How humour and the internet connect us all – insights and creativity tips from an award-winning international cartoonist
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 580 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
The Indian Cartoon Gallery recently hosted an exhibition of the outstanding works of Austrian cartoonist, Klaus Pitter. Titled Witty World, it featured over 90 of his collected works over the years.
Born in 1947, Klaus Pitter studied at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and holds a master's degree in graphic design. His cartoons have been published in a number of magazines, newspapers, and comic books.
See our earlier photo essays on the Indian Cartoon Gallery’s exhibitions from 2015 onwards here. VG Narendra, gallery manager and curator, is also Managing Trustee of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists (see Part I of our photo essay here, and curator insights on the art of caricature).
Klaus Pitter joins us in this chat on his artistic journey, cartoons as a medium of expression, the power of the internet, and tips for aspiring artists. Edited excerpts below:
YourStory [YS]: Tell us about your early influences in the world of art and cartooning.
Klaus Pitter [KP]: I was born in 1947 in a little village in Upper Austria. My father was a teacher, my mother was doing household work – and I liked to draw from early years on. I would “help” my mother cooking and I used to illustrate her recipe books – so this was maybe an early motivation.
When I was young, I found out it was better to create something new by myself than to fall into boredom like some of my schoolmates. I kept this habit till today, and my life as a cartoonist is still exciting.
At the age of 15, my interest in the art of cartooning grew even more. My father, although a teacher, was a fan of Donald Duck, so I was going through the visual world of Walt Disney.
I then got a little book, a Who’s Who of cartoonists and was enthusiastic at once. At that time we were attending classical music concerts with my class in the main city. As classical music was terribly boring for me at that time, I used to think of little stories I could draw – that's how it all started.
I sent my drawings to local papers and magazines. When I was 17, my first drawings were printed. This was very motivating, but I never thought I could make a living from cartooning..
At school, they advised me to study architecture because my visual imagination exceeded all other talents. But I soon found out that this was not the right thing for me and I changed to graphic arts.
[YS]: How did you get into cartooning and illustration as a profession?
[KP]: When I attended art class, I was already publishing my cartoons in an intellectual magazine in Vienna, called “Neues Forvm.” Later, I was asked to do the artistic production of a youth magazine. This was the time I learned what it means to be in “stress.”
Some years later, I did the same for a children's magazine as an illustrator. There was no computer programme, I did it all by hand with scissors and glue! After a few years, the magazine ceased publication – this was the beginning of my work mainly as an illustrator, for youth magazines and school books, but also creating my own cartoon books.
Later on, I started to take part in cartoon contests and participate in international exhibitions. I started to post more and more of my cartoons on social media. I appreciate the instant responses – something you could only dream of in times of printed cartoons.
My exhibition last year in the European Cartoon Center in Kruishoutem, Belgium and now in the Indian Cartoon Gallery in Bengaluru are pleasing consequences of my commitment to social media.
[YS]: What is so special about cartooning for you? If not cartooning, what would you be doing?
[KP]: By drawing cartoons you can express your ideas and thoughts in a way that is understood by many people – fortunately around the world. So it's a way to learn that we are all connected.
One of my tasks seems to be to make people think of what they are doing on and with this planet. Another task is to make my messages understandable, which sometimes means to reduce, to abandon unnecessary elements of my drawing.
Cartoons are also able to express things that are hard to be explained by words. And humour – the most important ingredient – makes people approach rules of life and of the world we live in, in a relaxed or laughing way, and may sometimes help to open eyes.
If not cartooning, maybe I would be making films – it's the connection of idea and the visual realisation that drives me onward.
[YS]: What do you see as the role of humour in these tough pandemic times?
[KP]: I think the role of humour, not only in pandemic times, is to take out tension when different views are clashing. There is a spark of humour in every situation, and this might help to prevent discussions on topics like compulsory vaccination from getting too stubborn.
[YS]: What does cartooning mean to you?
[KP]: To create cartoons by combining pictures, words, and thought into something new and humourous is a very fulfilling occupation. I do not think so much of my duty to society or of my responsibility for the education of humanity.
I think the most important is to keep a critical eye on my work and try to deliver high quality, or what I take for it. For me, it's a good sign if my cartoons allow different interpretations.
[YS]: How would you define success for yourself as a cartoonist?
[KP]: Success means when I consider one of my drawings to be satisfying to people and when I get this confirmed respond from other people also – that means it's not just my subjective imagination.
Of course, I also take it as success when I get invited to exhibit my works – as in the Indian Cartoon Gallery or in the European Cartoon Gallery in Belgium, or at some other place. And it is encouraging to be mentioned or awarded at international cartoon contests.
[YS]: How was the exhibition in Bengaluru received?
[KP]: I think my exhibition was very well received. There was quite a press echo, more than I could normally expect in Austria!
[YS]: What are your current activities during the pandemic crisis?
[KP]: One impact of the pandemic crisis was that there have been fewer orders – so the income was meager. On the other hand, there was more time to stay at home and at the desk.
So I have created many works which now wait for editors and publishers!
[YS]: What is your advice to aspiring artists and cartoonists in these difficult times?
[KP]: I think it is important to find your way and follow it persistently.
Some of my cartoons which later became quite successful nearly landed in the bin! It's important to pick up the threads and to stay confident with your work.
If you work as a freelance artist, your income can fluctuate strongly. It is better to work in a variety of graphic sectors, so you won‘t be dependent on just one.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new avenues for your creative core?