Book review by Francois Verster (Bolander Newspaper).

AT LONG LAST! An historic collection of editorial cartoons featuring almost all of South Africa’s top contemporary cartoonists and covering a period of one (very interesting) year of our history. This book joins a small family of only about a dozen such collections since the first SA cartoons appeared (in publications such as the 1934 Dutch newspaper De Verzamelaar) and never have they been as representative of the cartoonists and cartoons of a single year.

Editors Andy Mason and John Curtis, both cartoonist themselves, hope this book "will become an ongoing journal of the development of the discipline in this country, recording an emergence of new cartoonist and tracking their progress.” While not every South African cartoonist chose to participate, Mason and Curtis hope that this will change. Veteran visual satirist Dov Fedler, for one, has committed his work to the 2010 edition.

This beautifully designed volume boasts more than just the well-known names of Fred Mouton, Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro), Brandan Reynolds, Tony Grogan, Weyni Deysel, Andy, Mynderd Vosloo, and Frans Esterhuyse, but also up-and-coming talents such as Daniel Mothowagae, Cuan Miles and Jeremy Nell (alias Jerm) who get the opportunity to share the stage with some of their heroes. The diverse talents of Stacey Stent, Chip Snaddon, Dr Jack Swanepoel, Mark Wiggett, Nanda Soobben, Stidy (Anthony Stidolph) and Alastair Findlay are made accessible for the first time to people beyond their admiring readerships.

Stacey Stent remains the only woman editorial cartoonist, with Mama Taxi comic strip writer Deni Brown the only other woman represented in the book. Curtis expressed the hope that they will inspire more women cartoonists to present their credentials in time for the next edition. Indeed, since the very first woman cartoonist, Constance Penstone (1864 – 1928) appeared on the local scene, a woefully short line has followed in our annals of pictorial humour and satire. In both cartoons and comic strips gender equality has some way to go.

As far as black cartoonists are concerned, the picture is changing for the best: Sifiso Yalo, Wilson Mgobhozi, Themba Siwela, Bethuel Mangena, and Qaps Mngadi … a new era is dawning to crack us up, so to speak. Compared to the relative slow rise of Afrikaans-speaking cartoonists (since DC Boonzaier in 1884 in The Knobkerrie), black cartoonists have exploded on the scene.

The number of printed and digital media carrying cartoons has played a huge part in growing the medium in South Africa. Digital tools have also made the trade more accessible. Jerm is an example of a the new generation of artists who create everything digitally – not a scrap of paper can be found in his studio!In the book’s blurb Mason proudly proclaims that “South African cartooning has come of age!"

Don’t Joke!’s narrative of the tumultuous year in review is comprehensive. All the important stories of 2009 are there: Madiba’s triumphs, Mbeki’s demise, Zuma’s blunders, Malema’s quips, as well as international faces such as Obama, Bush and Mugabe are all to be found, served up with a generous helping of innuendo, symbolism and more than a touch of cynicism.

Comic strips with political and social messages are also in attendance, cocked and aimed at perpetrators who threaten our young and fragile democracy. Rico and S Francis’ evergreen Madam and Eve is joined by Gavin Thomson’s Mama Taxi (with Deni Brown) and TrekNet (with Dave Gommersal) in delivering their morals with a grin and a growl.

Jacana publishers are to be congratulated for publishing this visually pleasing, informative 95-pager full colour work, beautiful balanced in its layout – here, the studio responsible for the layout, has opted for an equilibrium of aesthetics. Discerning lovers of our nation’s oldest graphic genre (evolved as it has from rock art and hieroglyphics) will appreciate this offering as something to be enjoyed, to educate and - as its editors proclaim - to record.

For while it can rightly be said that political cartoons represent the perceptions of cartoonists and many of their readers, they are also opinion formers. More people are influenced by these seemingly innocuous pictures than by the best-written editorials. Former editor of Die Burger Prof. Piet Cillié grudgingly admitted this fact in a testimonial to his colleague T.O. Honiball (active as cartoonist and comic strip artist for half a century).

And indeed, when viewing the sharp wit of today’s guardians of democracy, one cannot but sense the approval of those who have been before. In my mind’s eye I see Abe Berry, David Marais, Jackson, Leyden, Lou Henning, Honiball, Boonzaier and a host of others looking down approvingly from Devil’s Peak (where they may be engaged in a smoke-athon with the Devil and Van Hunks) and encouraging their successors to see off the devils of their own time.

Curtis has launched an online showcase of South African cartoons with, and Mason’s Centre for Comic, illustrative and Book Arts, theCCIBA ( ) established in the Visual Arts department at Stellenbosch University, provides an academic platform in the quest to promote this all important Fifth Art in South Africa. A small sample of the book can be viewed on either of those websites, and the book can be found in most large bookshops and ordered from most others (Jacana Media, ISBN 978-1-77009-758-2 Price: R179, 00).

Posted on Mar 27, 2010 by Africartoons Bookmark and Share