Jeff Danziger: Sole American In New Documentary On Political Cartoonists Of The World

Jun 4, 2014

Political cartoonist Jeff Danziger is well known for his scathing pen and ink portrayals of public officials, cultural controversies and just about any current event that's ripe for satire. Vermonters know Danziger from his work in the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. He also had a career teaching English at U-32 High School in East Montpelier.

But he tried out film recently when he was interviewed for a French documentary, Cartoonists – Foot Soldiers of Democracy.

The movie was selected for the Cannes Film Festival, and Danziger went to France to walk the red carpet with the other cartoonists featured in the film.

“It was wonderful. It was a sell-out crowd. Everyone in Cannes was very enthusiastic about it,” he said.

The film is a study of 12 cartoonists from around the world, and looks at the different challenges the cartoonists face. Danziger said that the problems that his cohorts face in other parts of the world are much more serious than in the United States.

CARTOONISTS- FOOT SOLDIERS OF DEMOCRACY from Cinextra Productions on Vimeo.

“The one cartoonist in Denmark who was attacked by Muslims, and then another one who actually was in Algeria and had his hands broken by the security police. So the film goes through their lives and shows a good deal of their work. And I was the American,” he said.

The film tries to impress on the viewers a sense of the importance of freedom of expression and what cartoonists do to protect it. And Danziger said that in some parts of the world, cartooning holds more power.

“We tried to point out that the governments that try to push back on cartooning and the same people who try to push back, government leaders, who try to push back on writers, poets and musicians, they really are going about it the wrong way because it simply increases the power. Once some of these cartoons, or music, or any of it gets through, it has that much more power,” Danziger said.  

Danziger say that in the United States, cartoonists don't face the same consequences, and there’s more competition for political humor, satire and commentary. “Everybody, from Jon Stewart to the people who are making movies and television shows about the government and politics, I almost have to not watch them because it influences the way I think about it,” he said. Still, some things don’t end up in his cartoons.

The film tries to impress on the viewers a sense of the importance of freedom of expression and what cartoonists do. And Danziger says that in some parts of the world, cartooning holds more power than it does in the U.S.

“There are things that are just off the table right away, for example, these two horrible stories that have just come out, in Pakistan about the woman being stoned and the story about the rape in India. These things are just, I don’t have anything to say about them,” Danziger said. “And I almost, with the slaughter story in California, I almost was willing to let it go, but again, we have the same issue about gun control and who should be able to get guns, and what the second amendment really means. I can do things on that.”

Danziger just released a sizeable book called The Conscience of a Cartoonist with the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, which includes cartoons and essays.

The 600-plus page book starts with his work before the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

“I was here when it happened. I remember it very well, as the rest of New York does. It goes through bit by bit, mostly the Bush administration and what they did, and then it begins again with the Obama administration and the various wars that came out of that. It’s kind of a history lesson, and it’s sort of talking about what it’s like to try to put history and journalism day by day into a graphic form,” he explained.  

In addition to his syndicated cartoons, Danziger still draws cartoons about Vermont politics.  He stays connected to the state, spending most of his summers at a camp at Lake Groton, and he also has a house in Burlington, and says he’s here as much as he can be: “I live Vermont in my own head.”