Matric art project by Reto Müller

22 July 2005

What made you become a cartoon artist?

I became a cartoon fan around the age of four when I saw the covers of the Giles books my parents had lying around. They were beautifully drawn and inspired me to draw in a cartoony style. From the age of seven or eight I thought I would become a cartoonist but later lost confidence in the possibility of doing so and went to university to study architecture. Only after studying for a few years and being conscripted into the army did I decide at age 23 to actually become a cartoonist.

How did you discover your talent for drawing cartoons?

I naturally drew in quite a cartoony way but never studied art at school or university so you could say I was self-taught. Only when I was almost 30 did I get the chance to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York which helped me consolidate what I’d learnt and also learn a heck of a lot more besides.

Which cartoon artists are your favourites or main influences and did they influence your drawing style in any way?

My first influence was Giles. Then came Tintin and Peanuts. As a teenager I admired the political cartoons of David Marais in the Cape Times. In my twenties I was influenced by the English graphic cartoonists Steadman and Scarfe, and also stylistically by their equivalent Derek Bauer in South Africa. There was some influence from these styles in my early cartoons, but I moved to a more accessible style, being influenced in drawing and writing by Doonesbury, Oliphant, Steve Bell, Tom Toles and Mike Peters.

What was the first cartoon you ever drew?

As I mentioned earlier I was drawing in a cartoon style from very young. I’d say the first deliberate original cartoon that I drew and published was around the age of ten in a school publication. It was a schoolboy character who commented on the goings-on at the school.

In your opinion, what is the best cartoon you've ever drawn?

I can’t pick one. Perhaps I could pick the best five or six. The cartoon that receives the most attention is one of the best I’ve done. It’s the cartoon I did in 1997 after Cape Town lost its bid to host the 2004 Olympics.

Are there any cartoons that don't get published?

I quite often come up with ideas that don’t see the light of day, some because they would be grossly insensitive without enough positive result and many because they just don’t quite work. I don’t usually finish cartoons and then find that I can’t publish them. Luckily it’s only happened a few times after wrangles about legality with newspaper editors who don’t want to see the paper sued (I always fight for the cartoon under these circumstances and have only lost a few times), and then there’ve been a handful that editors have considered grossly offensive in the finished form (I fight even harder for these if I believe in the cartoon).

On average, how long does it take you to draw a cartoon?

There’s always a lot of time to conceptualise ideas before starting on a cartoon and this time is not easily quantifiable. Some days it’s quick and some days slow. Once I start, it varies between three hours (quick) and six hours (very slow), usually lots of research and detail involved.

Have you ever considered drawing cartoons on other subject matter?

I’m not completely sure what this question means. If it is whether or not I do cartoons other than political, the answer is yes simply because as an editorial cartoonist I cover things like sport, entertainment and things of general interest and these not all with a political angle. If the question is other than editorial cartoons the answer is seldom, I just don’t have the time but I have done some educational comics in years gone by and I do the odd gag cartoon which I’m sure I’ll publish at some stage.

Is there any topic or person that you are particularly glad to see appear in the news? Which or who is it?

My answer to this is a bit strange in that I sometimes want to see news about things that I’m not happy with. The reason being that I want them further highlighted in the public mind so that I can get a better shot at saying what I want to say. The best example of this is HIV/Aids. Obviously I want the situation to improve but until it does, it’s good to see in the press aspects of the situation that I want to attack. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is one of my favourite targets and President Mbeki himself, because he appears to be an AIDS dissident is another on target on this issue.

When and where do you get your best ideas?

There’s no set time or place. I do work hard sitting at my board in my studio but sometimes I get it while I’m at the gym or having a shower or in front of the TV.

Which medium do you use to draw your cartoons?

I am a traditionalist when it comes to my materials and methods. I love flexible dipping pens and India ink drawn on Bristol board.

And lastly, may I ask your permission to use some of your cartoons in my project?

Of course you can reproduce my cartoons in your project. Do you need us to give you a selection, if you do it might be easiest to pick them up from my studio because your e-mail is probably going to clog up if we try and send you 10 or 12 cartoons. Let us know.