The Star Late Edition

The Star’s cartoonist Dov Fedler had a knack of drawing us together

He might be escaping daily deadlines after a long and illustriou­s career, but his art and enthusiasm will continue to inspire, writes Kevin Ritchie

- incred- If you’d like to sponsor Dov Fedler’s school art project, Draw What You Saw, or find out more about his art, write to fedler@iafrica. com or

THE DRAWING is striking. The face on the horizon is immediatel­y recognisab­le as Nelson Mandela’s – but it’s not made up of pencil marks or brush strokes.

Instead the face is reflected in the crests of the rolling waves as the tide goes out. The top half of the drawing are seagulls flying off into the sunset. Madiba’s lips are Robben Island.

There’s a little guy on the beach, looking out. He’s a paper seller. His little poster that captures his thoughts of the events of the day lies on the sand.

The drawing is poignant and unforgetta­ble.

Brilliant in its simplicity, breathtaki­ng in its clarity. It’s the work of a master, someone who has slaved literally over a blank sheet of paper with a pencil and a rubber every day for 50 years. That master is Dov Fedler. Today he leaves The Star after a career that has spanned South Africa – and indeed the globe’s – darkest days and greatest triumphs; from the first man to walk on the moon to the release of Mandela and the birth of the Rainbow Nation. He missed Hendrik Verwoerd but he’s drawn everyone else since, all the way through to capturing the hope of Barack Obama.

His favourite subject though remains Madiba. His favourite drawing, in a catalogue that numbers more than 15 000, was done in preparatio­n for the icon’s passing as he fought against the dying of the light, was done quickly – in bed.

“It all flowed naturally. I’d done one when Madiba originally fell ill, with the vultures lying in wait for him. This one I wanted to be natural, respectful.

“Some ideas are perfect, others just flow like this one. When I hit on this one, it was the definitive idea. You know you often see a cartoon and think, ‘hell, I wish I’d done that!’ Well this was the cartoon for me,” he says.

Fedler, born Noah David Fedler to parents who had fled the pogroms in Lithuania, never wanted to be a cartoonist. He wanted to draw comics, in fact he was besotted about Walt Disney and his first drawings were of Mickey Mouse, as well as Mussolini and Hitler, understand­able when you think his formative years were World War II.

His father had first wanted him to be a dentist. Fedler and his father then settled on architectu­re at Wits, with Fedler giving up on his dream of studying fine arts, but when he failed his first year, he dropped out and went to work in advertisin­g – after a brief sojourn at art school.

There he met Stuart Wilson, the creative director of the agency Van Zijl, Schultze, Lund and Tredoux – which would ultimately be taken over by Ogilvy and Mather. Wilson was a top creative director, but was also a closet cartoonist.

He said: “I don’t have a job, but I’ll make one for you”.

It was at Van Zyl’s where Fedler met Percy Baneshik who needed an illustrato­r for his arts column in the Rand Daily Mail. Fedler followed him to the short-lived Sunday Chronicle, where he met Jack Kros, the deputy editor.

“I was 23 and producing 10 illustrati­ons a week. The Sunday Chronicle was ahead of its time. It closed after two years.”

Baneshik and Kros moved over to the Chronicle’s sister newspaper, The Star, where Kros would ultimately become deputy editor.

In 1969, Kros told Fedler: “I want you to do political cartoons.”

“I said I couldn’t. Kros said ‘if you can’t I’ll get someone who can’, so I said I can.”

And thus began a career that lasted well past the age where most people opt to put their feet up and literally smell the roses.

Looking back after spending the last 50 years drawing for The Star – and at stages The Mercury, Pretoria News, Cape Times, Saturday Star and the Financial Mail, with work that’s been published as far afield as Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and Britain’s Punch magazine – Fedler muses: “It was never the career I wanted, I wanted to be like Walt Kelly (who wrote a satirical political strip called Pogo) or Charles Schulz (the creator of Charlie Brown), thank G-d I never did – they’re dead now and Charlie Brown and other cartoon strips like it are done by committees.

“I was very very lucky to develop in the ’60s, there were the Beatles, Mad maga- zine, I worked in advertisin­g which was a great place to be, where people were going against the grain and capturing the spirit of the time. There was a great camaraderi­e.”

Over the last 50 years he’s worked for a range of editors, but hasn’t just done political cartoons; Zibi, the rubbish loving ostrich of the 1980s anti-litter campaign is his, along with his own comic strip Jet Jungle.

Then there’s his house full of ible oils and water colours, inspired and infused by the masters grand and otherwise who have influenced him. There are stunning bronze sculptures on windowsill­s and book shelves.

He’s exhibited his art here and abroad and he’s even written a memoir, the critically acclaimed Out of Line, a story about growing up Jewish in Joburg, next door to the Mayfair shul, moving to Greenside and meeting the Lubavitche­r rebbe in New York.

“I’m a bit relieved at the prospect of not having daily deadlines,” he says, “I’m trying to write my second book, I’m trying to do a text book. I’m not as fris as I was.”

It’s a lie. There are few men even a decade younger who are as fit or as busy.

He’s quietly satisfied at his impending retirement. “I think my stuff is better, I believe I can look back on a body of work that has maintained a standard and I think improved, I was always worried that I wouldn’t.

“I want to teach, maybe create a cartooning master class, I’ve got to master social media,” he says. His big passion though is to teach visual literacy to teachers and pupils.

“If you can write the word, you can draw the animals, that’s the driving message behind ‘Draw What You Saw’.”

He’s still looking for corporate funders to take the project beyond concept stage to implementa­tion, something that will move into top gear as he “retires”.

So, what of the little man who appears in the corner of every Fedler cartoon? A unique signature.

“I was asked to open an exhibition at the Market Theatre called ‘The cartoonist in Context’,” Fedler remembers. “I said my little guy ultimately represents the little guy on the side of the picture. He’s got no name, he’s a poor guy selling the newspaper while all these big events are passing him by, he’s the man in the street. I’ve always tried to keep my point of view of the man in the street – who is far more savvy about what’s going on than politician­s give him, or her, credit for.

“But it also gave me a way of voicing a sentiment outside of the main body. It was also kind of a way to say what I was thinking. I once had to do a cartoon about different languages so I had all these people speaking and I drew a little hippy guy and he said ‘cool’ and the next day I embedded him and he’s been there ever since.

“I wanted my cartoons to be read on different levels, I never wanted it straight in your face, but rather something that provided different nuances,” he says. The worst thing a cartoonist can do is lecture to the readers, he feels.

“Essentiall­y, cartoons should be funny, a diversion from the rest of the serious stuff in the newspaper.”

Current US President Donald Trump, he says, is a perfect example – and a gift to cartoonist­s.

“Not all cartoons are funny though, the Mandela cartoon is not funny, it’s poignant.”

Mandela’s death hit Fedler – and the rest of South Africa – hard.

“The death of Mandela left me bereft. One didn’t realise just what his presence gave to everything and with the loss of him we are confronted by the reality of the gangsters who rule over us. It’s as if we are living in a world written by Pieter-Dirk Uys.”

Which is why, when you look at the cartoon again, you’ll see the little man’s poster is blank.

There just weren’t any words to describe his sense of loss, or the world’s.

 ??  ??
 ?? PICTURE: MATTHEWS BALOYI ?? EDUCATOR: Dov Fedler at Joburg Zoo where he launched an educationa­l drawing project.
PICTURE: MATTHEWS BALOYI EDUCATOR: Dov Fedler at Joburg Zoo where he launched an educationa­l drawing project.
 ?? PICTURE: BOXER NGWENYA ?? MULTI-TALENTED: Cartoonist Dov Fedler at his studio in Linden near Joburg.
PICTURE: BOXER NGWENYA MULTI-TALENTED: Cartoonist Dov Fedler at his studio in Linden near Joburg.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa