An Interview with Mick Stevens & Bob Fingerman on Naked Cartoons & Censorship
For those of you who might not have seen the story, there was an incident where the New Yorker Facebook page was banned for posting a cartoon depicting female nipples, ie, two black dots. They were told it violated Facebook’s community standards, which explains their policy as vaguely as possible with: “We also impose limitations on the display of nudity.” To get the truth you have to read the FB moderator guidelines, uncovered by Gawker, listing “female nipple bulges” as prohibited. The New Yorker’s cartoon editor Robert Mankoff then wrote an article entitled “Nipplegate,” to poke fun at the controversy. FB apologized and said the removal was a “mistake.” Here’s my own crude drawing conclusion of what’s okay / not okay on FB:
(Fun fact: The New Yorker has been publishing cartoons with naked people for a long time, but for many years, they didn’t show any nipples!)
We were interested to find out how the cartoonist perceived this censorship, so what follows is an interview with Mick Stevens, the artist who drew Adam and Eve above. To get another take on nudity, censorship and cartoons we also interviewed artist and author Bob Fingerman.
We loved the Nipplegate article. How do you feel about your cartoon getting removed on Facebook for having female nipples?
I was very surprised and amused. If you look back through the New Yorker’s past cartoons, you’ll see a lot of female nipples, often drawn in a much more detailed way. Mine were just those little dots.
Do you think Facebook should change its policy on nudity or perhaps specify that naked cartoons are allowed?
Actually, I think they’ve calmed down a little due to the publicity. They could change their policy but then they might have to change their name to “Nipplebook”.
Do you perceive this kind of censorship as a stifling of freedom of speech?
Not really, at least not in an important way. Of course if I lived in China and other more repressive places on the planet, those dots might send me to jail or worse. At least here in the USofA all they can do is make themselves look silly. (Mick also told us he’s never encountered this kind of censorship in the past.)
Do you personally think that non sexual/ non pornographic nudity should be censored, and if so, why?
No. In other countries, apparently more enlightened than this one, sex isn’t equated with sin and damnation. Those old ideas are dying off here, but are still very much alive among some folks.
Did any policies or anything change because of it? Are they going to stop posting cartoon nipple dots on Facebook now?
You’ll have to ask somebody at FBook. I know they did apologize after a few days of being ridiculed by the press and restored the NYer FBook page, dots and all.
We see you have a book coming out. Are there any nipple dots in there? Nudity? If your publisher told you that you need to remove the naked cartoons in order to appeal to a larger audience, would you do it?
Yes the book has some dots and some nudity. If a publisher told me to remove representations of nude people, I’d be surprised. I’d have a chat with them and probably look for another publisher with a more enlightened view.
Now, Bob Fingerman. Bob has been drawing cartoons all his life and has published several graphic novels and prose novels. We met him at a fun panel about sex and taboo in cartoons at the Brooklyn Book Festival.
What have been your experiences with censorship, if any? And if so, why were you censored?
Limited, at best (or would that be worst). I’m more prone to self-censor. When I worked for a kids’ humor magazine, more than 25 years ago, they censored some art, but it wasn’t sexual content. They misinterpreted it as offensive in other ways too stupid to get into. But I’ve been very lucky. Or prudent. Or some combination.
Your illustrations often depict nudity. What is it about the nude form that makes you draw it so frequently?
I probably do so less than I used to, because my porn work aside, I generally include nudity when it’s germane to what’s going on. But it’s just fun. The human body is fun to draw.
Given the American sensitivity toward nudity, does this affect your work and what you put into your books or what you publish? Or how or where you publish it?
Yes. In my forthcoming book, MAXIMUM MINIMUM WAGE(out Spring 2013 from Image Comics), I went in and actually toned down some of the more overt, or arguably gratuitous, nudity in hopes of reaching a larger audience and not scaring away some more conservative retailers. So, yeah, it’s a thing you have to think about. I have a prose novel I’ve wanted to write set in Hell, and the damned souls are nude in it. My agent actually encouraged me to tone down the nudity in a book that was just text. I chose not to because that’s taking it too far. I also tabled the book for now, but for other reasons. But America is pretty weird about sex and nudity. It’s a society obsessed with the prurient but totally at odds with its own nature.
Well now we have to ask. Is it more fun to draw male bits or female bits?
Male is funnier, female is more enjoyable.
Do you think anything should be censored? And where do you draw the line?
Yes. This is getting a bit dark, but anything involving kids. But even there I suppose context is everything. If you merely described some of the stuff they’ve actually depicted on South Park you might balk. But they can get away with some pretty inappropriate stuff because they’re geniuses at weighing the scale fully on the humor. I draw the line sometimes taking into account the marketplace. But in spite of what some people might think, I’ve just generally calmed down on certain topics. On the other hand, I did tone down Pariah. My first draft got much darker and uglier in certain scenes and I pared that back to make it more palatable. Sometimes too much is too much, you know?
Do you feel torn about the self-censorship? Would a better compromise be making a censored version and an uncensored version?
Not really. There’s a time and a place. If the nudity is a distraction and doesn’t serve the story it maybe doesn’t need to be there. But there’s something to be said for alternate versions, sure. I like that kind of thing. It’s having your cake and eating it naked.
Do you think non-sexual nudity should be censored?
It’s all about context. I love to depict nudity, but there’s a time and a place. So, there’s no hard, firm, answer for that.
What do you think of the Nipplegate incident and also the recent case of an Austrian museum censoring its promotional art poster of naked men? Do you think this type of censorship is becoming more prevalent? Is that acceptable?
The New Yorker thing is moronic. Sergio Aragones depicted bare breasts with dots for nipples in MAD over thirty years ago. And that’s a magazine ostensibly for kids. So the fact that anyone was fussed over dots in the New Yorker is utterly stupid. And the redrawn version makes no sense at all. It’s simply not a gag any more. As for the Vienna thing, since those a public kiosks I think it makes more sense to cover the male bits. If they were covering them at the actual exhibition that would be another matter.
There are other nude art posters plastered all over Vienna, except they feature full-frontal female nudes. These were perfectly acceptable, while the male nudes caused a big uproar. Any thoughts on this or why there was such a difference in reaction to them? Should only certain kinds of nudity be censored in public?
Okay, this points out a few things. First is the inherent hypocrisy of male vs. female nudity. Some would argue that it’s because female genitalia is internal (although these days, with some many women fully waxed, one could argue you can see plenty of the intimate anatomy), while men’s bits are fully on show. I think it basically comes down to many (most?) people finds penises kind of gross. Or ridiculous. Or both. What do I know?
So there you have it. The low-down from two cartoonists and how they deal with nudity taboo, female nipple bulge and censorship.
What do you readers think? Is nudity censorship getting out of control these days? Or do cartoonists still get away with a lot more because it’s a cartoon?
About the Author (Author Profile)I'm Felicity, author of Felicity's Blog and co-founder of Young Naturists America. I write about nudism and naturism in today's world along with issues like top-freedom and body acceptance, and various naked topics. Enjoy, and please leave a comment when you've got something to say! :)
When I was in high school, i needed some paperwork done for one of the student clubs. That required talking to either of two twin sisters whose nipples were visible 40 feet away no matter what they wore.
At that age, that was as good as naked, and I was embarrassed to talk to them, so I skipped the process.
Female nipple bulge undid me!
I think this shows that we still have a long way to go toward nude-acceptance (if that was even in doubt!). If a simple pencil-and-paper drawing of a *representation* of nipples causes an uproar, then what about an actual nude body? Nudity continues to be cultural gasoline in America...
From Australia. Years ago under another Government, Queensland women did not have any nipples. These had to be airbrushed out. Any publication printed in Queensland had to be airbrushed in the pubic and breast area. I used to publish a nudist magazine in New South Wales, the next State, so I know. Progress has been made in a way as they no longer have to be airbrushed. Having said that, Queensland is the ONLY State in Australia that does not have an official nude beach. A few that are used, but non designated as such. We live in hope.
This is a great article. Thanks, Felicity, for writing it. I look forward to the day when such foolishness described in the article is a thing for only a handful of extremists. I hope I have the courage to live out my truth here and now and be an example of truth in this day.
@Arthurrex Same thing in the U.S. for nudist magazines - in old ones from maybe the 40s, the genitals are blurred out, though I'm not entirely sure if breasts were too. It's totally freaky-looking. It's funny that this kind of nipple-taboo affected cartoons, too.
@briananthonykraemer Thanks, I look forward to that day too!