On Tuesday night, there were many attendees at the Benton Museum’s screening of “Mr. Fish: Cartooning from the Deep End,” followed by a Q&A session with Dwayne Booth, or Mr. Fish, himself and the director of the documentary, Pablo Bryant. The documentary follows Mr. Fish’s life through his career in cartooning, the struggle with getting his work published and how his work is used to promote a conversation in a political climate where current topics, such as religious extremity and warfare, are seen as too controversial to have a debate over.
Mr. Fish’s work is not for the faint of heart, as he often uses offensive images and profanity to connect with his audience. His work ranges from satirical drawings that may be taken in bite-sized chunks to photo-realistic pieces that cause the individual to think more about what is being said about the subject. One of his drawings features Jesus being depicted as a child that has nailed his hand to a dresser with the tagline, “Jesus as a young man learning carpentry.” Satirical cartoons such as these are the embers through which Mr. Fish wants to ignite a conversation amidst his audience in order to make them think about what exactly makes an image offensive.
“Right now, we live in a time where the contradictions of reality are such that only cartoons can really stab the heart,” Charles LeBel, a PhD student in Spanish under the Literature, Culture and Language program, said. “No one’s going to read a 40 page article that presents a reality as brutal and still allow it to be funny…We need breaths of laughing in stuff that we find disgusting.”
Following the screening of the documentary, Mr. Fish and Bryant interacted with the audience through a Q&A session where they discussed the making of the film and Mr. Fish’s reasoning behind the use of profanity and vulgar depictions of people or objects in his work. In one exhibition of his work, “MIND OVER BODY,” several prominent figures and celebrities have their heads drawn onto the nude bodies of women in suggestive poses.
“Nudity to me, again, is just a statement of fact. I don’t find it offensive, it actually exists as the natural state. So to say to look at something that is in the natural state is obscene has always been quite bizarre to me,” Mr. Fish said.
After the event ended, a first-semester accounting major Parker Pacekonis said, “the film was very thought-provoking and something that would be seen as very controversial…as Mr. Fish’s work is incredibly controversial” in order to bring about change to the world. He adds to this by saying that being a “cartoonist is kind of dying off, newspapers aren’t publishing it anymore and publications aren’t…putting it on their websites.”
When the aim of his work is to promote a conversation rather than promote change, how should another person try to spark a conversation through their own art?
“Speak truths that mean something to you, and don’t assume that you’re trying to change somebody’s mind,” Mr. Fish said. “Assume that you’re trying to connect to their heart.”