Book Review by Katja Hamilton, Ground Zero
December 19, 2009

Looking back over the past year it’s amazing to see just how the political landscape in South Africa and abroad has shifted and changed; old regimes have disappeared as if cajoled by quicksand and new leaders have risen to a new order.

Creating debate around these pivotal moments, has been a group of 29 cartoonists who this month launched their latest collaboration Don’t Joke! at the Book Lounge in Cape Town. The book was sold out within minutes as supporters clambered to get their copies autographed.

Reflecting a body of work from September 2008 to September 2009 Don’t Joke! is the first in a series of annual collections published by Jacana Media in association with the Centre For Comic, Illustrative And Book Arts (CCIBA) at Stellenbosch University, and the AfriCartoons website (

Edited by Andy Mason and John Curtis, It features the works of such greats as Jonathan Zapiro, Brandon Reynolds, Jeremy Nell and Stacey Stent. The best of Madam & Eve are also here, plus a generous selection from Mama Taxi, Trek Net and other local strips.

For those of you who don’t always get the chance to buy your daily local newspaper whether it’s Die Burger, Times, Beeld or the Sowetan this book is your chance to see how your favourite cartoonists have tackled the most controversial topics this past year.

It’s all there – the rise of Jacob Zuma to presidency, Mbeki’s vanishing act, the global economic meltdown, the Obama miracle, the swine flu, the SABC’s collapse, and even the last twitch of the Scorpions. It is all covered, printed and bound for your reading pleasure.

“All of us live from day to day, but we don’t necessarily pay attention to the situations around us. It’s only when we take a step back to look at the events that have occurred over the course of the year that we see quite what happened,” said Mason who has been at the forefront of setting up the CCIBA this year. He also works as a freelance comic artist, illustrator, book designer and editor.

In his speech at the book launch he said this was the first time that the full range of South African political cartoonists, from the venerable old guard to the groundbreaking new generation, had all been represented in a single anthology. “One of the things I find really gratifying is how South Africa’s cartooning maestros from way back have joined forces with the new post-apartheid generation to tell the story of the most event-filled year since 1994,” he said.

“At best Don’t Joke!, which presents the works of South Africa’s top cartoonists in an accessible format, removes the popular belief that there is only one political cartoonist in South Africa,” said Nell, a political cartoonist for the Times (South Africa). While engaging with the book’s different styles and approaches to political and economic milestones Jeremy hopes readers will be entertained. “I also hope they’ll gain an opinion if not a desire to contact the cartoonists with feedback, good or bad. Cartoonists love feedback.”

“Overall I think this book is just awesome,” said Brandon Reynolds who draws cartoons for Business Day. He said he hoped readers’ reactions to the book would evoke a sense of wonder around the memories of 2009. “I want them to look at the cartoons and ask ‘Wow! When did this happen?’”

One thing all the cartoonists expressed on the night of the launch was a deep respect for Andy Mason and John Curtis. “It’s really cool that Andy and John have put so much effort into this book, that they’ve enabled us to talk about the issues we’re dealing with and to refine our craft,” said Reynolds.

While Zapiro commended John for being ‘an ideas man – the one to call when staring at a blank page’, he applauded Andy’s efforts in nurturing the talent of South African cartoonists. “Thanks to Andy, we have a thriving cartooning community now,” he said.

This started just about 18 months ago when a small group of cartoonists started meeting at the Olive Station in Muizenberg to share their work – it has since become known as the Jester’s Space. “We enjoyed each other’s company so much that the first thing we wanted to do was establish a community of cartooning practitioners not just in Cape Town, but further afield,” said Mason.

Making this possible was Keith Dietrich, head of Stellenbosch University’s Department of Visual Arts. “Thanks to his effort, University of Stellenbosch put some seed funding into the establishment of the CCIBA,” said Andy.

The first debate kicked off on July 24 this year.

A month after the Cape Town Book Fair this year, Bridget Impey of Jacana phoned Andy with a proposal to publish a book – today’s Don’t Joke! – in time for Christmas. The next few weeks were, as Andy described it, “an impossible task” wherein he and John whittled more than 3000 cartoons into a selection of 387. “But, surprisingly all this came to pass quickly and quite effortlessly, and has cemented our community of cartooning practitioners who are by far the most engaged and visible, and the most courageous particularly in the political arena,” said Mason.

Looking ahead, the cartoonists are looking to diversify their group. “There are too many whites; too many left wingers; too many anti-Zuma-ers; too much purism and tradition. This needs to change before it becomes boring,” said Nell.

“We’re so predominantly white here unlike Joburg. That’s the poison of Cape Town, it’s a historical problem,” said Zapiro.

Posted on Dec 23, 2009 by Africartoons Bookmark and Share