Somewhat à contre-coeur, Jonathan Shapiro started to study architecture in South Africa, mainly motivated by a desire to stay out of the army. In fact, he had always been attracted to drawing and cartooning. In the end this passion proved irresistible, even if it meant he was conscripted. ‘I refused to carry a gun and got involved in the anti-apartheid movement while still in the army. During this time I taught myself cartooning,’ the cartoonist now known as Zapiro said in an interview.
His work as a cartoonist began in earnest with a wide range of political and progressive organizations. When the newspaper South began in 1987, he became its editorial cartoonist. He was detained by security police in 1988 shortly before leaving on a Fulbright Scholarship to study media arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
New York was an eye-opening experience, where he studied under comic masters Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. Zapiro returned to South Africa in 1991, where he rose to become South Africa’s foremost cartoonist and critical follower of subsequent political leaderships.
‘I believe in advocacy, so I like saying things strongly and sometimes controversially,’ Zapiro told Decouvertes magazine. ‘In this way I actively take part in debates, although I think it’s unusual to find a cartoon that on its own changes behaviour. My cartoons are part of a wider discourse that may have some influence on what people do.’