Comic strips — two sides of the same coin?


Comic strips — two sides of the same coin?

JOAN HAMBIDGE considers dramatically different cartoons and contemplates censorship and life.



How do we view cartoons?

Charles M Schulz's (1922–2000) iconic cartoons featuring Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and especially Snoopy remain landmarks under the name: Peanuts. Here Comes Charlie Brown! published in 1955 by Coronet Books provides commentary on the human condition. With lots of humour.

Snoopy sitting on his kennel and writing. The famous one: it's a stormy night. The hero must flee and transforms into a knight. The beginning of his story. Then Snoopy looks at his reader (with a self-satisfied smile): “Help me make it through the Knight."

Or Lucy, the eternal bully, enlightening Charlie with her perspective on life. She holds her notebook in the air and crosses out someone's name: “Look Charlie, when I'm done with someone, I am really done!"

Sarcasm, irony, clever references with peripheral characters such as Shermie, Peppermint Patty, Little Red-Haired Girl (whom Charlie has a crush on, which leads to nothing), Schroeder playing the piano and being a Beethoven enthusiast — all these make Peanuts something special.

There was a film in 2015, The Peanuts Movie, but this animated work functions like a kind of “silent contemplation" rather than with a voiceover.

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Then there's Bitterkomix by Anton Kannemeyer and Conrad Botes, which particularly targets Afrikaner mores. Racism, gender stereotypes, religion and more are scrutinised.

Like Loslyf, all the old sacred cows are slaughtered, and, just like the novels of RR Ryger (especially Beertjie en sy Boytjies), it deals with pretence, snobbery and sexual prudishness. When Loslyf first appeared, I gave it to a respected history lecturer at the University of Cape Town and the man laughed himself to tears.

There have been many debates about the language of Loslyf. Can we, for example, move beyond diminutives? Is “moemfie" not already a hilariously funny word? Do we, for example, have words in Afrikaans that can sexually arouse someone?

Kannemeyer and Botes convey the dark vein of satire. It is (and was) offensive and over the top for certain readers. But shock impact is precisely its aim. There is also a heart-wrenching analysis of the young boy molested by his father and trapped in his powerlessness. As an adult, he succumbs to depression over his father's abuses. We see how Boetie kicks a ball and breaks a window of his father's study where Kennis van die aand is displayed. Quite ironically, as we all know the history of André Brink's novel. An eight-year ban was lifted in 1982 only after much publicity and many legal battles. It was a novel we had to secretly read as young students. Enclosed in a brown paper cover so the boarding house matron couldn't see what it was. Oy vey. The story of Josef Malan and Jessica. And the reality that damns their lives. Koot Vorster claimed: “If this is literature, then a brothel is a Sunday school."

Ultimately, Boetie's story is about more than just him. It is a story for and about other children who have lived through the same ordeal of molestation. And never had a voice to express their unrest and suffering. It also encapsulates the impact of censorship on our thinking with the reference to Brink's novel. That's why the dead father is dissected in a mortuary. Stripped of all dignity. We also know that now (in this woke era) certain galleries don't want to exhibit the artworks because they are deemed “offensive".

Bitterkomix 19 is currently available. And what does it mean for us? Konradski and Joe Dog should not be silenced. Just like a curse word in a poem or novel has to remain. One wonders if we rebelled against censorship for so many years only to endure neo-censorship now. Neo-censorship might prove that the new order works with exactly the same structures of censorship as the old South Africa. 

Feel free to read Kobus van Rooyen's A South African Censor’s Tale, published by Protea in 2011. If a book or film bothers you, please look away. Or close the book. Or stay away from the exhibition.

Your view of life is not necessarily mine.

♦ VWB ♦

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