Connecting the Gogi dots
Gogi may have arrived on the scene in 1971 but the character had been inside Nigar Nazar’s head for much longer than that. “I went to school with Gogi. It’s the name of a school classmate of mine,” says Nigar. “My classmate was a very popular child. Everyone liked her,” she adds.
As for Nigar herself, she was a very creative little girl who loved to draw. But she did her graduation in English Literature. “I could draw but I wanted to learn how to make cartoons. Not finding any institute offering any such course in Rawalpindi, I came down to Karachi to see if I could learn the art there,” she says.
In Karachi, she would go to the Arts Council everyday but even there she couldn’t find anyone who could teach her cartoons. Still she got to rub shoulders with many big artists of the day. “I still have a cartoon on my living room wall that is very dear to me. It is a cartoon of the great Sadequain that was sketched by Aziz Cartoonist of the Morning News,” she informs.
“The cartoon was the late Sadequain Sahib’s idea. He told Aziz Sahib that this girl comes to the Arts Council everyday in the hope of learning how to make cartoons so why not give her a demonstration. Saying that, he volunteered to model for Aziz Sahib with his cigarette in hand. And after the sketch was done he, Aziz Sahab and myself signed it,” Nigar says. “The drawing was then presented to me. Though I didn’t get to learn much from it, it still gave me a lot of encouragement.”
Among her other artist friends was the late Ali Imam, who had instructed her to make a cartoon everyday. “I used to borrow books on art from the Institute of Arts and Craft and Ali Imam Sahab there wanted to know if those books were doing me any good so he told me to show him a cartoon everyday. He was a very strict principal and a man of few words,” she laughs at the memory. “But he also published my first Gogi cartoon in four panels on a full page in the institute’s annual magazine,” she says.
“He was also the one who introduced me to Shamim Ahmed Sahib, the editor of a new newspaper, The Sun. He was looking for a cartoonist for the paper and Ali Imam Sahib immediately thought of me. This was in 1971. So there I was doing cartoons for The Sun. Its editor also wanted me to submit a cartoon everyday, which I did despite it being a very challenging thing to do. The political cartoonists associated with the paper, who were all men by the way, didn’t have to submit their work daily but I did. Just to explain the difference, a political cartoon is just one drawing while my cartoon would be a strip with pure humour, building up a situation and a punch in the end. Comics after all are made up of pure wit and humour,” she points out.
Nigar says that she felt like doing something different after one year so she made her way to Pakistan Television (PTV) for live cartoons. “That was another great experience where I narrated the story of what was our Gogi dear was up to and illustrated that by drawing on paper sheets pinned up on a board as the camera focused on my hand,” she says.
Gogi, with Nigar in tow, had pretty much established herself by then and there was no looking back for her. “Yes, I may be the first woman cartoonist of Pakistan and the Muslim world but Gogi, too, has an identity of her own. She takes up social issues, women’s issues, awareness issues and what not?” Nigar laughs. Then she explains that marriage and children in her own life also brought about a change in Gogi’s life and views. “Like myself, she was no longer a happy-go-lucky girl but a mature woman and a citizen of the world after being a proud Pakistani,” she says. “Later, I also contributed my comic strip to Dawn, Herald, Jang, The News and The Muslim,” she adds.
“There have also been seven comic books and eight illustrated books for different international organisations”. Two of her comic books have also won a prize in two categories.
Gogi went international soon after Nigar got married in the early eighties. Her husband was in the foreign service and they got to stay in different countries during his various postings over the years. “I went to Turkey and Gogi started coming in the magazines there in Turkish language. I started drawing cartoons everywhere I went. In Libya, too, my cartoons were published in Arabic after being translated from English. And even though I didn’t get any payment for my work published abroad, my family and I were so happy and proud to see our country’s name mentioned at the bottom of each cartoon strip,” she says.
And that’s not all. “I have held solo exhibitions at the Pakistan National Council of Arts in Islamabad, Shakir Ali Museum in Lahore, Karachi Arts Council and the Abbasin Arts Council in Peshawar. In 2004, I wrapped nine buses in the twin cities and three buses and two coasters in Gogi cartoons. All carried important messages, by the way.
I also prepared cartoon murals for three hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, namely, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences where I made 22 murals, the Rawalpindi General Hospital and the District Headquarter Hospital in Raja Bazaar,” she says.
The Government of Pakistan has also conferred on her the Fatima Jinnah Award. “And even though there is still not much teaching of cartoons going on in our country, I have myself started holding outreach programmes and teaching workshops for aspiring cartoonists here. Still I can’t teach them humour, which has to come from within,” she smiles.