In light of what has happened to one of South Africa’s most cherished cartoonists, Zapiro (who admitted the SABC tried to influence what he had to say and then canned the interview) it is time to hear the plight of our cartoonists, as the end of freedom of speech in South Africa becomes a daunting reality.
Here is a one-on-one with one of South Africa’s sharpest minds, JERM:
Jeremy Nell aka Jerm has built his reputation in the last few years as one of South Africa’s most successful cartoonists. Originally from Cape Town, his cartoons range from the hilarious “Biggish Five” about the Big Five as baby animals to his more serious political cartoons.
He was recently in the news after losing his job at The New Age newspaper for “not being aligned to their editorial vision and mission”. He recently published his first cartoons for Eye Witness News, keeping audiences entertained with his brilliant ideas and poking fun at our politicians.
How do you feel about The New Age’s excuse for terminating your contract?
I think that’s a nice way of saying that they don’t like my criticisms and lampooning. EWN approached me after they heard the news, and pioneered a new cartooning direction for South Africa. Never before has there been an online-only political cartoonist (being paid for original content). And it’s a very exciting space because of EWN’s overlap with Primedia’s radio stations. Furthermore, they’re an amazing bunch of people.
Hold on… Tell the readers more about your background…
My whole life has been in Cape Town. I went to Rondebosch Boys Primary School. Then, when I went to Fairmont High School, it was the greatest moment of my life. Not because of the school, but because there were girls. Loads of them. They were everywhere. I was in Heaven.
What are your passions?
I obviously hate drawing cartoons. But I love playing my ukulele; playing a ukulele is the most fun anyone will have for a grand! I enjoy going away to little towns and dorpies and places that are quiet, that make delicious food, and that are welcoming to ukuleles.
Tell us more about your work…
Well, I draw a syndicated comic strip called “The Biggish Five”, but my other work doesn’t really have names. For example, political cartooning and caption cartooning tends to be nameless. And illustrations that I do for magazines are much the same. I suppose it all falls under “Jerm”.
Which publications do you work for?
My work has appeared in a few publications ranging from The Witness, The Star, Pretoria News, Dispatch, Sunday Times, The Times, The New Age, Daily Maverick, EWN, Beeld, Rapport, and more, to magazines such as FHM, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, The Media, Dekat, and others.
What inspired your love for cartooning? And, from what age?
From as far back as I can remember. I was inspired by TV cartoons, mostly; Daffy Duck and Pink Panther and all those fantastic “Golden Age” cartoons that we all love.
What continues to drive the passion?
I suppose seeing the finished product. I get an idea and I like seeing how it comes out. Oh, and being paid to do that is a wonderful incentive.
What is your cure to writer’s block?
I have no cure and it happens a lot! If you know the cure, then please contact me.
Which is your personal favourite?
I have no personal favourite. In fact, I feel embarrassed by a lot of my earlier work (style, usually) and tend to push my boundaries in an attempt to improve and satisfy my expectations.
Which are you least proud of?
I am proud of pretty much every cartoon that I’ve done. But, as I said, I’m not necessarily satisfied with the quality of drawing. And, of course, there are a bunch of bloopers too.
How would you define “political cartooning”?
Making comments about current affairs and pop culture and the world around us, without attempting to provide solutions.
Jerm also makes short movies depicting South Africa’s current situation. This one gives a wonderful overview of Nkandla, President Zuma’s bustling castle…
Have you ever gotten into trouble for your work (sued/ harassed/ warned)?
No, I’ve not reached Zapiro’s level, in that regard. I mean, yes, I’ve had a lot of cartoons pulled, and I’ve had a number of irate readers, and the NSPCA once lodged a complaint against me, but nothing too serious. Unfortunately.
Have you ever been rejected by an editor for being too controversial?
Yes. Plenty. I was even fired, not too long ago.
Which other cartoonists (South African or international) are your favourites?
In no order of preference, my list would include cartoonists and non-cartoonists: Zapiro, Rico, Peter Sellers, Bill Cosby, Quentin Blake, and a bunch more.
What is your greatest achievement thus far?
This interview. LOL.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully following Roald Dahl’s footsteps and working from a little Wendy House in my back garden. (Close enough to home, but far away enough from noise.) And, perhaps being able to play a few more songs on my ukulele.
What is your advice to other aspiring cartoonists?
Being a cartoonist is not easy. It took me years just to be able to buy a more comfortable chair, for example. You have to believe in yourself and when you feel like giving up, have a shot of vodka or go for a walk. And rejection is a daily occurrence. Make sure that your skin grows thick very quickly. If you can get through the challenges, then you find that the rewards are great. Like drinking shots of vodka.