A peek into the world of cartoonists

By Kiundu Waweru

Cartoons use humour and satire to depict gloomy, shocking and ridiculous news on a light note.

Their simplicity provokes ones thought in a way that a 1,000 words cannot.

Most caricatures and editorial cartoons do not need accompanying texts or captions, they speak for themselves.

For example a public figure with a perpetual smile is riding a giant snail. Ahead is a road sign: Reforms 10,000km Ahead. The snail is branded AG’s office. Well, your guess is as good as mine, the rider is Attorney General Amos Wako depicted in a cartoon by Michael Munene.

The cartoon was among many others by renowned cartoonists showcased at an exhibition at the Alliance Francaise recently.

Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte. Photos: Jonah Onyango/Standard

During the event, the public met some of Kenya’s leading cartoonists.

The exhibition was the culmination of a competition, Rolling with the Punch Lines, the Kenyan Swiss Cartoon Roll. Cartoonists submitted their published work in four categories: editorial cartoons, caricatures, comic strips, and illustrations. The exhibition was hosted by the East African Associations of Cartoonists (Katuni) with the support of Swiss Embassy.

The winners were announced at a dinner at the Swiss Ambassador’s residence in Muthaiga.

Standard Group cartoonists, Eric Ngammau, aka Gammz, and Michael Munene bagged the best illustrator and caricaturist awards respectively. Frank Odoi’s comic strips emerged the best while the editorial cartoon award went to The Stars’ Victor Ndula.

Swiss Ambassador Georges Martin said he was surprised when he first came to Kenya four years ago to find Kenyan cartoonists enjoying freedom. "The first thing I look at in the papers are cartoons. I am amazed and impressed at the quality of Kenyan cartoons," he said

Eloquence and humour

The organiser, Mr Patrick Gathare, who is also the Secretary General of Katuni, said the Swiss Embassy approached him in February last year about the project.

Twenty published cartoonists applied and each entered six entries in each category.

Among the jurists was a renowned Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte, who works with The Herald Tribune. According to Gathare, one of the judges, said the criteria of choosing the winning cartoons included artistic expression, eloquence and humour.

Threats and cash offers

"We also compared consistency in the submitted works in the different categories," he added.

Chappatte said he was impressed by skills and levels of professionalism depicted by Kenyan cartoonists and their fearless tackle of issues.

During the exhibition, the public engaged the cartoonists in a debate that brought to the fore the reality of working in a volatile environment.

Mr Frank Odoi said the post-election violence changed his perspective while Munene said some of the politicians who apparently instigated the violence are subjects of his caricatures.

Several cartoonists revealed they regularly receive threats as well as money offers from politicians to paint their opponents in bad light.

"Cartoons are a powerful tool of communication… positive editorial cartoons are impossible as they should be critical," said Odoi.

"Cartoonists risk their life in their quest to educate and inform the public using their God given talents. We are responsible to the public and we will always strive to live to their expectations," he added.

Before the event the cartoonists held a workshop at the Alliance Francaise, a project of Chappatte. Its theme was Redrawing Kenya, and the Guidelines, Ethnicity and Search for a Kenyan Identity.