After practising cartooning for over 30 years now, cartoonist, Eyabi Lambert, says his desire is that the cartoon industry in Cameroon should be renowned and people should know the usefulness of cartoons. Lambert has been a cartoonist from birth and his works earned him at least four awards: from Guinness Cameroun (1986); Living Earth (1996); the French Corporation for Cartoonists (2006); and the German Corporation, GIZ (2003).
In an interview with The Post, Eyabi, who has cartooned for several renowned publishing houses in and out of Cameroon, decried the underdeveloped nature of the cartoon industry in the country, despite the rich potentials the field offers. With very little attention being paid to cartoon education in Cameroon, he says, his goal is to help young people exploit the lucrative industry while making a living from cartooning.
You have been doing cartooning as a job for over 30 years now. What has kept you in the field for this long?
First, the love of it. Secondly, I feel that this field is something that is not well exploited in Cameroon and people are less interested in it and I came to realise that it is because we don’t have the resources to do that. If you look around our institutions you will have very few or even nothing that is taught about cartooning.
Why do you think there is this knowledge gap in cartooning?
The problem is that, in our educational system, we have just one way – to believe what the white man brought here; the way we received it and don’t have that spirit to go into other discoveries as far as education is concerned. So, we stick to what was brought here. So, there are many, many other things as far as education is concerned that little interest is focused on.
What brought you into cartooning, how did it start?
I started this from small. I will just say it was a gift from God. From childhood, I always had that spirit of drawing. My parents did everything to discourage me from drawing but I kept on. Later on, they discovered it was something very precious that they were struggling to destroy.
Did you have a mentor, or you just developed the talent on your own?
Actually, I am self-taught. As I was progressing and along the line competitions such as Guinness came up – they had an art competition in those days, encouraging young people to improve on their art skills. The competition held every year following the Mountain race. The works of other famous cartoonists also encouraged me. I had been struggling on my own, but seeing what they were doing encouraged me and, through that, I also learned.
Do you think cartooning can be learned or it’s only for those who are born with the gift?
It can be learnt. Even though, unfortunately, I did not have anybody to learn from, but it is very possible for somebody who is interested to become a cartoonist. It is very possible, because there are formulas even at my level, there are natural formulas that I discovered and that can facilitate somebody to get into the field of cartooning.
Is cartooning all about satire, criticism, controversy?
No, it’s not all about satire. You have satire that is encouraging peace or bring change in different directions. You took just a side of it – politics: criticising and so on. But there are a lot of things that can be benefitted from that aspect of communication, not only criticising – in health, even corruption, discouraging corruption and so on. There are a lot of positive things that cartooning can be able to solve.
You founded the National Association of Cartoon and Satiric Journalists, NACASAJ. What is the aim of this association?
Well, I discovered that it (cartooning) was a very important tool as far as communication is concerned, but it was like a giant lying somewhere, that because of our system of education, that particular area has not been well exploited, so I saw it as something that can bring something very huge in the area of communication.
What activities has NACASAJ been carrying out since its creation?
The association, for these past years, has been organising competitions like the one that happened recently and also encouraging young people to get into the field of cartooning and to discover the many benefits of cartoons. For example with cartoons you can do films; you can educate the public using cartoons in several ways. It is very flexible – like if you want to educate the public about environmental issues, political issues, educational issues and many others. And you can talk to people; you can educate people who are illiterates through cartoons.
What has been your experience doing cartooning in Cameroon for several years now? What are your achievements?
Beginning with educational books – like working with some publishing companies both in the country and out of the country: like COSMOS, ANUCAM, Oxford, Cambridge – those are some few of them. So, I have been in it for a long time. Even in the field of political cartooning, for example working, with newspapers and I discovered that very few young people understand that you can use cartoons to communicate; very few of them and which it is a very powerful tool when it comes to communication. Because the kind of information you pass through cartoons to get to the public has no barrier, for example like language barrier: a Francophone can be able to read a cartoon without words; an Anglophone can be able to read that cartoon – even people who speak different dialects in the country can still see the cartoon and understand – even a dumb can also read a cartoon and understand what is happening. So, it is a very flexible means of communication.
Some people see cartooning as risky, especially given its critical and satirical nature. How do you navigate the risks in doing especially satirical cartoons on individuals?
Yeah, but the one good thing with cartoon is that it is very flexible. But it’s cunning. You can hit somebody and go away with it because carton is an indirect way of saying something. You can hit somebody and when maybe the person drags you to court you can have many ways to come out of it. Because you can use the face of somebody and you twist it the way you want. People will look at it and say this is the face of this person but it has been deformed. And you cannot come and say this face that has been deformed is your face. As a cartoonist, you can deny that even at the level of the court that this face is not this person, whereas the difference is, when you do a normal traditional write-up bashing somebody – it’s easy to track it, but with cartooning it’s difficult. So that is one of the reasons why for all this while I have not been dragged to court or whatsoever. But I’ve been having a lot of threats, threats underground, not legal…
Threats from who?
From individuals, I will not like to call names.
How lucrative is the cartoon industry for young Cameroonians?
In fact, as a cartoonist, you have a lot of opportunities. In the media, for example, even the social media, you have online newspapers; you have publishing companies that publish educational books both in and out of the country – there is a lot that you can profit – a lot from it. It’s both here in the country and out of the country. It is an area that the demand is very high. Unfortunately, it is very absent from our institutions. They don’t encourage it because they don’t even know what is happening in that area. That is one of the reasons that I took upon myself to see that I open the doors and make young people to see the light in this particular area.
You organised a talent workshop this summer holidays to teach youths and children drawing and cartooning. What motivated this workshop?
The goal was to make young people to understand that it is not only through writing that they can communicate. And that there are a lot of things they needed to know as far as cartooning is concerned; they can make a good living out of being a cartoonist. And also, they can transform stories into cartoons. There are a lot of things they can benefit from it: a lot of things. You can tell what they call cartoon stripes – through those cartoon stripes you can tell stories, for example, about the African culture and so on. There are many things they could profit from that workshop.
Any plans of continuing the workshop?
Yes. The plans are that, as the workshop started, it will not be the end and those who started it will be the ambassadors of this idea. So, this workshop will be running every year and the trainees will be linked to places where their services will be needed. For example, organising cross-cultural competitions and exchanges with other countries so that the trainees of this workshop will start seeing how far they can go and what their benefits are.
How do you evaluate the way Cameroonians respond to cartoons?
The response is good; I mean it’s really encouraging, and they like it. If you want to pass information and you put a write-up here and a cartoon, they will go for the cartoon.
What has changed in the cartooning of today when compared with cartooning years back?
At first, I knew of cartoons I will call still cartoons, but later on, I also discovered that we also have animation cartooning like these caricatures that we watch on TV and all those kind of things. At first when I was seeing them on TV, I thought it was some kind of machines that were doing all those kinds of things, then as I was growing into it I discovered that it was done by humans. It beats my imagination that drawings can speak because at that time I was limited. When I came I saw that those things were done by humans; even the speeches. I moved from actually still drawings – doing works on paper and then maybe printing on canvas an then the computer and software I discovered them later.
How has that impacted your career?
Well, it has impacted my career so much. There are many things that I have discovered and I am benefitting from them.
Doesn’t computer-assisted drawing limit creativity?
No, it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Instead, there are many other things that I have learnt from it to add to what naturally I had. There are many: so many, many things.
What is your greatest desire for the cartoon industry in Cameroon?
My wish is that the cartoon industry should come to light and that young people should see cartooning as something that they youths can depend on and make a living out of it.
What role can Government play in promoting the cartoon industry?
Sincerely, all this while, I have been doing cartooning the Government has not been encouraging this area. I will want them to them to support this idea of cartooning because cartoon communication or use of cartoons is something that can bring behavioural change in the country – it’s something that can do a lot even in terms of employment; in terms of education. There are lots of things that if the Government comes in to promote, it is going to bring a lot of change to young people. Cartooning, as I said, is very flexible.