September 7, 2007
The student cartoonist responsible for the controversial comic that ran in UVa's student run newspaper "The Cavalier Daily," has been suspended indefinitely.
The comic was printed on Tuesday and entitled "Ethiopian Food Fight." It showed figures battling in loincloths. Grant Woolard, the author of the comic, issued the following explanation for the cartoon.
I wish to explain my comic and the rationales behind its creation so that critics of the comic may know what they are condemning.
Despite what has been written about the comic, not a single source has consulted me concerning its meaning. So I would like to take this opportunity to, once and for all, explain this with my own voice.
What does this comic mean?
I would first like to disambiguate the caption, “Ethiopian Food Fight.” Let us examine the first word. Why use Ethiopia as an example, especially considering that the country is not currently suffering a famine? Although famine today has by and large been eradicated in Ethiopia, his problem has plagued the nation in recent memory, The devastating famine experienced by Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s remains indelibly imprinted in the minds of recent generations as of one of the worst cases of human suffering. Hence, I used Ethiopia not to perpetuate a false image of the country today, but to invoke a strong reminder of a hardship that actually occurred in Ethiopia and is still occurring in many parts of the world today. This was by no means intended to negatively portray Ethiopia or its people. Similarly, depicting the Irish Potato Famine by no means implies a negative portrayal of Ireland. As for the depictions of the figures themselves, there have been criticisms that they are unnecessarily crude in an attempt to disparage Africans. Browsing through any of my other comics will make it clear that this simply a consistent and distinctive artistic style.
Returning to the second half of the title, the term “food fight”, was not meant to imply that the figures were fighting for food, but rather with food, as the common usage of the term suggests. In the most extreme cases of famine in many parts of the world, people have had to resort to eating what would otherwise be considered inedible in order to survive. Therefore, I am implying that, in a hypothetical situation, were anyone to have a food fight during a severe famine, these seemingly inedible objects would be used as “food”. This surrealistic hypothetical situation invites the reader to realize that what initially appears to be a joke reflects a sobering reality. For too many people in the world, this is what they have to eat to survive.
Does your comic trivialize starvation?
My comic does not trivialize starvation. Subject matter presented through the medium of a comic should not be assumed to be trivial. In fact, works such as those by Art Spiegelman, Marjorie Satrapi, or Peter Kuper, prove that comics can be a powerful medium for social commentary. Sometimes, the atrocities of the world are so outrageous as to render one speechless. At such times, comics can present the absurdities of reality in a way that other media cannot. This strip invites the reader to make a connection by presenting a surrealistic hypothetical situation based on a serious reality.
The message of a comic must be terse by its nature. This, unfortunately, often lends itself to multiple misinterpretations. Needless to say, this comic has been widely misinterpreted and was by no means created to suggest that certain people are “barbaric” or “inferior”, as some others claim. As a comic artist, I feel that it is sometimes necessary to address sensitive issues. However, had I anticipated the number of people hurt by this comic, I would not have deemed it worth running. I am upset that, due to previous comics, Quirksmith has gained a reputation for being merely offensive. As any one of my fellow comic artists can attest, I have always devoted much thought, time and effort into every comic I produce. I try to construct a work with substance, so it pains me when the message is obscured by misunderstandings. In the future, if tackling a sensitive issue, I will exercise much more consideration as to what could potentially be misconstrued as hurtful. For those who have been hurt by this recent comic, please understand that I have no ill intent.