The return of political cartoons

“You cannot mock a great leader in an Asian Confucian society.
If he allows himself to be mocked, he is finished.”
Lee Kuan Yew commenting on how the media portrayed the Tiananmen demonstrations using cartoons and caricatures

Election fever and the lack of state regulation online saw a resurgence in a graphic form that has almost become extinct in Singapore: political cartoons.

Throughout the 2011 General Election, several blogs published cartoons on how they saw the hustings, often poking fun at politicians and the remarks they made. Below is a list of some of them, click to check out their cartoons!

Except for Cartoon Press, the other five blogs have been around for  a while. Both My Sketchbook and Blinking Brink are the oldest, having been around since 2006.

While the cartoons may look amateurish, their content is much more hard-hitting that what you’ll find on the newspapers, where editorial cartoons like these have traditionally been found. The government’s tight control of the mass media over the last few decades had forced out similar work from pioneers like Kwan Sai Kheong, Tan Huay Peng and Morgan Chua.

The late Kwan freelanced for the Singapore Free Press and The Straits Timesbetween 1946 and 1951, before he eventually became a Permanent Secretary. He also designed the Merlion statue. Peng joined ST in 1955, and when he left in 1962 he was the paper’s Chief Artist. Even after his departure, the late Peng continued to contribute work to the paper till the ’80s. Finally, Morgan started out at the Singapore Herald, and after the newspaper got banned in the 1970s, he left for Hong Kong to draw for the Far Eastern Economic Review for the next 25 years.

The generation of editorial cartoonists that followed, like ST’s Dengcoy MielLee Chee ChewThe New Paper’s Lee Hup Kheng and Lianhe Zaobao’s Heng Kim Song did not draw their inspiration from politics, or at least local politics. The only exception, although his work was not published in newspapers, was George Nonis who published two cartoon books documenting the generational change in Singapore’s politics with his Hello Chok Tong, Goodbye Kuan Yew (1991) book, and a decade later, From Kuan Yew to Chok Tong And Beyond (2001).

If you’re interested to find out more about editorial cartoons and Singapore’s history, check out Lim Cheng Tju’s Singapore Comix. He has also been written well-researched pieces, including Lest We Forget: The importance of history in Singapore and Malaysia Comic Studies.


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