There is chatting in the boardroom. Sometimes there is laughter, sometimes just concentrated silence and the soft sounds of pencils scratching. At one point a guitar emerges and there is singing and noisy clapping to a Bob Marley number. The table is littered with a riot of paper, pencils, paint palettes and newspapers of the day. Gathered around the mess are some of Zimbabwe’s young creative talents cooking up cartoons. It’s the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s cartoon and graphic novel workshop held last month at their offices.
The workshop was aimed at boosting the technical and conceptual skills of local cartoonists. It brought together a diversity of people under the tutelage of renowned German cartoonist and metal sculptor Burkhard Mohr. Mohr’s work has been a mainstay of cartoon satire in the German and international press for decades. Indeed he wasn’t yet 20 when he first made it into the mainstream.
“Before I could walk I already did cartoons…I started political cartoons aged 16. When I was 19, I published my first political cartoons in the biggest and most serious political newspaper in Germany,” says Mohr, who has worked as a cartoonist ever since, though he is also a sculptor of repute, working in iron at a blacksmith in a small German village.
The ten Zimbabwean participants brought to the table a spectrum of creative backgrounds, though they all have a passion for the cartoon. Eugene Mapondera holds a Bachelor degree in political science. He is also a founding member of the Comexposed convention, which is working to bring comic books into the mainstream in Zimbabwe. His academic background and technical abilities are bringing great comics to the KAS boardroom table. He sees a bright future for cartoons as they fit neatly into the digital media realm.
“The growth of the blogosphere in Zimbabwe will help cartoonists. Bloggers need cartoons to bring a visual element to their work as they explore their themes,” said Mapondera. “Working with Mohr has been great, seeing how political satire is conducted in Germany and Europe has been inspiring,” he adds.
Sitting at the head of the table is Tafadzwa Mabasa. He’s not sitting alone. His participation is made possible with help from his sign language translator Sithabiso Ndlovu, for Mabasa is deaf. Ndlovu met Mabasa when she was buying airtime from him. He sells phone cards and accessories in town, and agreed to teach her sign language after their first meeting in June last year. She’s already adept and when she heard about the workshop, she suggested they go. Mabasa loves to draw.
“Cartoons give me an outlet to express myself,” signs Mabasa, who tells about his hard living. “I’ve never had a job, I’ve always been a vendor. I don’t make a profit any more now that there are so many doing the same. I also lose my stuff when the police move us around. Being deaf means they just grab me and move me without explanation,” he says. The few artistic commissions he has had in the past have brought him some thin revenue, but he hopes to develop this passion and maybe one day make a proper go of it. “I’m enjoying seeing how other people go about their drawings,” he says. “I’m learning a lot.”
As someone living life as a vendor, Mabasa was well attuned to the theme of vending that participants chose to dissect through their art. Other themes covered at the workshop included prophets, service delivery, Zimbabwe’s water shortages, and the need for environmental conservation.
For instructor Mohr, such diversity is totally normal and necessary for a cartoonist. “It’s a vast field,” he says, “There are so many aspects that you have to integrate into your perspective – psychology, theology, philosophy, economics, social science, language, geometry, art…you have to think about these from different perspectives, and from there decide your ethics, your morals…who is good and who is bad, and who wins in your scenes.” Mohr explains that the challenge for cartoonists is to condense vast, complicated narratives into a clear, simple, and preferably humorous visual moment.
“Cartoonists must also recognize and know the limitations of their work. Not everything is possible,” explains Mohr.
Among the most accurate cartoonists at the workshop is Tito Shangazhike. He’s been doing cartoons for a decade and his drawings take shape seemingly effortlessly. “I’ve learnt a lot at the workshop,” says Shangazhike, “I’ve started to use less colour and more light in my drawings.” He hopes to share his skills set with young people, as a means of expressing themselves.
One final meeting was held the last Saturday of July, for feedback and analysis of the best work from the week. Participants received certificates and said goodbye to Mohr, and each other. What will last and last however, is the fresh infusion of skills and knowledge that will hopefully see fine cartoons critiquing and reflecting Zimbabwe and her people, in a way that encourages understanding, debate, and progress.
Main image: A cartoon by local artist Kombo Chapfika