Celebrated cartoonist R. K. Laxman used to say that producing a cartoon was no fun. A congregation of cartoonists in Goa was unanimous that the cartooning scenario has become grim – with many newspapers opting to not use them on top of the page or in the edit page. Participants were unanimous that cartoonists need a liberal space to function, what with touchy politicians and a conservative readership not ready to take the caricatures lightly.

The cartoonists were attending a session on the “Art of political cartooning” at the two-day Mario Miranda Cartoon Festival which ended here on Sunday.

The festival was organised by Sunaparanta-Goa Centre for Arts, Goa’s Salgaocar group’s initiative, in association with Literature Live.

India’s leading cartoonists participated in a day-long deliberations where diverse topics featured. Responding to moderator Vinod Mehta’s questions during the session on freedom for political cartoonists in prominent newspapers in the context of the political line of a newspaper, E.P. Unny, cartoonist of The Indian Express, said “as long as there is liberal space for a cartoonist to operate you don’t have any problems.”

“You have to have that liberal space, or you can’t work, how much ever you may agree with the line of the paper,” he said.

To a question, “how free are our cartoonists,” Keshav of The Hindu said cartoons invariably dealt with symbols and, in the present context, one had to be very careful about their use. “All the more when you operate in a conservative society.”

Agreeing with Mr. Keshav, cartoonist Ravi Shankar said, “Indeed, we have to use symbols, but what a good cartoonist does is he reinvents stereotypes, as he has to depend on the stereotypes.”

Mr. Mehta rued the situation today, where many newspapers had no space for cartoons. He spoke of disappearing of the legitimate space for cartoons in many prominent newspapers from the front page or edit page. He described political cartooning in the present situation as “a grim, terrible business” considering they had to draw about “all bad news all the time.” Second thing he found disturbing was “Editors or proprietors of papers have no space for cartoons and the big cartoons are disappearing from the top of the page or top of the edit page.”

Mr. Keshav said what was difficult about the present morbid situation was that it was easier to draw scams and corruption issues rather than rape and communal problems. “I deal with a very conservative audience, and, therefore I have to say whatever I want to say in a round-about way.”

Mr. Shankar rued the present state of affairs on the political cartoon front recalling the period from 1950s to 1980s when “you had a lot of cartoonists nearly for 30 years, so much so that the period was dominated by cartoonists.”

“What a sharp cartoonist draws is not the face but his idea of that political person. It is more to do with characteristic,” said Mr. Unny, responding to Mr. Mehta’s observation that present times being most difficult in the Indian political landscape for cartoonist with leading political faces hardly being cartoonists’ delight. When quizzed further on how important was the face of a politician in a political cartoon, Mr. Unny said it was the cartoonist’s perception of a person that was important.

To a question which was the best cartoon — whether one which was over-explaining or the one with wonderful and captivating drawing with minimum words or combination of both — Mr. Keshav said, “Silent one is the best.”