begets animosity, and animosity begets ignorance and confrontation. I’m ready to move past the viscious cycle in which humanity has trapped itself.

    To the artist, you have magnificent talent. You can use that talent to blend in with those who will sell principle for a few smiles or you can use it to fortify your own principles that will reverberate in the minds and hearts of all people of conscience. I am hopeful that you will choose to make your artwork truly move people.

  26. Hi Brad,
    remember me??….hay ur cartoon is great but we artists have always unwantedly narrow our thinking sometimes because the people whom we are making the cartoon are not that free in thoughts..great work!!

  27. Brad:

    I’d like to interview you about your work as an illustrator and comic artist for my site, Can you ping me so we might be able to discuss this. Sorry I didn’t think about this during our recent phone conversation.

    I think my readers would find your work very interesting.


  28. When was the last time you could see people walking through an airport with ski masks on?
    It doesn’t work.
    You were right on the money, as usual, with your own idea.

    politically Correct is believing one can pick up poo by the clean end.

  29. All I have to say is who cares about being politically correct and who cares who you may offend; that was just funny as hell! Isn’t being funny what cartoons are all about? Keep up the good work Brad!

  30. I’m guessing people who cry sentiments such as Erok and Marc’s wouldn’t have given two shits if the terrorists had been promoted as typical white, straight, averagely built men.

    I ask: if you raise the issue of the terrorists portrayed as being of a middle eastern origin, why didn’t you also notice that both terrorists are male? I don’t see you shouting about why there aren’t any female terrorists in it. That’s just as “relevant” a point as what you are proposing because, while all terrorists aren’t Muslim, they are by no means all male.

    It’s people like you that’ll lead us all to a life of so much political restriction that we won’t be allowed to so much as smile at anything remotely humorous for fear of being labelled racist, sexist or even some pathetic, made up term such as hairist.

    Get a grip.

  31. Ok, i won’t read the other comments before i write this cause i might get influenced and i’m writing very spontaneously cause i have to finish these illustrations i’m working on.

    I’m a Muslim and didn’t think ‘ahh this is offensive’ when i saw the first one and i do think it’s funnier than the second…and the lingo is fine’s a comic…if it was something else that was for example with veiled women or something more ‘muslim’ i think it would be offensive but seeing as it’s kind of a derivative of the ben laden ‘iconography’ it’s not offensive to me at all!! i don’t think figures are or should be associated with religion, i don’t think in my head..’napoleon did this’ oh shoot there go all the christians…same goes for ben laden….

    listen let’s face it, when it comes to comics, we take in what’s happening around us, and the visual symbols that have become part of us (whether right or wrong). I illustrate and I know what you mean, I’m lebanese and in the uae now and keep worrying i won’t offend any emirati if i make the lip a camel lip..bla bla..

    i just hope you’re not thinking in your head ‘these are the people that bombed the shit out of us’ is equivalent to all middle-eastern culture…if not? where’s the big deal??

    and going back to terrorists since this has sparked thoughts, i’m not for any form of killing, from ANY NATION, i don’t care where or if it is has or hasn’t been publicized, and mixed and stirred by the media…the word terrorist ironically sparks humour in my head, cause i am surrounded and squashed and probed by a WORLD of terrorists (dictionary definition) dressed in different shapes and colours..but let’s just say..some make it to their absurd hollywood (if you know what i mean- media, propaganda…) and some don’t.

    that’s all folks…and cheers your work is great!

  32. There’s no such thimg as offending someone, when you believe in what you do. As an artist the mistake is only yours. That doubt is just eating you. Honestly, I don’t think any work should be censored in any way.
    Here is a bigger, personal issue, there is a word you use “compromise”. WHAT IS THAT?
    I DO BELIEVE this is the one to judge!
    Otherwise, the original cartoon would have been just great!
    Sorry, Levi

  33. There is no inalienable right to not be offended.

    People need thicker skin, round the whole world.

  34. I am a Middle Easterner. An Arab-Muslim, to be more specific. I say, go for it. It makes the moderates speak up louder. The majority of us are against terrorists, too.

    Don’t forget the way we portray Jews on our comics. We deserve some of the bitterness in return. We have some lessons to learn.

    Go for the first. The hell with PC.

  35. Yeah. Nice artwork. Didn’t really get the joke.

    As for the terrorists. geeks, woman and so on..
    which ones are likely to not have a sence of humour?

    Are you willing to risk your life and your allies for a chuckle?

    Sad harsh FACT.

  36. The original art conveyed the truth. Being political correct is being a coward. If the terrorists or the citizens in the countries they reside can’t face the truth – too bad.

  37. Here ya go… keep the first one, and then, swing for the fences, and make one of the characters Mohammad!
    You know… just to see what’ll happen.

    Who cares if you offend by suggesting they’re violent. What are they gonna do? Form an angry mob, shoot AK47’s in the air, and throw rocks at buildings, flip cars and burn them to show they’re really a “peaceful” people and hate being misrepresented?

  38. I think that both versions of the cartoon work but it is unfortunate that being P.C. can make one censor themselves.

  39. I think there is nothing wrong with the first cartoon. It more accurately represents reality. I’m from Northern Ireland, which as you may know has a (past) history of terrorism, and I can tell you with certainty that if you had dressed up your characters as obviously protestant or catholic it would have caused no offence to anyone here.

    The problem with the cartoon then would be that no Irish terrorist has ever tried to blow up a passanger plane. That is a method of attack which is more associated with our fellow humans who occupy the middle east. Which is why the characters in the first cartoon are more appropriate.

  40. I thought the first one was way better but then I grew up reading Hustler Humor by age 8!

    Also I am looking for Vector drawing of : Bush, Chaney, Joe Biden, Nancy Peolosi, Arnold Schwartenegger, Osam Bin Laden and many more. Do you know wher I cna find them?

    Thanks very much


  41. Hi Brad,

    I certainly didn’t think for once that they were Muslims, so i guess its simply a matter of personal stereotypes.
    I think the best way to go about it is to simply treat these stereotypes as if they don’t exist ,you can only do so much to change opinions. after all you were only portraying what the real terrorists look like

  42. Are the first characters supposed to be Jewish? I don’t get it.

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