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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Starting a Career in the Bathroom

MTViktor Bogorad
Moscow Times cartoonist Viktor Bogorad stopped going to art classes at school when he was 12. The decision was a mutual one, since Bogorad didn't like sketching plaster busts, and his art teacher didn't like a caricature his pupil drew of him.

"It was very lifelike," Bogorad said.

Bogorad has been drawing cartoons for The Moscow Times since 1996. Although he lives in St. Petersburg and only visits the newspaper office about twice a year, his characteristic deep, gravelly voice is very familiar to the editors who work with him, especially to the editor of the opinion page, where Bogorad's cartoon appears every day.

One of Russia's best-known cartoonists, Bogorad has been interviewed on CNN and the BBC. He never went to art school, however, and spent the first 15 years of his working life as a radio engineer, first at a secret defense plant and then at a factory producing theatrical equipment. All that time, of course, he was drawing.

"I understood very well that no one would pay me for what I liked drawing," Bogorad said of his decision not to take the traditional, art-school path.

In the 1970s, he took part in underground exhibitions at private apartments in Leningrad along with famous figures of the avant-garde such as Sergei Kovalsky. His oil paintings, which he created in the bathroom of his small apartment, were reminiscent of German expressionism, he said. In 1974, however, he gave up oils and devoted himself to cartoons.

"First of all, I won a prize [for a cartoon] in Yugoslavia, and I was more attracted to drawing," he said of the decision. "Plus, I was painting oils in the bathroom and that was causing tons of problems."

His first published cartoons were in Leningrad magazine Avrora. Now, he doesn't remember the subjects, he says. He went on to publish work in newspapers including Literaturnaya Gazeta and Komsomolskaya Pravda. He didn't, however, send work to the Soviet Union's best-known humor magazine, Krokodil, until the 1990s.

Krokodil had a bad reputation among cartoonists, he said, because editors would force artists to draw particular subjects, rather than allowing them to express their ideas. "It would have been disgraceful for me to work there," he said.

In 1989, Bogorad finally gave up the day job and became a full-time cartoonist at the Leningrad newspaper Perekryostok. He went on to work at the newspaper Smena, producing a front-page cartoon every day from 1990 to 1991. "I think there wasn't another newspaper in the Soviet Union that published a cartoon on the front page," he said.

In 1996, he began working for Independent Media, drawing cartoons for The St. Petersburg Times, The Moscow Times and the Russian-language sister newspaper Vedomosti.

"I can't publish the drawings that I publish in The Moscow Times and in Vedomosti in any other paper," Bogorad said. "In other papers in Russia, the editors always feel some kind of fear."

The only problem that comes up in dealing with English-language newspapers is that a cartoon may not be clear to Western readers due to different culture and associations, Bogorad said. "I am learning every day. It is a colossal training session."

Bogorad draws in ink or gel pen and then scans his work and finishes it on the computer screen, before e-mailing it to the editor. He keeps a database of faces that often come up, to save drawing them again.

The idea for the cartoon always comes quickly, Bogorad said. "I can't explain, it just comes by itself." His personal record is 14 cartoons in one day. "After that you feel as if you've been unloading wagons," he said.

He doesn't have a favorite face, he said, because it's ridiculous behavior rather than appearance that inspires him. Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin are particular favorites in this respect, he said. "They are rivals."

Asked to pick his favorite cartoons for this article, he refused, asking the editor to choose them instead. "I don't have favorite cartoons," he said. "An article or a cartoon only lives one day."