Book review by Kevin Ritchie, The Star

WHEN WE THINK OF CARTOONS in South Africa, particularly those of us who live in Joburg, we tend to never think much further than the peerless Zapiro, or the quintessential northern suburbs Madame and Eve, but cartooning is alive and well in this country - and here's a book that proves it.

DON'T JOKE, a collaboration between cartoonists Andy Mason and John Curtis, showcases the finest drawing talents across the country, from Dr Jack scribbling out in his Lowveld solitude to Fred Mouton in Die Burger, Stidy in Maritzburg, Yalo in The Sowetan and our very own Wilson Mgobhozi, one of the nicest human beings to ever wield a pencil and an artist who is developing into a very fine political cartoonist on the Star. Don't Joke encapsulates all their work, with Zapiro and Rico and Francis, the creators of Madame and Eve, among the 23 cartoonists and three cartoon strips featured, representing almost every single newspaper in the country.

There's no doubt that Zapiro remains our pre-eminent social commentator and cartoonist, but the rest of the pack are not far away. Thanks to the way this book is structured, you can see how often they ran him close when they went head to head on the same issues last year. The format of the book is to select individual incidents and then reprint the various cartoons on the issues, showing how each cartoonist interpreted the event and its relevance to the country. Each section carries a helpful timeline and precis from the editors introducing the specific issues. By doing this, the book achieves the double objective of being both a worthwhile study of the preceding year, as well as being great fun and a shining example of what "toilet lit" should be.

It's a resource book that will have school teachers salivating and, at the same time, a treasure trove for fans of cartoon. But there are two complaints. The first is that the cartoons that are reproduced are far too small. This is understandable given the sheer range of issues that the editors have managed to cover, but it's a pity nonetheless. My second whinge is that Dov Fedler, who's been drawing for 50 years and is the lead cartoonist on the Saturday Star, doesn't even get a mention.

But these are small gripes on something that is not only long overdue and - I'd hazard a guess - unique to South Africa, but also something that should become an annual occurrence. Laughter's not just the best medicine, it's a vital tool in ensuring that our democracy remains as vibrant and funky as it is. We have great cartoonists in this country, but it's taken this book to prove to us just how skilled, how relevant - and how wickedly funny they actually are. And that's great news for someone like Zapiro who often finds himself standing all on his own in the firing line as officialdom takes aim.

This Review by Kevin Richie, edited by James Mitchell, published on the web and in The Star's Tonight section on March 11, 2010.

Posted on Mar 24, 2010 by Africartoons Bookmark and Share