cartoon by Zak
Translation: "We've got everything to be happy." - "On video!"

Zak is a Belgian editorial cartoonist, since 1984 best known as the house cartoonist of the left-wing, progressive newspaper De Morgen. With his simple line drawings he offers an ironic look at current events. Originally, he attacked specific celebrities which he caricatured in cartoons as well as more comic strip-based stories. Later he favored one-panel gag cartoons more and became less direct in his targets. Most of his cartoons poke fun at topical situations from the viewpoint of average people. This more timeless approach explains why he is able to bring out annual pocket agendas ('De Zakagenda') compiling his older work. 

Early life and career
He was born in 1948 in Ghent, East Flanders, as Jacques Moeraert. His pseudonym "Zak" has a double meaning in Dutch: it's both the word for "sack", as well as a vulgar insult, referring to a ballsack. Zak was initially a bookkeeper, but switched to cartooning at the age of 25. Together with his friend Quirit, he published his first cartoons in Johan Anthierens' satirical magazine De Zwijger. He published the comic book 'Hoe Kwamen Onze Jongens Ertoe Met De Romeinen Te Collaboreren?' (1983) and together with columnist Bert Verhoye, he drew 'De Vliegende Paap' (1985), a satirical comic book about pope John Paul II, published in the same year His Holiness visited Belgium. The title of the latter comic is a reference to Willy Vandersteen's 'Suske en Wiske' story 'De Vliegende Aap' (1948), making a pun on the word "aap" (monkey) and "paap" (an old-fashioned word for "pope".) Around the same time another Belgian satirical comic book lampooning the papal visit was published, named 'De Papevreters - Popebusters' (1985) by Baixinho (Lukas Moerman) and Prosper and Modest Van Droogenbroeck (Jef Meert), which even referenced Zak's 'Vliegende Paap' album. 

Cover by ZakCover by Zak
Compilation books by Zak, 'Hoe Kwamen Onze Jongens Ertoe Om Met De Romeinen Te Collaboreren' and 'De Vliegende Paap', mocking Pope John Paul II.

De Morgen
When De Zwijger was disestablished in 1984, Johan Anthierens' brother Karel guided Zak to the left-wing newspaper De Morgen. In those early days, De Morgen was often understaffed. In case an issue lacked enough photographs, Zak was called in to make some extra cartoons. Some editions had up to five or more drawings by Zak instead of the usual one or two. When the newspaper was on the brink of bankruptcy, he designed posters for benefit performances to help it out its financial troubles. Eventually it did establish itself on the Belgian newspaper market, with Zak as its house cartoonist.

Zak is best known for his ironic, tongue-in-cheek style. He always finds a way to joke about current topics, no matter how depressing they may be, and thereby reduces them to their right perspective. Earlier in his career, Zak often made jokes about specific politicians, like Prime Minister Wilfried Martens, politician Paul Vanden Boeynants, Pope John Paul II, Belgian king Baudouin/Boudewijn and Zaïrese dictator Seko Seko Mobutu. Gradually, the cartoonist dropped references to specific daily events and celebrity politicians in favour of more timeless and general jokes about regular people. He abandoned the comic strip format too in 1993, preferring one-panel cartoons instead. Zak explained in a 7 February 1996 interview with De Groene Amsterdammer (conducted by Carlos Alleene) that, as he grew older, he just got over his idealism. He felt he was arrogant to think he had "anything interesting to say" and therefore refused to caricature specific politicians anymore. Rather than spend attention to hypocrites who just want to get votes, he focuses on average people, whom he deems far more interesting.

In the same way, Zak quit drawing comics, because he didn't fancy himself a great narrator. However: he still gets his inspiration from daily events.  He just sits back and witnesses every media story with a certain distance, necessary to remind people to not take everything so seriously. And if he has to reference a certain celebrity or event in function of a joke he tries to do so by having regular people discuss the matter. Another political cartoonist who addressed current events through the use of regular people, rather than celebrities, was the Fin Jouko Innanen

Benefit poster for De Morgen by Zak
One of the benefit posters for De Morgen (1987).

Other magazines
Zak's work also appears in De Tijd and the Dutch newspapers De Volkskrant, De Limburger and De Groene Amsterdammer. He also draws for the Dutch Ministry of Defense and the monthly magazine of the Dutch Railways. In France, readers can enjoy him in Le Point.

Since 1997 Zak publishes an annual pocket agenda, nicknamed 'Zakagenda', which compiles several of his best cartoons.

Animated cartoons
In the early 1990s, Zak also made a series of animated shorts for the production company ID-tv, starring the unlucky character Knito.

Brief aan Boudewijn by Zak
Sample from the book 'Brief Aan Een Postzegel' (1990). It shows a parody of journalist Maurice de Wilde questioning King Boudewijn/ Baudouin about his war past. He asks him "How big were you during the war?", whereupon the king raises his arm since he was indeed just a boy back then. This, of course, makes it look as if he is making a Hitler salute, especially when De Wilde dresses him up like a Nazi. 

In the early 1980s, when Zak still caricatured specific celebrities, Belgian politician Paul Vanden Boeynants was a regular target. The veteran politician felt so offended over his portrayals that he often wrote angry readers' letters to De Morgen. On 2 September 2008, one of Zak's cartoons caused controversy in France. The drawing depicted coffins of dead soldiers with medals stuck to them. Two characters walk by and comment: "Even from Afghanistan the French come back home with medals", referring to both the death of 10 French soldiers during the Afghan War, as well as the Olympic Games. French senator Simon Loueckhote, who is related to one of the victims, asked President Nicolas Sarkozy to register a complaint against De Morgen for publishing this cartoon.

Cartoon by Zak
Translation: "We can't allow everybody in." 

Graphic contributions
Along with Gal (Gerard Alsteens), Quirit, Peter De Roy, Jan BosschaertErik Meynen, Benoît and Jan De Maesschalk, Zak was one of many cartoonists who made a graphic contribution to Johan Anthierens' anti-royal book 'Brief Aan Een Postzegel' (Kritak, 1990). In 1995, he paid homage to Gal in the book ''Gal: De Overspannen Jaren' (Epo, 1996). In June 2010, Zak drew a tribute to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Kamagurka and Herr Seele's 'Cowboy Henk'. He was also one of many artists to pay graphic tribute to Ever Meulen during the 'Ever Meulen & Friends' exhibition in October 2017 in Brussels. 

Zak has won the Royale Belge Prize for Best Press Cartoon (nowadays the Press Cartoon Belgium Prize) three times: in 1999, 2003 and 2015. His 2003 winning entry depicted nuclear weapon inspectors in Iraq being saluted by soldiers who carry invisible weapons. This was a nod to the later proven fact that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein didn't have any weapons of mass destruction. In 2015, Zak won with a cartoon about the Syrian refugee crisis. The drawing showed a beach full of boat refugees, while a mother disappoints her child by saying: "We already went to see the boats come in, yesterday." On 29 January 2002, Zak became the first Belgian cartoonist to win the Dutch ''Inktspotprijs" award for "Best Political Cartoon" (edition 2001). Zak also received the Ark Prize for Free Speech (2000), the BeNe Prize for Best Cartoon in the Dutch-language press (2003) and on 9 December 2009 an honorary doctorate from the Free University Brussels (VUB). 

Legacy and influence
Zak's cartoons have received praise from fellow cartoonists like Gal (Gerard Alsteens) and Karl Meersman. He was an influence on Benjamin Kikkert and Lectrr

Cartoon by Zak
Translation: "Keeping millions a secret for the tax collectors...". - "Poor people would never do something like that!". 

Zak on

Series and books by Zak you can order today:


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