Artist APK: ‘Cartoons in State-run Newspapers Aren’t Real Cartoons’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 16 January 2016

Prior to the second annual Nobel-Myanmar Literary Festival, held from Jan. 16-18 at Rangoon’s Event Park, The Irrawaddy sat down with cartoonist APK to discuss the value of comics and the theme of this year’s festival: children’s literature.

Comics are declining in popularity in Burma, and it seems like only cartoons are doing well. Why is this happening?

The fact that the number of dailies and weeklies has increased has contributed to a rise in the popularity of cartoons. Still, even though cartoons are strong in terms of quantity, in terms of quality, they have a long way to go—especially online ones. Cartoonists today can post their work online, such as on Facebook, anytime, anywhere. Social media, generally, is a contributing factor to the rise of cartoons. But the workmanship and ideas are very weak. Many trees will bear flowers, but it takes time for beautiful flowers to grow, so to speak.

Though there are more cartoons out now, it seems like most of them fall short in some way. For example, cartoons in government-run newspapers often lack humor, and cartoons in private publications are often biased toward the opposition. What’s your take on this?

Cartoons in state-run newspapers aren’t real cartoons, at least they shouldn’t be called cartoons. The workmanship is poor, not to mention the ideas. When I met government officials, I told them that their cartoons are of poor quality and the money paid for them small. It seems that people at state-run newspapers extend the offer to draw cartoons only to those who are close to them. These cartoons don’t have any standards.

As for cartoons in private dailies and journals, it depends on the editors. There are some editors who fail to look carefully at cartoons before publication—fail to check spelling or don’t know which pages to put cartoons on, for example—and some editors who are responsible for some of the good cartoons that have come out. And sometimes cartoonists don’t think seriously enough about their cartoon’s idea, and the pay that they receive is chicken feed.

These are a few reasons why cartoons are how they are now. But we shouldn’t be disappointed. We should be optimistic about the number of cartoons being created, because as the quantity increases, those who can make quality cartoons will also emerge. I welcome them all.

The Nobel-Myanmar Literary Festival this year will place an emphasis on children’s literature because recently there have been fewer children’s books. What do you think is necessary to boost the amount of literature we’re seeing?

Change primarily hinges on the economy. If a country is poor and its economy declining, there will be a similar slump in other areas. If people were able to fulfill their basic needs, there would be people to create quality things, and there would be greater consumer support. At the moment, however, cartoonists must work quickly, without regard to quality, just to satisfy their stomachs, and publishers only care about filling blank pages in their publications.

If this is the case, then does getting the industry to pick up depend solely on businessmen? Who else is responsible?

Businessmen buy football teams, but those football teams can still lose. We can’t work like that. If everyone gets rich, more people will create and read things of good quality. Again, this mainly depends on the economy. If the economy is strong, the comics industry will also be strong—if businessmen are willing to make big investments, the industry will surely develop. Still, none of this can be done alone, and things will need to be developed step by step.

Do cartoonists plan to establish a cartoon museum, one that will feature the profiles and works of cartoonists from previous eras?

In our country, even the national library isn’t functioning properly. What can we do? But perhaps with collaborative efforts we’ll see something like this.