The Illustrated PEN is a weekly online series that aspires to be at the intersection of literature, journalism, and visual storytelling, where images and words come together in an ever-emerging and essential creative form. We’ll feature fiction and nonfiction graphic narratives, comics journalism and illustrated reportage, stories of social justice and personal stories that can’t be told through words alone. 

This week we continue the series on Khadija Ismayilova by taking a look at the intersection of art and advocacy. Khadija Ismayilova is a fierce and outspoken Azerbaijani investigative reporter and radio host who uncovered and wrote about widespread corruption at the highest levels of government. She was arrested on December 5, 2014, convicted of criminal libel, and faces other spurious charges, including tax evasion and embezzlement. PEN believes the charges against her are retribution for her investigative reporting on Azerbaijan’s government, and that she is being detained for exercising her right to free expression. 

Cartoonists have a well-earned reputation for having the courage and wit to take on the world’s mightiest and most corrupt individuals and institutions in ways that are easily understood and accessible to the world. We felt that a powerful series of cartoons would enable us to unpack the complex issues of repression and corruption in Azerbaijan and inspire an international audience to take action on Ismayilova’s behalf.

We teamed up with Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor at The New Yorker, and cartoonist Liza Donnelly to ask the world’s foremost satirical cartoonists to create cartoons about Khadija and her fight for freedom of expression. The response was overwhelming. Among the many cartoonists who sent us work are David Sipress, Kim Warp, Ben Schwartz, Chris Weyant, Mike Luckovich, Damien Glez (Burkina Faso), Michel Kichka (Israel), Marilena Nardi (Italy), Riber Hansson (Sweden), Cristina Sampaio (Portugal), Nadia Khiari (Tunisia), and Kianoush Ramezani (Iran, living in Paris). 

In the coming weeks, the cartoons featured below will be used as part of an international social media campaign to free Khadija. We encourage you to take part by sharing the cartoons when you see them and by sending your own letter to Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev demanding Khadija’s immediate and unconditional release. 

Chris Weyant


Liza Donnelly

 Ben Schwartz

David Sipress


Kianoush Ramezani

Mike Luckovich

Michel Kichka (Israel)

Damien Glez (Burkina Faso)

Cristina Sampaio (Portugal)

Kim Warp

Marilena Nardi (Italy)


Jess Ruliffson