New Internationalist

Earthworks 2008 cartoon competition

September 2008

Please note: NI did not receive permission to reproduce the artwork on-line, so please subscribe to the paper edition to see the illustrations.

If you think the threat of global warming should be taken seriously, then you will probably view a cartoon competition on the subject as in poor taste – a bit like making jokes about concentration camps. You would be rapidly disabused of that attitude if you could see the 200 cartoons from around the world that were entered in the Biennial Ken Sprague International Cartoon Competition ‘Earthworks 2008’.

You’ve heard it from the politicians, and you’ve heard it from the scientists, but now it’s the turn of the world’s cartoonists to wake us up to the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

Few of the cartoonists who submitted works take the subject lightly; many of the cartoons are bitingly satirical, outrageously funny or exceedingly bitter and even fatalistic, but none are neutral or indifferent. Humour is a valuable key in the struggle to win hearts and minds. Among the most moving of the entries were two from Burma, sent to us at the height of the recent devastating floods. It is humbling that in the midst of one of the worst disasters to hit the country in years, individuals found the time to draw cartoons.

Over 100 cartoonists from 50 countries submitted cartoons, most of an extraordinarily high standard. Of course there was repetition: cracked and parched landscapes with marooned whales, polar bears shaving of their thick pelts, Father Christmas on a camel… but what was more amazing was the imaginative range and number of unique ideas. How many takes can there be on the subject? Answer, on the basis of these entries: an infinite number. Disregarding the scientific arguments for a moment, here we have an overwhelming answer to the sceptics. Cartoonists are certainly taking the threat seriously, even if they use wit and humour to express it.

Although we had entries from around the world, interestingly, or perhaps predictably, most came from the poorer parts which will be hit hardest by global warming.

This year’s jury had an almost impossible task in choosing a winner. The jury was chaired by British-based Guardian cartoonist, Martin Rowson, together with fellow members: Times cartoonist Morten Morland; New Internationalist graphic designer/artist, Alan Hughes; Green Party Principal Speaker, Dr Derek Wall; Richard Bagley of the Morning Star; Liz Willis, director of the Springboard Consultancy; and Michal Boncza, graphic artist. The last two are trustees of the Ken Sprague Fund.

Cartoons can reach parts other arguments can’t. We have been inundated with doom-laden predictions and scientific facts on the inevitability of global warming, but here we can exorcize our fears. We are entertained and educated, made to laugh and cry.

If it’s true, as George Orwell once stated, that ‘every joke is a tiny revolution’, these cartoons should get the ball rolling.

A selection of the best cartoons will go on tour over the next year.Details and information on the next biennial competition will be announced on

The Ken Sprague Fund was set up to commemorate the work and ideas of the cartoonist and graphic artist, Ken Sprague, who died in 2004.


1st Prize

Coat Star’
by Mikhail Zlatkovsky (Russia)

The judges felt this cartoon captured the shabbiness and sleazy way our planet is being devastated; the individual ‘indecently exposing’ himself is symbolic of humanity’s indecency in ruining our world. The figure is clothed only in a wind-torn coat with the tears representing a map of the world. The judges felt the artist had shown considerable command of his medium by creating an immediately recognisable map of the world out of tears in the coat. The figure is contrastingly confronted by a fairy-tale, pristine and undespoiled universe.


2nd Prize

by Constantin Ciosu (Romania)

The judges felt this cartoon forcefully carried the message of how our environment is menaced. It is drawn meticulously and on a uniform grey background that reinforces the idea. The only colour is the butterflies and the single flower in the man’s hand. Even the normally harmless butterflies take on a sense of menace as the swarm hunts down the only flower it can find, fluttering past rows of chimneys belching out black smoke.


3rd Prize

The Hand’
by Tawan Chuntraskawvong (Thailand)

This image also impressed the jury by the simplicity of its central message and its strong imagery. It gives us a brutal warning: by harming our environment we are self-harming and will eventually destroy ourselves if we continue in this vein. The fine detail in the drawing of the hand, reminiscent of an old and valuable engraving, also impressed the judges.

This column was published in the September 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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