The Wizard of HOD

Nanda Soobben


for the Mail & Guardian, Aug 14 1998

One of South Africa's most highly rated political cartoonists, Nanda Soobben, has just scooped a handsome grant from the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology to produce a 20-minute docu-animation film, based on his political cartoons from the Eighties and Nineties.

Soobben, who is a weekly political cartoonist forThe Independent on Saturday in Durban, and the Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg, prides himself on the fact that he's not like "some cartoonists who have to create with the editorial comment in mind". His editors give him total freedom: "My cartoons have never been changed. The only time they were altered was during the state of emergency in the Eighties.''

Soobben's biting political streak is something he shares with stage satirists Pieter Dirk Uys and John Vlismas, who never fail to inject their audiences with a mean dose of cerebral humour.
Soobben, who recently completed his internship with the San Francisco Art Institute, is also the dynamic director of the Durban-based Centre for Fine Art Animation & Design which offers a three-year course in fine art, graphic design and animation at a cheaper rate than most tertiary institutions. Although Soobben is currently the only black working cartoonist in the country, with 60 students benefitting from his expertise, this is soon likely to change.

However, he's quick to point out that "there is a perception that we are predominantly an Indian or black college, but we are hoping to get students of all races''.
Between lectures, Soobben religiously scans the news to create witty interpretations of South Africa's heady events and biting social issues. The cartoonist's local break in 1980 was with The Post newspaper in Durban. "I was an ethnic cartoonist which I absolutely hated,'' says Soobben, who dubs the newspaper as an "ethnic newspaper'' catering purely for the Indian community. "Of course I was grateful for that break, but being the only black cartoonist in Durban, back then I didn't stand a chance in the mainstream newspapers even though I had studied in New York and was a member of the prestigious New York- based Cartoon and Writers' Syndication ...''

The fact that his book of cartoons, The Wizard of HOD (house of delegates), is a collector's item and part of the African Library Collection of the Smithsonian Institute Museum; that Soobben has done a book signing at Washington's famous Common Concerns book store; that he had solo exhibitions of his cartoons in New York and Brazil, meant little to local newspaper editors back then. "It was a very frustrating time for me. I was internationally recognised, but back home I was only known in the Indian community.''

These days even politicians phone Soobben for autographed copies of his cartoons. "Once I did this cartoon for The Post of Amichand Rajbansi, the leading politician of the then house of delegates. He was dressed as a wizard pulling a carrot out of a magician's hat. I titled it: The Wizard of HOD. Rajbansi phoned me the next day congratulating me saying: `I loved the cartoon, especially the title.' I was quite gobsmacked as my interpretation of the wizard was quite derogatory - the wizard of Oz was a real wacko character, but he saw the wizard as being a man of genius!''

At the moment Soobben is focusing on his docu-animation film, and once he's completed it he'll be frantically networking for a buyer at the 1999 Vancouver Animation Festival.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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