Comedy as an instrument of dissent


ITALIAN WRITER Umberto Eco deployed an ingenious plot device when he wrote his most famous novel, In the Name of the Rose. Several deaths become connected to the contents of Aristotle’s book on comedy, of which no real copy survives but which became the centre of controversy in the medieval context of the novel.

It became a source of criticism to the dogmas of different theologies and a topic of heated discussion, which in a way sets some people of influence in danger. To protect themselves, they seek to censor the proverbial book and its defenders. Without revealing the plot of the novel any further, it suffices to say that humour is as subversive now as this work of fiction underscores. Here are some real life examples.

The Danish cartoons of Muhammad
In 2005, the Danish newspaper published a series of comic strips about the prophet of Islam, Muhammad. Regardless of their content, which some critics have described as stereotypical and out of context, the reaction proves that a cultural representation like a cartoon is very powerful. The reaction was diverse and wide reaching. It started in the small acts of people who refused to sell and buy the newspaper on that day but also including protests locally and internationally, and lots of public discussion about the open criticism of Islam (as well as of the comics themselves).



The power of imagination: from prison to the world

Mana Neyestani is an Iranian artist who also pinpoints the political inclinations of the comic as a medium of communication. He has been in prison and is now an exile, where he started broadening his original topic –the Azeri minority in Iran – toward a broader commentary on oppression. This is some of his work.


This cartoon is about the effects of other countries’ sanctions about the Iranian nuclear program.



About the gay couples situation in the author’s country’s social scale.



Quite eloquently, the author titled this strip: “Come out, the world is beautiful”.


Humour also softens the criticism that, necessary as it is, it can seem to be below the belt. In any case, the repercussions of drawing a comic go beyond a simple laugh or filling a space in the paper. They propose a vision that more often than not needs to be confronted with prevailing ideas in a society. They eventually clash, as illustrated above, but they don’t need to be reduced to countries that we particularly know for being authoritarian. We found more good examples of artists using pencil and pen (or stencil and tablet) to send critical messages. Here two Americans samples of humour as instrument of dissent.


By Lalo Alcaraz, Hispanic American comic artist.



Lloyd Dangle’s creation, politically very engaged.


This article was originally published in Spanish on the website Wondrus. 


Written and translated by Luis Eduardo Barrueto
, a Guatemalan journalist and founder of Wondrus, an Internet depository for cultural and scientific curiosities and fun facts for Spanish speakers.

Photo credits:
(5,6) Attitude: The New Subversive Political Cartoonists

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