On 9/11, for the Guardian website, published / by Rich Hobbs

There are certain events so horrific that the only decent response seems to be

stunned silence.

Last Tuesday’s atrocity in New York was for me, as a cartoonist, one of those

events - and yet I had to produce a cartoon for the next day’s "Scotsman",

which was fantastically difficult.

It’s because of how cartoons work and how people perceive them as working.

The problem wasn’t that I was obliged to produce a visual reaction to the

bombings - in fact, the media coverage has been mostly visual, from the

footage of the planes striking and the towers collapsing repeated over and over

again to the pages and pages and pages of pictures of the tragedy unfolding

that filled Wednesday’s papers. Nor, in journalistic terms, should one remain

silent: these events demanded explanation, and have reaped thousands of

column inches of opinion, analysis and speculaion. My problem as a

cartoonist is that I fall somewhere between those commentless photographs

bearing witness and the babel arising from the pundits: indeed, I often

describe myself as a visual journalist, producing editorialising illustration

because I have strong opinions on many subjects. Moreover, the singular trick

of the newspaper cartoon is that it gains its power in saying what it does

through using humour. My problem, in the immediate aftermath of the

Manhattan bombings, was that I had nothing to say and none of what was

happening was funny.

The rational and emotional response to the mixture of ideas, words and images

that constitute a cartoon is different from the response to either the written

word or a straight illustration or photograph. This is because of the immediacy

with which a cartoon is "read", and the frequently visceral nature of the image

and the reader’s response to what they see. As a result of all that I was

extremely sensitive to the heightened sensitivities of the readers, let alone the

heightened sensitivity of editors to their readers’ heightened sensitivity.

Although there was a great deal to be said - about Star Wars, about Bush’s

inadequate response, about the festering sore of the Palestinian/Israeli stand-

off, about the kulturkampf between Islam and the rest of the Modern World - I

just knew that, for a couple of days, at least, a cartoon was too blunt an

instrument to say these things adequately without causing huge offense and

also making me feel like an insensitive schmuck.

So, I did what I usually deplore, and drew a "Why oh why" cartoon of the

Statue of Liberty being engulfed by a monstrous cloud rising up from Lower

Manhattan. Since then, to my embarrassment, I’ve drawn a weeping Statue of

Liberty, and been soundly told off by Steve Bell for my hackneyed cowardice.

When I filed the cartoon to the Scotsman, I ‘phoned the comment editor and

told him that the cartoon was completely meaningless and said nothing.

"That’s about the right tone for the moment", he replied, and he was right.

Inevitably several readers complained.