Exiled political cartoonist Nik Kowsar has been critical of the leadership in Iran for decades, having experienced death threats and imprisonment before leaving his homeland in 2003 for the safety of North America.
Kowsar’s flight, however, didn’t stop him from continuing to criticize Iran, where he has been sentenced in absentia for the content of his cartoons. Kowsar has received the international Award for Courage for Editorial Cartooning honor from Cartoonists Rights Network, and he says he saw street demonstrators carrying his cartoons during the nation’s protests in 2009.
Now, he wants to let Iranian citizens — and anyone else, really — in on the satire.
Timed to next week’s Persian New Year, Kowsar has just launched a cartoon generator website — Khodetoons — that lets members build and publish their own political comics.
“Members [can] use the characters to make their cartoons, and then share or post them anywhere they want,” Kowsar tells Comic Riffs. “It’s a new way to beat the Iranian government and criticize Iranian politicians and public figures.”
“Last year,” Kowsar continues, “a friend said that we need to do something for people who want to create cartoons, but possibly have not had a chance to polish their drawing abilities. We had to give a voice to those funny Iranians who loved to draw, but never tried or never had the chance to draw.”
On Khodetoons, the viewer can choose Kowsar-drawn characters and backgrounds, as well as balloons and captions.
The cartoonist notes that the site was built using Java to try to minimize firewall problems and, he says, government attempts to block the site.) He also says the site will be moderated to prevent plagiarism, libel or personal attacks.
“The whole thing is a sort of political and social [cartoon] activism to help the ‘green movement’ and the people opposing the ayatollahs,” Kowsar says. “We want to keep [Iranian citizens] enthusiastic and happy. They are having a hard time, so possibly this could encourage many people to look through this as a nonviolent disobedience and action.”