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Secrets of a Woman, Editorial Cartoonist, Revealed

Rachel Gold's "self-portrait."

There are very few women editorial cartoonists, and I’m not sure why. At this time, there is only one woman who has a full time job drawing editorial cartoons for a print newspaper, out of about 75 newspaper cartooning positions in America. The disparity extends to the unsolicited submissions I get from aspiring cartoonists, who are 99.9 percent male; the same is true among the almost-all-male cartoonists around the world. Naturally, a rare woman editorial cartoonist gets special attention, just because she is a woman.

When discouraged political cartoonists sit behind a beer and complain, sometimes the talk turns to the idea of pretending to draw as a woman, to take advantage of affirmative action minded editors who might prefer cartoons by a woman, and affirmative action minded award juries who might be more inclined to give awards to a female cartoonist – but I had never heard of a cartoonist actually going through with the scheme.

One of the top editorial cartoonists in Austria is Rachel Gold, who draws for the national Wiener Zeitung and Tiroler Tageszeitung newspapers. Rachel is remarkable, not only because she is a rare, female editorial cartoonist, but also because she’s not female, and she doesn’t really exist. Rachel Gold is a fictional character, created by Austrian cartoonist Markus Szyszkowitz.

Rachel was created in response to Markus’ frustrations, working under editorial constraints at his former newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung. Rachel got a job, and a paycheck, as a cartoonist at the Wiener Zeitung, replacing Markus, who was forced to leave his editorial cartooning job under pressure from his editor, because his cartoons had offended a politician who would later become Austria’s chancellor.

Austrian cartoonist Markus Szyszkowitz.

Drawing in a different style, with a different political point of view, Rachel could draw cartoons that Markus could never get past his editors. Markus is convinced that his editors, and the Austrian readers, were willing to accept more hard-hitting, liberal cartoons from the young, pretty, Jewish immigrant girl from Israel. Given Austria’s harsh history, Markus believes that Rachel gets more editorial leeway because she is Jewish, rather than because she is a woman.

According to her Wikipedia page, Rachel was born in Tel Aviv in 1978, she was raised in Israel and moved to Vienna in 1999, where she has been a freelance artist since 2004 and is one of only two, female, political cartoonists in Austria.

Markus’ editor began to suspect that something funny was going on with the mysterious woman cartoonist, who suddenly appeared in 2 other Austrian Papers – not only making jokes bashing the new Austrian chancellor but also about the Kronen Zeitung, which Markus tells me, took great care to protect the chancellor’s image. The Kronen Zeitung editor hired an off-duty policeman to investigate Markus and, after a year of digging, the gig was up. The cop had uncovered evidence that Markus was actually Rachel. Rachel’s secret identity was revealed and the editor fired Markus/Rachel.

Markus landed on his feet with another editorial cartooning job, both as himself and as Rachel, for other Austrian newspapers including Die Presse, while his alter-ego Rachel draws for Wiener Zeitung and Tiroler Tageszeitung. Rachel’s cartoons continue to be more liberal and hard-hitting than Markus feels he can get away with (which is evident in Tiroler Tageszeitung, in which both Rachel’s and Markus’ cartoons appear on alternating days).

Rachel’s identity, although not a secret, isn’t known outside of a small community of Austrian cartoonists and journalists. Readers have no idea that Rachel is actually Markus. Rachel has a nice Web site, has published collections of her work in books and has an audience of Austrian fans, who have no idea that she doesn’t exist.

Here are a few cartoons by Markus Szyszkowitz and his alter ego, Rachel Gold. We’ll feature more cartoons on the site from Markus and Rachel soon.  The cartoon below shows the tighter style that Markus uses for Rachel – this cartoon will run in the newspaper on Monday.

In the Rachel cartoon below, Obama says, “What do you mean the world hasn’t become any more secure?” and Russian President Medvedev says, “After all, we can be destroyed only 30 times over, instead of 44 times over!”

Here’s another Rachel Gold cartoon about China …

he cartoons below shows Markus’ looser style for the cartoons he draws under his own name.