The Ultimate Graphic Reportage

Conference Cartooning is a form of graphic harvesting that involves standing at an easel or flip chart in a conference room or lecture hall, usually to the side, but sometimes in front of the audience, and producing an on-the-spot documentation of a conference, workshop or brainstorming session in a series of posters.

Conference cartooning is an adrenaline-infused experience, a kind of visual jazz, where I’m listening for the subject of my next drawing while I’m busy improvising the one I’m busy with. The enforced dissociation of head and hand produces fruitful results.

ToonZA was invited to join the Brot für die Welt (Bread for the world) partner consultation to illustrate the discussions and outcomes …

graphic harvesting
The Daily Maverick: The Gathering 2020
ICLEI: Masakhane "Let's Build Together"

Formal Lecture Presentations

Here I usually produce one A2 poster per 45 minute presentation, either a single image or a comic strip that sums up the key concern(s) of the presentation. These are usually displayed in the coffee urn area outside the meeting room, where delegates can see them, photograph them or tweet them, thus providing an instant visual account of the meeting.


Here I usually produce many more images, based on fast-moving ideas or participant comments. After the session, the best posters are curated, sometimes amalgamated, and reworked to provide a set of posters that record all the key moments in the session.

Abehlali BaseMjondolo Conference Walkabout Cato Crest In Situ Sketch 2
Abehlali BaseMjondolo Conference Walkabout Cato Crest In Situ Sketch 1
Abehlali BaseMjondolo Conference Walkabout Cato Crest In Situ Sketch 3
Abahlali BaseMjondolo Conference 2015
EMG Toonstorming Khayelitsha Canoe Club In Situ Version
Environmental Monitoring Group Khayelitsha Canoe Club Studio Version 2017

Poster Wrap-Up

At the end of the conference or meeting I like to present a 10-minute Poster Wrap-Up, explaining the images and symbols used and the ideas that ked to them. This can either be done using the data projector or the posters themselves. It is an effective and fun way to summarise and bring some of the key issues discussed to the fore. Delegates usually enjoy it very much. 

Studio Versions

In many cases, the cartoons produced on the spot are required by the Client for published conference proceedings or social media. In these cases, I usually produce a studio version of the poster or comic.

A Unique Approach

My approach differs from that of a conventional graphic harvester, in that I don’t attempt to document every aspect of the discussion. As a cartoonist, I try to hone in on key moments where points of view are passionately or vehemently presented or contested. In my experience it is often these moments that participants remember most clearly, and which come to define the conference in people’s minds. 

My aim is to capture something of the spirit of the engagement, and elucidate the various discourses flowing through the discussion. My technique is to harvest phrases, symbols and metaphors employed by the speakers to give voice to contradictions and points of contention, and to use satire to bring these discourses to life in a humorous and memorable way.


CABRI Finance Ministry Conference