A former Virginia Tech art student is thrilled by the fact that people across the world are tearing, burning and spitting on his work.
His illustration is a grisly caricature of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which has been reproduced on protest posters by hundreds of Libyans in their ongoing struggle to overthrow Gaddafi.
Artist Klaus Schmidheiser originally drew the caricature for the “Plaid Avenger” textbook and website. The Plaid Avenger is a character created by World Regions professor John Boyer, used to help teach students international politics in a fun, graphic-novel themed way.
Gaddafi has governed Libya for 42 years since he led a revolt against the country’s monarchy in 1969, making him the longest ruling leader in the world today. He has funded international terrorist attacks and is responsible for numerous human rights violations.
“It’s a tragedy, what he’s doing to his people,” said Heldana Tekeste, president of the African Student Association. “A more stable Libya would greatly help in the world’s fight against terrorism.”
Protests to overthrow Gaddafi began on Feb. 15 and have moved through the country. Gaddafi and his military forces have reportedly brutally repressed the demonstrators.
Both Boyer and Schmidheiser were surprised but pleased when they discovered that the image had been taken up by protesters.
“I have what I call the ‘World Leader Gallery,’ and Gaddafi has been on that page for several years now,” Boyer said. “In February, we had a bunch of hits from the Middle East of people visiting our site, so they probably got the picture from there.”
“I love the fact that people are using it to burn, because he’s a pretty evil world leader,” Schmidheiser said.
He said protesters may have chosen the caricature because it depicts Gaddafi’s personality almost better than a photograph.
“I think I was able to capture the smug, arrogant, dastardly guy he is, I guess I captured all the elements of his psyche,” Schmidheiser said, showing his original pen-and-ink copy of the image in Bollo’s Cafe & Bakery.
Schmidheiser drew in caricature this past September.
The image is even more notable since Gaddafi doesn’t appear publicly in Libya. According to Boyer, Gaddafi only allows one photograph of himself to be used — in which he was young and fit, and wearing a white suit. Needless to say, 42 years later, he looks quite different.
“No one in Libya would even recognize him on the street,” Boyer said.
Boyer says that he has various pictures of Gaddafi, both young and old, which he shows in his classes to demonstrate this change.
“In some of the modern pictures I have he looks like someone who would be arrested in a bad sitcom for selling drugs,” Boyer said. “Dude, you’re worth millions of dollars that you stole from your country — can’t you get a stylist?”
Though the image is certainly aiding in the protest movement, Tekeste said that protests are not doing enough.
“(I) think the time of peaceful democratic protest movement is over and other world leaders need to step up and get Gaddafi out of power,” Tekeste said. “We shouldn’t be bargaining with this man. We should be taking the necessary steps to get him and his regime out of power.
In light of the image being used in Libya, Boyer and the rest of his plaid crew have big plans for their website, PlaidAvenger.com.
“As soon as we saw this, we thought, ‘We should have a downloadable create-your-own protest picture website!’” Boyer said. “I’ve created a list of the 12 most evil world leaders who should be taken out of office, called the ‘Dirty Dozen.’”
He explained that any revolutionary, protester or member of a grassroots movement for freedom will have full rights to download, print and burn the images as much as they like.
“We are here to facilitate the uprising!” Boyer said.