Monday, November 9, 2015

Long Road to Cartoon Nation

The print media cartoonist’s seemingly lifeless drawings have a subtle touch that lights up the flame of happiness in the mind.
No wonder that, when one bumps into a cartoon, there is a feeling of immediate freshness
They may focus on different facets of life but the cartoonist’s goal is constant: To remain relevant.
Whatever their background, the cartoonist is, in his or her own way, a giant towering over sadness and anguish through their cartoons.
That’s why James Kazembe’s Amtchona in The Weekend Nation was able to win one award after another in Malawi Broadcasting Corporation’s defunct Entertainers of the Year initiative. Through its ability to loom over sadness, cartoon lovers came to associate it with freshness. 
Haswel Kunyenje’s ‘Fingo’ and ‘Benja’ in Malawi News serve the same purpose.  
And, sometimes, especially when they depict real life and real people, the cartoonist has ‘power’ to let artificially-induced tears flood the reader’s face. A typical example is ‘Achimwene’ in The Sunday Times, which depicts struggles endured by a man who has an abusive woman for a wife.
These are but some of the purposes served by cartoons.
According to Eastern Illinois University, some of the five persuasive techniques used by cartoonists include exaggeration, labeling, symbolism, analogy, and irony.

It adds that, under exaggeration, cartoonists overdo physical characteristics of people or things in order to make a point; labeling, where objects or people are often labeled by cartoonists to make it clear exactly what they stand for; symbolism, where objects are used to stand for larger concepts or ideas; analogy, when cartoonists 'draw' a comparison between two unlike things; and irony, which entails the difference between the way things are and the way things should be.

While this may be common fodder in established institutions with cartooning courses, the case seems to be different in Malawi.

Informal path
Cartoonist Kazembe observes that the path to becoming a cartoonist in Malawi is strewn with ups and downs, as practitioners have to find their own ropes outside the formal education system.

“There is no cartooning school in Malawi. The situation in Malawi is akin to music in the sense that individuals learn from those who are in the field,” observes Kazembe.

He speaks from experience. “In my case, I learned from Brian Hara, who acquired his knowledge in college in Zimbabwe. Our friends in Zambia and Zimbabwe have colleges that offer programmes in cartooning; in Malawi, the case is different,” observes Kazembe.

The name Hara will forever be associated with cartooning in Malawi and abroad. Even death, which robbed Malawi of this greatest son in March 2008, has not erased the greatness of his cartoons. His creations include the then Malawi News Chichewa cartoon strip, Pewani, and Zabweka in The Nation.
Kazembe says, in the absence of colleges offering programmes in cartooning, the task of transferring skills shall remain on the shoulders of those who are already combing the fields.
“Of course, we have made efforts as cartoonists, including our attempts to establish an association for cartoonists, but the truth is that people like me learned from those who were in the field and the situation has not changed,” says Kazembe.
Kunyenje concurs.
“The education sector is yet to recognise the importance of the art of cartooning. That’s why cartooning remains one of the unexploited areas in Malawi,” says Kunyenje.

Rising sun
Little by little, however, the skies seem to be clearing for those harbouring ambitions to become cartoonists.
For instance, Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi— a brainchild of philanthropist Marie Deschamps— offers some cartooning lessons to some of the children under its armpit.
When some foreign visitors toured the place a couple of years ago, they were taken to a room that had children cartoon strips.
Standing beside the children was Jim Ali Fischer, a cartoonist renowned for his cartoon strip ‘Baruda’ in The UDF News. He is the one who was teaching the children the ropes in cartooning. The school looks after orphans and provides free primary, secondary and tertiary educations to orphans in Malawi, as well as integrated orphan care.

Another example of positive movement is the establishment of Blantyre Cartoon Club, which visits some secondary schools in Blantyre and imparts cartooning skills in students.

Kunyenje, who serves as director and works alongside cartoonists such as Peter Nyakhuwa of ‘Zayakunkhongo’ cartoon strip, says the club works with the European Cartoon centre and advances the objective promoting the art of cartooning among children in the country.
These efforts aside, Kazembe observes that the art has potential to grow in the country despite the challenges.

He, however, says, for this level to be attained, cartooning schools should be part of the solution.

“At the moment, some secondary schools such as Chichiri in Blantyre offer art lessons, but the challenge is that qualified teachers in art are hard to come by. Therefore, we need to have qualified teachers and people who know the art well for it to flourish,” says Kazembe.

On his part, Kunyenje says cartooning remains one of the areas that are yet to be appreciated in Malawi.

“Cartooning is yet to be explored fully in Malawi. But there is hope. I have faith that things will work out because people success not because of things that are there, but because of things that will be there,” says Kunyenje.

With these developments, it would not be long before children of this age acquire the skills, master the skills of getting themselves into the swing and anarchy of the imagination to give birth to cartoons.

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