Zunar: Therapy through humour, irony and satire

Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque sets off rollicking laughs to fire up and cool down the stress of a pandemic-stricken year

WHETHER you liked it or not, this year has brought the banality of our home-cum-office spaces some colourful action. They were in the form of updates from daily press conferences, heightened friction at Parliament, anxiety-inducing news headlines and social media opinions.

But, with our movements restricted on many occasions, it conditions us to look the other way (often due to the liberty of time and privacy). These could be causing us more damage than we thought.

Malaysian political cartoonist Zunar at his studio. – The Vibes pic

At least, that is what the bold and notorious Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, more known as Zunar, implied. He shared his reflections on the start of the new decade during a recent visit to his studio.

While the world is busy narrowing its pursuit in coming up with a vaccine that will put an end to Covid-19, Zunar claims to offer Malaysians a different kind of prescription – to cure the nation of the year-long observed vices.

Zunar brands his latest book a ‘Laugh Therapy’ offering Malaysians escapism to ease the tensions of a year filled with health, economic and political turmoil. – The Vibes pic
Zunar brands his latest book a ‘Laugh Therapy’ offering Malaysians escapism to ease the tensions of a year filled with health, economic and political turmoil. – The Vibes pic

Fight through cartoons

“Hollywood ada Brigitte Bardot, Malaysia ada Brigade of Badut,” – read an excerpt from a comic, in a page of his latest book ‘Politik Caca Marba’. It detailed the current calamity of the state of governance and those leading it, as observed by the rakyat.

“This book is to tell the public what the state of the country in 2020 is like – because of a disorganised government. It is to let people stay informed (with the headlines) and educate them further (if need be),” shared Zunar.

“Covid gives a negative global effect on health and economics, but in Malaysia the situation is truly worse because we are also facing political and economic uncertainty. I am not a doctor, but I would like to offer this form of ‘Laugh Therapy’ to ease the tension.

“I hope that people will not just read, but would take steps to do something about it. The context ‘caca marba’ here is truly used to highlight that the country is in a mess – without a clear direction and standard instruction.

“That needs to be changed,” he said.

Zunar’s continued political activism should come as no surprise. The man is no stranger to endless raids and arrests voicing against the government where he sees fit. With nine books of his already banned, many bookstores afraid to risk their shelves to carry his works. The cartoonist is only able to offer his latest book for audiences via his website

“I try to convey the feeling of the people on the ground as much as I can through my cartoons,” said the cartoonist. 

“It’s not an easy job for me because it’s more than just about drawing.”

Capturing people’s sentiment and helping amplify it further is what he meant. And the process can take up to 12 hours or more depending on the issue he aims to interpret. 

According to Zunar, at times it even requires him to clarify press statements (be it television, print or online) that he uses as reference (themes) for his cartoons.

That said, he does take certain political issues raised at face value, “if statements have been reported widely enough by many media.”

My talent is not a gift, but a responsibility

When asked if he is careful with the information and draws a line when it comes to exaggeration, Zunar jested: “First of all, there is no line and I don’t draw lines.”

Jokes aside, he said: “I don’t exaggerate the facts.”

“If [the figures reported] states a corruption of one million, I would state exactly that in my cartoon. But to answer your question appropriately, the exaggeration is on the character (traits and features).”

He is firm on what he aspires for the public: “I want them (readers) to react emotionally – through anger or even through laughter. 

“But the main push here is clear and that is for a reform based on what they stand against.” 

He further said: “We have had eight prime ministers running the country in Malaysian history, but none of them has granted us the opportunity for an overall reformation (of the system) or even the will power of taking stern action against corruption (on an extensive scale).” 

“On another note, just look at the press – we still have laws that control the journalists and media outlets in Malaysia from fully exercising their roles. 

“Investigation reports are still scrutinised heavily,” said Zunar referencing the recent actions taken against Al Jazeera English.

On whether he ever gets tired churning out content for his brand of comedy (political satire), Zunar said that he is aware the theme is repetitive.

“But when I think it through, my objective is clear (to fight for political and public consciousness). I don’t see it as a job anymore, it has become a full responsibility.”

Interestingly, he remarked: “If you study my cartoons carefully, it’s not the typical political satire that we see in other parts of the world (such as in America or Europe) that are well-known.

“My cartoon is for the people, and the views of the illustrations are based on the perspective of the audience looking in, that impacts people’s lives every day.”

When asked if he sees himself as anti-establishment, Zunar said the duties of a cartoonist is like a watchdog. 

“We do what journalists are doing – the delivery may be different, but the core (idea) in pushing information out to the public remains the same.”

'Politik Caca Marba’ is available for purchase on the cartoonist’s official website. – Pic courtesy of Zunar.my
Politik Caca Marba’ is available for purchase on the cartoonist’s official website. – Pic courtesy of Zunar.my

As a parting shot, the cartoonist highlighted: “I want to be independent, and I want to be an independent cartoonist all the time.”

By : Amalina Kamal – THE VIBES

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