FEATURE: The man behind the cartoons

 KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/ANN) - A new book tells the story of Zunar’s fight through cartoons in his own words.                

 Cartoonist Zukiflee Anwar Haque, better known as  Zunar, is a busy man this month. 
The 56-year-old recently launched the exhibition Art Of Freedom By Zunar at the Penang State Art Gallery. 
The show, curated by Penang State Museum director/curator Haryany Mohamad, features a total of 202 of Zunar’s cartoons - a visual document of his fight through cartoons from the last 19 years. 
Art Of Freedom By Zunar, which ends on May 28, is one of the cartoonist’s biggest exhibits to date.   
Many have seen Zunar’s worldview, shaped by Malaysian politics and beyond, through his drawings. Now for the first time, we’ll get to read his words.
Zunar has written his first non-cartoon book Fight Through Cartoons, which chronicles his journey as a political cartoonist from 2009, the year he was first arrested, up to the events of May 9, 2018. 
He launched the book, published by Singapore-based imprint Marshall Cavendish, at Borders, The Curve, Petaling Jaya recently.
In Fight Through Cartoons, Zunar is assisted by fellow cartoonist/writer/photographer Sukhbir Cheema. 
“I wanted to do this (book project) for documentation. I wanted to remember what happened to me, especially starting from 10 years ago. It is not a biography, not a history. It’s more my story, about using cartoons to go against a regime,” says Zunar during an interview at his office in Kuala Lumpur.
“Humour and cartoons are very powerful ... because people like to laugh. In the book, one of my philosophies is, ‘If you can’t beat them, laugh at them’.”
He chose to write a book, instead of, say, a graphic novel to tell his story because he want to record down all the difficult experiences he had in recent years with the authorities. He can practically roll out a laundry list of  arrests, court charges, banning of books, and travel ban.
“This book has to be accurate, with facts and dates all correct. I could have done the story visually, with cartoons, but the thing with cartoons is, it depends a lot on how people interpret them. I didn’t want there to be this question of interpreting my visuals, I wanted to get the facts out as clearly as possible. So I decided to do it this way,” he adds. 
Zunar also sheds light on the methodological approach he utilises in his cartoons to effectively deliver his messages. From the conception of a cartoon right down to inking it, Zunar bares what goes on in his mind when he draws these cartoons.
Told in Zunar’s breezy, informal style, the book also collects various photographs and news reports (of Zunar’s brushes with the law) as well as a sampling of his most iconic cartoons. 
Also included are accounts from Zunar about some of the darker times in his life, including his arrest for making tweets against the judiciary about (Port Dickson MP Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction (Sodomy 2 case) in 2015, and the time his exhibition in Komtar, Penang, was attacked by thugs in 2016.
The process of writing the book made Zunar think deeply about a lot of the things that he had gone through.
“It was hard when I had to face so much pressure (from the authorities). But I’m glad I carried on with my cartoons. Looking back, I ask myself, what made me want to continue?  In retrospect, I don’t know where I found the strength to keep fighting. But I got a lot of support from the people. And that touched my heart. If I didn’t have support from them, I would have quit long ago,” says Zunar.
Fight Through Cartoons by Zunar is available at RM59.90 from all good bookstores.