In Pakistan, we often make the mistake of thinking that the phenomenon of women breaking stereotypes and conquering uncharted terrain is a recent one. However, a conversation with a path-breaking woman such as Nigar Nazar serves as a reminder that the current generation has only had the courage to step out of their comfort zones because of the courage demonstrated by women like her in the past.
Nigar is Pakistan’s first female cartoonist. She started her illustrious career with a bold decision – in 1967, she switched out of a pre-med degree to study fine arts. As a result, she was drawing comics when no teachers or coursework in this artistic format were available. The situation was so dire at the time that when Nigar came to work at the Karachi Arts Council, she found little to occupy her. It was then that Ali Imam, then director of the council, made her draw one cartoon a day to keep her busy. She has never looked back from that experience.
With a fondness in her voice, Nigar narrates how she got her first break, drawing cartoons for the Sun newspaper. Her character, Gogi, an urban Pakistani woman struggling with her frailties in the context of gender-discriminate social norms was such a hit that soon the Morning News, Dawn, The Mirror, and the Daily News began featuring her work.
After publishing countless cartoons for various publications and nine comic books and receiving many national and international accolades, Nigar still inspires many budding artists who feel limited by their choices in an environment that does not support creativity. For that reason, the Dawn Blog decided to catch up with Nigar to learn how she became a legend in the field of sequential art.
Q. Why did you take up cartoon drawing at a time when the practice was rare?
A. As a young child and teenager, I was an avid comic book reader and read imported comic books. I thought that it would be nice if we had comics in our own setting, and when that didn’t happen, I decided I would do it myself.
Q. Did you model Gogi on any person in particular?
A. Gogi is my brainchild, the voice of womenfolk in Pakistan (when it comes to women’s issues). She is the central character of my comics, and through her I depict the lighter side of everyday life. As my mouthpiece, I preferred to have my main character be a female. As for the name; Gogi just sounds like a cute name that rolls off the tongue.
Q. Given your diverse portfolio and experience, which do you think was your best and most well received effort?
A. Being in charge of the children/youth page at The Muslim was very gratifying. I had all the freedom to devise the page in the daily that use to come out of Islamabad. The editor decided I would have ample space, up to five columns, for the Gogi comics. Simultaneously, I started The Muslim Kids Club, which generated a large membership in a very short time.
Other than writing and drawing competitions, I mobilised club members to do welfare work for orphanages and young patients during their summer vacations. I even took five club members on a 10-day tour of Turkey when they won a certain essay competition. Today, the MKC members are brilliant professionals teaching at Harvard and UC Berkeley, making outstanding films and documentaries, and participating as thinking citizens. I believe that community activities, creative writing, and humour through cartoons produce well-rounded personalities.
Q. Do you feel that Pakistani arts flourished more in the 1970s?
A. In the case of comic art, yes. That said, the overall world position of comic art has soared to great heights with comics being turned into animated films, puppets, and muppets. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pakistan.
Q. Are there many comic art students today?
A. I am not aware of students in this art genre. I teach at the Fatima Jinnah University, but this genre has to be taught separately from the course prescribed by the university.
Q. Any tips for a budding cartoonist?
A. My tip for any aspiring comic artist is to perfect your ability to draw the human figure. On that foundation you can exaggerate and draw cartoon characters. Draftsmanship is half the game; the other half is the humour which comes from within.
Q. You were recently in China for cartoon-related endeavours…
A. I am founding member of the Asian Youth Association for Animators and Cartoonists, and I was invited to be on the jury for an international cartoon competition for which professionals from all over the world came together in Quiyong last September. Interestingly, I was the only woman cartoonist there (which I hope dispels the popular misconceptions about Pakistani women). I felt proud to be the first foreign speaker on the inaugural day as I presented my work on a huge screen before an audience of senior government officials, art professionals, university students, and international diplomats and delegates.
This July, I have been invited to judge animated cartoons and to speak on the subject as well. Gogi Studios has created a successful animated CD for early learning called the “Cartoon Qaida.” I intend to speak about the power of cartoons in learning.
Q. What is your latest project?
A. Gogi Studios created five comic books on life skills last year. We call them ‘awareness comics.’ Our sponsor wanted us to pursue a concept that encourages under-privileged children to avoid becoming school drop-outs and motivates more children to go to school.
Once the books were completed, we decided to hold outreach programs in which children are entertained with cartoons, animations, stories, and engaged in learning how to draw.
At the end of the show, the Gogi muppet appears and distributes schoolbags filled with the awareness comics, and three other fun books that I have authored. Stationery and an exercise book and a sketch pad are also included. Our first outreach program catered to 310 students from marginalised sections of society, and their response left me and my volunteers overwhelmed.
Q. What message would you like to give to your fans?
A. You make a living with what you get, you get a life with what you give.
Photo credit: Nigar Nazar provided the cartoon that illustrates this blog.
Faisal Kapadia is a Karachi-based entrepreneur and writer. He blogs at Deadpan Thoughts.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.