AT FIRST, Clay Jones was flattered. Then he learned more, and was repulsed.
Now, Jones, a self-syndicated political cartoonist based in Fredericksburg, Va., is declining the honor.
Jones discovered this week that a cartoon of his lampooning the president had been awarded a citation in the Trumpism Cartoon and Caricature Contest, as announced Monday by Iran’s House of Cartoon in Tehran. His cartoon spoofed Time magazine’s 2016 selection of Trump as “person of the year” by drawing a comparison to Hitler, whom Time named its “man of the year” in 1938.
Jones’s issue with the competition is that he now believes it is anti-American and anti-free speech.
“[House of Cartoon] may have good intentions, but I don’t want to be associated with them,” Jones tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “It can be perceived as not just an anti-Trump contest, but anti-American. I’m fine with criticizing America, or even our democratic allies criticizing America. But I don’t want to join our enemies in doing so.”
When he entered the contest several months ago via email, Jones says, he was unaware exactly who was organizing it, or that the group had held a Holocaust cartoon contest. He says he had received an invitation to enter via Facebook.
“I have an issue with a contest sponsored by the government of Iran that’s critical of free speech in the United States when they don’t allow freedom of speech, or freedom for the press in their nation,” Jones writes on his blog. “I have an issue with a contest that was a wolf whistle for anti-Semitism.
“Though the Trumpism contest wasn’t about any of that, it’s not a party I would accept an invitation to. If the Ku Klux Klan held a cartoon contest on economics, I wouldn’t want to enter, and I don’t want to be involved with a group that engages in anti-Semitism, no matter how their denial may be worded.”
Contest organizer Masuod Shojai Tabatabaei told the AP that the goal of the contest, as well as the exhibition of some of the entries, was “to show wrong behaviors by Trump in the framework of satirical portraits.” The contest chose honorees in the cartoon and caricature categories from among 1,600 artworks, organizers claimed. The winner in the cartoon category was Hadi Asadi of Iran, who received a $1,500 award. He told the Associated Press that he wanted his cartoon to point out President Trump’s “money-mindedness and war monger nature.”
The other American honoree in the cartoon contest was Ed Wexler, who is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons, and who entered a cartoon of Trump running from Russia, in a visual reference to “Indiana Jones.” Syndicate head Daryl Cagle is critical of Iran’s House of Cartoon, as well as the Federation of Cartoonists Organizations (FECO) and its ties to the Holocaust-themed cartoon contest.
Those groups “offer great prizes and five-star hotel trips to international cartoonists to build an image of legitimacy for their messages of hate,” Cagle says, “and they have been successful in dividing the international cartooning community, which led to France Cartoons and Britain’s PCO [Professional Cartoonists’ Organization] leaving FECO in protest of FECO’s continuing embrace of FECO-Iran.”
When Iran’s House of Cartoon was officially launched two decades ago, “I was one of the organizers,” says Washington-based cartoonist Nikahang Kowsar, “and the first exhibition was for charity to support children with cancer.”
Now, Kowsar — who fled Iran after being jailed for his cartoons — is critical of the House of Cartoon.
“It’s great to make fun of world leaders and collect masterpieces, but the question is: Why doesn’t the Islamic regime let Iranian cartoonists draw caricatures and cartoons of ayatollahs, the Revolutionary Guard’s General [Qasem] Soleimani … and all those leaders in charge of massacres and mass executions in the 1980s?” Kowsar says.
“It saddens me when artists participate in contests held by the ruthless regime just for prize money,” Kowsar continues. “I’m angry seeing good Iranian artists turning into bait for the regime’s propaganda. The organizers are calling the whole show ‘The Art of Resistance.’ Resistance to what? To freedom of speech? To democratic values?
“Imagine if a cartoonist inside Iran draws something about freedom of religion and criticizes the regime for murdering converts or Baha’is,” adds Kowsar, who is a board member of Cartoonist Rights Network International. “The cartoonist will have no choice but to leave the country before facing the interrogator and tons of charges such as ‘corruptor on earth.’ I’ve received death threats for less than this.”
The Trumpism contest has not responded to requests for comment.
As for Jones’s own participation, he writes: “I do not want to be with any group that engages in hatred, no matter how much fun it is to mock Donald Trump. But it’s not about Donald Trump for me.”