JOKE'S ON WHO?
"Why pinch when you can punch?" asks Zunar the cartoonist, whose trademark political cartoon satires have riled up the nation into guffaws and perhaps, just maybe, played a small part in toppling the Barisan Nasional regime.
The one thing that hit him hard is that he had to say goodbye to Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, by whose character he lived by for years
Small in size, with an energy bigger than the man himself, Zunar could very well be a cartoon character himself, as his facial expressions change from seriousness to laughing out boisterously, waving his hands about as he speaks.
Yet Zunar, whose real name is Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque, insists that he is no comedian but a serious cartoonist.
Zunar says that when Barisan Nasional fell, the one thing that hit him hard is that he had to say goodbye to Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, whose character he lived by for years.
Rosmah is the wife of the former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who was embroiled in various alleged scandals when her husband was heading the country. Zunar is known for drawing her with the exaggerated hairdo and blings to highlight the issues surrounding the previous government.
I Love Rosmah But....
For being vocal against corrupted politicians through his cartoons, his books were banned, he was barred from leaving the country despite numerous international awards and he was branded as being part of the opposition.
With the new government, Zunar's books are now in stores and the immigration office has lifted the travel ban on him.
However, for Zunar, he says that Rosmah leaving the political scene meant that he lost his main character, and perhaps his main "star".
"As a cartoonist, I think Rosmah is God-sent for me. She is very "cartoonable", as compared to the husband. I would not have been able to survive if I depended on the husband (Najib) alone. The husband is the quiet one but the wife, she speaks and thinks later about it."
If I’m allowed to see her personally, I will say ‘Datin Seri, I really like you. I will say this is a token of appreciation of the inspiration you gave me
"So, this is important for me. Every cartoonist in the world loves this kind of character. So, whether the person is good for the country or not, it doesn’t matter but for cartoonists we have a different perspective - we love this kind of characters."
"Yes, Rosmah was the one I loved to draw, not only because she has issues but also because of the physical character as well. It's easy to be exaggerated - this is what cartoonists do. Now that Rosmah is 'gone', I cannot simply draw Rosmah now. I have to find someone in the government - I have to admit I still don’t have the character," says Zunar, sadly.
He says that he believes he "owes" it to Rosmah for making him famous and when she was called for investigation by the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC), he parked himself at the anti-graft headquarters in Putrajaya, in hopes to thank her in person.
"I planned to present her my book; a book about her. But I was stopped at the entrance. So, I wore a T-shirt saying ‘I Love Rosmah’ outside the building. I love Rosmah as a cartoonist - not as a person. That’s when I realised that she doesn’t have any supporters during that time. It’s all Pakatan Harapan supporters gathered outside the building. I said, "This is so bad, not even one person support her. So, I said okay, I will become her supporter."
"I do not know if she likes me but I have heard from sources that she really hates the way I have drawn her. However, if I’m allowed to see her personally, I will say ‘Datin Seri, I really like you. I will say this is a token of appreciation of the inspiration you gave me’. I will sign the book and give to her," says Zunar.
Why Pinch When You Can Punch?
For Zunar, the cartoons that he draw is not just to make people laugh, but to make people think and change things for the better. He says that he is blessed for in the current Malaysian political scene. As for new ministers who he sees has 'cartoonable' potential? Zunar says he has spotted quite a few.
I'm lucky we are blessed with so many clowns in minister suits
"Actually, even without cartoons, people are already laughing at the things that are happening in our politics. I'm lucky we are blessed with so many clowns in minister suits," says Zunar.
He says that while he may exaggerate physical features, that is only to attract the initial attention of his readers. The subject is what Zunar wants the readers to focus on.
"The joke must be around the issue - it cannot go out from the issue. So, this is how I draw cartoon. It’s not easy to do that kind of joke because you start from zero and then gather information and put a joke."
"I want people to laugh and then also get the message and see the direction," says Zunar, in all seriousness.