Many young people read comics and really enjoy the format that comics use to get their story across. Usually these comics are created to entertain the reader, much like a story in a novel. Political cartoons, though are quite different. Although they use humour to get their message across the intention of a political cartoonist is to give the public a different, often critical, opinion about some important issue happening in the country or the world at that time. The topic of a political cartoon can range from politics to the environment, anything that’s needs serious social commentary is up for grabs.
The cartoonist behind the message is important because it is their opinion on the issue that is being put forward to the reader. We interviewed a well-known political cartoonist, Brandan, who publishes cartoon in newspapers and on the internet on a daily basis to find out more about him and his cartoons.
1. What made you decide to be a cartoonist?
As I was growing up, I always found something to draw on like matchboxes. I was especially fond of the back page of Christmas cards! When I finished school in Athlone in 1988 (a time of great political upheaval) I was exposed to a cartoon by Derek Bauer in ‘The Argus’ of PW Botha. Wow, it was a great drawing with a vicious sense of humour. He made a strong political point and I thought this was great. I realised that I must learn how to do this. Initially, though, I studied Graphic Design and then worked in advertising for a while.
2. When did you start producing your own cartoons?
In 1994, at the time of the democratic elections, we were a new country with new possibilities. It was a sensitive time and South Africa had difficult issues to get through. I started working on cartoons of far-off places such as Haiti and Bosnia. In these other countries it was easy to see who the protagonists and who the antagonists were. Cartoonist thrive on obviousness. South Africa was politically complicated and I was sensitive of being critical of the incoming government at the time.
3. How did you become a well-known cartoonist?
In September 1994 I did a cartoon on Haiti about a coup in that country. I thought this cartoon might work. It had a good joke and a good drawing. I showed my cartoon to the manager of ‘The Argus’ and he said that he would get back to me once he had shown it to the editorial board. He called me back later and said it would be in the paper the next day and he wanted another one straight away! It had taken me 6 months to do the first one!
It was after that that doors started opening for me. I did cartoons on Bosnia, a few on local politics and in 1996, I started to do one cartoon a week for ‘The Weekend Argus’. Then I did two cartoons for them a week. I drew them all by hand in those days. Now, I do one cartoon every day.
4. What is the process you go through when you sit down to draw a cartoon?
It’s a bit of a mysterious process. I spend my morning reading and see what is interesting. I provide the ‘Business Day’ with a daily cartoon so I read their morning paper and see what’s in it. I read the editorial which gives me some signposts about what to use as my topic. I listen to podcasts and the radio at the same time. I’m listening, reading and thinking and then I do something else for a while. Then I decide what I’m going to work on. I usually have an image in my mind, then I do some further research. I try and look at the issues as simply as possible. Once I combine the image in my mind and my thoughts, I start.
I draw the main components, scan them, put them in Photoshop, then delete aspects and go through an editing process and at the end of it, I have my carton and show it to my editors.
5. What impact/message do you think your cartoons make on your audience?
I’m not trying to do too much. I want to make people think about issues. The cartoons might look simple but they are deeper than you think. There are different ways of looking at things that confront us all the time. I’m also recording events in my cartoons.
It’s difficult in South African politics. You have to have a clear-cut stance. I’m a liberal person and stand for anti-corruption, transparency, rule of law and respect for justice. There’s lots to work on.
6. How important do you think satire (and cartoons in particular) are in SA today?
I started in 1994. Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) had just started his regular cartoons in ‘The Mail and Guardian’. I looked Jonathan up and went to see him. He was a great influence on me. It was due to his popularity in the late 1990s that there was an explosion of cartoons. He opened up the world of cartoonists in South Africa.
We were all part of that ‘’wave’’. There was a very vibrant editorial scene and now we have formed a web group. We have a good community in South Africa. We all face the same challenges and issues and we meet to discuss that. Our politics has inspired a new group of young cartoonist. Some are not yet published but publish on the group and the older guys are training them. It’s important to create a commentary on what’s going on in the world.
7. Is there a line that you think a cartoonist shouldn’t go over?
We all need to be aware of lines but my cartoons are published in ‘The Business Day’ so, as a cartoonist, you need to know where the newspaper sits on certain issues and be aligned with them. I recently did a cartoon on the NHI (National Health Insurance) which is a very complex issue. It was in tune with the newspaper and their readers.
Political cartoons can be a fun and interesting way to look at a difficult issues happening in the world and to see it in a way that you might not have thought about before. Cartoonist use their craft to give you their interpretation of what is happening in a clever and witty way. Cartoons definitely have depth and require considerable skill (and hard work) to create. And they can definitely ruffle some feathers!