MALi’s Cartoons: A FIFA cartoon a day

Meet Mahafuj Ali, the Newcastle-based Indian illustrator and the man behind Mali’s Cartoons, the hugely popular online sensation

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It’s been a FIFA cartoon a day for Newcastle-based cartoonist and football fanatic Mahafuj Ali. Every morning, his followers on social media (145,000 on Facebook alone) are treated to his interpretations of the best moments of the day from FIFA, on and off the field.

That bizarre and beautiful goal by Brazil’s Richarlison de Andrade. The German show of protest against Qatar. A Squid Game  reference for the South Korean team. The baobab tree metaphor of resilience for Senegal’s football team. And Australia’s very own Socceroos.

It’s becoming a beautiful record of the ongoing World Cup. In illustrations.

MAli’s FIFA Cartoons are in the style that has won the illustrator much acclaim previously – they are crisp and clear presentations, with their message depicted in beautiful simplicity.

Mahafuj has barely slept since 21 Nov when the tournament began. He is up when the games begin late at night, like a typical Bengali football fanatic, and his tools are close at hand.

MAli's FIFA Cartoons
Source: MAli’s Facebook

As he watches, he searches constantly for moments filled with human connection.

“After Belgium vs Morocco, an emotional Achraf Hakimi kissing his mum caught my eye,” Mahafuj describes to Indian Link. “I thought, how simple yet beautiful! And just like that, an idea for a cartoon was born.”

Of course it is not always this easy. What does he do if fails to come across such distinctive humane moments?

“Yes, there are boring times too,” Mahafuj observes in his trademark professorial manner. “During the Japan vs Costa Rica game, for example, nothing caught my fancy. I ended up drawing Costa Rican birds eating away at Japan’s famous cherry Bbossoms. It’s not just the game, but the emotions attached to the surroundings that inspire me.”

Such as, the famous moment the German players covered their mouths in protest against the host’s human rights record. It’s a moment that you would almost expect to be on  MAli’s FIFA Cartoons.

MAli's FIFA Cartoons
Source: Supplied

Mahafuj, 36, has many fond World Cup memories. “1994 World Cup, my father bought our first TV home. Five World Cups later in 2014, I bought my own TV to watch the matches.”

His other passion, drawing, began in high school. “I think it was in Year 10 or 11. When I was bored in class, I would draw funny faces of the teacher. My classmates found my drawings to be hilarious. It grew from there, really.”

Comics were a great source of inspiration. “Tintin and Asterix have had huge influences on me. Back in the early ‘90s, growing up in the small town Krishnanagar in West Bengal, there were very few options (for curious kids). The Adventures of Tintin opened the window to the world for me.”

Publishing his illustrations as a hobby for over a decade now, Ali’s day-time job is as a landscape architect. He moved from India to Newcastle in 2017. It is here in Australia he made the most of his leisure time and sharpened his skills.

“Five years ago, when I landed in Australia, I had just about 1000 followers on my Facebook page. Thanks to the work-life balance in this country, I found time to practice more and post more of my work online – observing life and creating cartoons frequently.”

Besides his passion football, Mahafuj also posts daily on current affairs and social issues, observing life with his strangely detached yet concerned eye.

MAli's FIFA Cartoons
Source: Supplied

Today with a followership of thousands on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, MALi’s cartoons, created here in Australia, have been published regularly in India’s leading Bengali daily Ananda Bazar Patrika’s online portal Aaro Ananda.

One of his cartoons depicting Tintin in traditional Bengali attire in front of Kolkata’s iconic Howrah Bridge, went viral back in 2018.

“That was pretty overwhelming,” Mahafuj smiles. “The Belgian Embassy in India shared it on their official social media, and then many others reposted it.”

Have there been brickbats, besides the bouquets?

“Of course, that goes without saying,” quips Ali almost in an instant. “I get trolled, people abuse me, send me offensive messages… It used to disturb me a lot initially. But over the years I have made peace with it; I have learned to detach myself from the negativity. I draw, upload, and forget.”

MAli's Cartoons FIFA
Source: Supplied

In 2020, Mahafuj put a hundred of his illustrations together into a book called Mali’s Gallery 1.

Can we expect a Gallery 2?

“Yes, I am working on it,” the soft-spoken Mahafuj reveals. “With my first book, I realised I express a lot in my native Bengali language. This is unfair to my followers who don’t know the language, so now I am producing new work to connect with a larger audience.”

Hopefully there’ll be a dose of Australian observations in said new work – there’s certainly plenty of material!

You can follow MAli’s works and his cartoons here 

Read More: “Little brown girl”: Condemning The Australian’s racist cartoon

Torsha Sen
Torsha Sen
A seasoned journalist who observes passage of time and uses tenses that contain simple past, continuous present, and a future perfect to weave stories.

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