by Herman Manson (@marklives) Editorial cartoons remain a staple in our newspapers. Which should be worrying to cartoonists as said media continues its circulation slide and publishers keep cutting back on content. A small pool of cartoonists work for an even smaller pool of newspaper owners. You can see the possible disadvantages in such a set-up – especially for cartoonists (few places of employment in a declining environment). Editorial cartooning seems like a risky career proposition, overall, unless you are Zapiro.
One day one cartoonist, John Curtis, decided to bring together a collection of cartoons celebrating Nelson Mandela, and publish it online for his 90th birthday. Africartoons was born, and helped establish an informal network between the professional editorial cartoonists in the country, which Curtis says numbers around 30.
Today the website holds a substantial trove of South African cartoons numbering anywhere between 10 – 12 000, with between 200 and 350 cartoons added every month. That is out of a total of approximately 430 strips and cartoons published in SA newspapers each month. Apart from maintaining an important editorial archive, the site has helped open up the digital market to local cartoonists, gives them access to an audience beyond often regional newspapers, and allows for greater networking and collaboration between cartoonists.
It’s improved the business environment for cartoonists, who have become more aware of who holds the rights to their work (them, preferably), and offers an informal platform for support (like when paper The New Age, owned by the controversial Gupta family, dropped cartoonist Jerm, allegedly because his cartoons were not “aligned with the paper’s vision and mission.”)
It also allowed quite a few editorial cartoonists to pop out of the woodwork. While Zapiro remains the most influential cartoonist in the country (and one of the most influential cartoonists in the world today) it has certainly helped raise the profile of other cartoonists as well.
The site has to date been funded by Curtis, who, alongside fellow cartoonist Dr Jack, was recently signed by City Press to produce editorial cartoons as DR JACK & CURTIS for the paper. Curtis had originally used the design studio founded by him and his wife Michelle, digitalJUNGLE, to build and maintain the site, but the agency had scaled back after Michelle’s second pregnancy, so for the moment Curtis is managing most aspects of the site.