When Jeremy “Jerm” Nel tells people he’s a cartoonist, most people ask him what he does for a day job. Citing role models from Daffy Duck and Monty Python to Peter Sellers and Bill Cosby, Nel had always hoped to become a cartoonist, but he nearly gave up, thinking there were no opportunities in South Africa. Taking the plunge in 2005 to become a full-time cartoonist, he landed a job at The Times in 2007, putting him in the political arena alongside other satirists like Zapiro.
He’s grown a strong reputation as a political cartoonist, winning the national and regional 2011 Vodacom Journalist of the Year award for political cartooning. But Nel also draws non-political cartoons and illustrations that have appeared in a range of publications, such as Cosmopolitan, FHM, Dekat and Playboy.
A highlight in his career was a personal endorsement from Mark Shuttleworth in 2012 for Nel’s use of Shuttleworth’s Linux-based operating system, Ubuntu. Making use of good freeware, Nel says, has helped him to save a lot of money, as art tools and software are expensive. His cartooning is entirely digital and he hopes one day to teach young cartoonists and artists how accessible art has become and how to make use of “open cartooning”, ie free technology.
Nel hopes his cartoons will “help people see the silliness in the world” and teach South Africans to laugh at themselves. Not that he knows what people actually get to see in the paper. Even today Nel can’t look at his cartoons once they have been published. If you had told a young Nel that he would one day make money from his hobby and get to work from home, he would probably have taken his dad’s advice and said: “Don’t be a doos.”
— Amanda Strydom