Many South Africans grew up to the illustrations of legendary cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) who often captured our favorite politicians or political debates as they were happening in the iconic Sunday papers, spiking conversation from individuals that were not even interested in politics.
In 2019, where pop culture can be regarded as a politic of sorts, we see the emergence of one of South Africa’s most sought after graphic designers and illustrators, David Tshabalala. Whether it is an illustration of the cat taxi driver after the story trended on twitter, Caster Semenya after winning her race or Trevor Noah being nominated for a Grammy, real time celebration and conversations is what Tshabalala’s work represents.
Working under his alter ego Slaying Goliath, David Tshabalala has captured the heart of local culture through his digital illustrations since 2012, having created series like ‘Run The World’ which illustrates, profiles and celebrates women.
“Slaying Goliath, I guess you could call it an alter ego,” laughs Tshabalala.
“It is also a biblical reference of David overcoming and with the work that I do I always see myself as an underdog who happens to work with very big brands so that is where Slaying Goliath comes from.”
In our conversation I can get the sense that he is a laid back individual with a great sense of humour which is often seen in his work. Having collaborated and designed for brands like Yogi Sip and Audi, Tshabalala has used social media to his advantage often trending, gaining traction and following each time he posts his work. He simply sees it as expressing himself as any other creative.
“I don’t think it’s groundbreaking or new per say, it is just commenting on what is happening right now, using illustration as a platform,” explains Tshabalala.
“However, with me it is more real time, similar to a comedian tweeting about load shedding right now. I give myself 3-4 hours to document whatever may be going on.”
“I just wanted to share my work in a different way and I always say so many people draw or design better than me but conceptually how are they representing their work and how does it resonate with people?”
The 2015 Mail and Guardian top 200 alumni hails from the small town of Harrismith and grew up not having the full picture of his career and what it could possibly become, especially since he grew up in an age of no internet, where now internet is the basis of his work.
“Nothing much happens in Harrismith,” he laughs.
“If you’re going to work there, you will most likely do a ‘normal’ job like teaching or working at a retail center.”
It was only when Tshabalala studied graphic design in Bloemfontein and moved to Johannesburg did he realise the vision for his dreams.
“I remember I wanted to work for places like YFM at the time, the Y-Mag and Hype Magazine. There was just this golden era of Hip Hop and I wanted to be part of that in some way.”
Taking full advantage of living in a big city with access and opportunities is exactly what Tshabalala does, owning an agency which he co-founded with his ex boss that produces social media content for MTV Base as his daily job is a perfect example of that.
Although his tale is one of hard work, we still see many creatives who work hard but still struggle with the barriers of entry in the industry and collaboration with big brands. Many young people speak about finding it hard to find mentors.
“When your work is out there and is good, people want to know you, once someone knows your work, they are more interested in giving advice or mentoring you, you don’t have to reintroducing yourself,” says Tshabalala.
“When you constantly put out your work and the right people see it you almost pass the stage of needing a mentor because you reach a stage where you start working with these brands anyway, but because people can’t ignore you asking for advice from people who you have looked up to becomes more simpler.”
To date he regards the Yogi Sip collaboration as his biggest one having grown up drinking the legendary beverage.
“I was sort of positioned as a hero for the youth month campaign, it was tough at first but I did a few designs which were not that good and then eventually went back to how I usually do things so focusing on the colors and trying something different like using my face and that is when it came together. “
“I don’t think there has been a more authentic collaboration between a South African artist and a brand, I was given full license to do what I want.”
Although we live in an influencer age where working with any brand is considered #SecuringTheBag, working with brands he understands and can relate to is of importance to Tshabalala, he jokes about having collaborated with Audi but still not being able to afford one.
“Half my friends probably can’t afford one either, but I think what they saw in me aligns with their values and the mission campaign of it being ‘Live Now’.”
“It was very inspirational as I sort of aspire to own an Audi and move towards that.”
With 2019 having been a big year for the designer one wonders what more he may have in store for us in the new decade.
“I want to do a mural of my work in Braamfontein, start taking my work in real spaces, I also just finished my site and have a business profile so treating myself as a mini agency or brand, so I think 2020 will see me pitching more, I also want to publish my own book.”
“I want the book to almost be biographical but still have my work in it, I love Khaya Dlanga and the way he tells stories and tags it back to his life and rise in career, that is the kind of model I would want for it.”
Tshabalala hopes to start the book next year but is not pressured on time and finishing it.
Growing his merchandise for his online store and working with Adidas is also a main focus.
He also has long term dreams of creating his own sneaker.
“That is like a pipe dream but I guess anything is possible,” he laughs.
With his work speaking for itself, owning an Audi does not seem like a far-fetched dream either.
Look out for our special Moziak Christmas Livestyle cover designed by him.