Mama Taxi Co-Creator Deni Brown Dies

Deni Brown, who co-created Mama Taxi, a daily comic strip about a female taxi driver's adventures in Cape Town that was syndicated in newspapers all over the country, has died after a long battle with cancer.

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 21 January 2019
Category: Feature Comments View Comments


Deni Brown (centre) with her <i>Mama Taxi</i> co-creator Gavin Thomson (right) at a charity auction in December 2014 with stage personality Oom Schalk Lourens
Above: Deni Brown (centre) with her Mama Taxi co-creator Gavin Thomson (right) at a charity auction in December 2014 with stage personality Oom Schalk Lourens (actor David Muller, left), who ran the auction and was the MC for the event.
It's horrible to start off a new year, with all its promise of possibilities and opportunities, with some unpleasant news but unfortunately I have to kick off South African comics reporting for 2019 by announcing the death of Deni Brown, who co-created, as the writer, with Gavin Thomson as the artist, the comic strip Mama Taxi and, more recently produced Girl Talk, with artist Jesse Breytenbach, which focussed on cancer awareness and treatment and was created for cancer support network PinkDrive.

Brown died last Sunday night (13 January 2019) at 20:20 after years of struggling with cancer that took its toll both physically and financially. The financial costs resulted in a rallying community event towards the end of 2014 in which Cape Town artists, including a few comics creators, donated artworks for an auction to help to raise funds for Brown's treatment.

Mama Taxi, which ran for 13 years and appeared in prominent newspapers all over the country, featured the (mis)adventures of a Cape Town taxi driver, Mavis, and her younger sister Zandi, as they tried to outrun the law and navigate the city's many perils in an iconic pink taxi. It debuted in 2005 in The Citizen before being picked up by other newspapers (both English and Afrikaans) around the country. Early strips were collected in an annual that was published in 2009 titled Mama Taxi: The Collection and it also spawned a spinoff comic strip, Frikkie, which features the adventures of Mama Taxi's somewhat protagonist, the motorcycle driving traffic officer Frikkie.

Mama Taxi, 1 November 2018
Above: The Mama Taxi strip from 1 November 2018.
Mama Taxi was one of South Africa's most successful comics creations, with nearly 5000 strips that saw print, and notable in being one of only a few successful projects to feature a female creator, nevermind prominent female characters, and, to my knowledge, the only local syndicated comic strip created by a female creator.

The comic strip touched on topical social issues, often those most important to Capetonians, without ever being overtly political and brought a humorous perspective to the otherwise divisive taxi industry.

In anticipation of Brown's death, as she had not been expecting to make it to Christmas, Mama Taxi concluded on 14 December 2018 with a final cartoon and a moving tribute by Gavin Thomson that was printed in the Cape Argus.

The cartoon, fittingly, featured the taxi flying Thelma & Louise style off Cape Town's iconic unfinished elevated freeway (it has become a staple of international music videos and Hollywood blockbusters) as Mavis evades Frikkie for a final time and claims her freedom.

The final Mama Taxi strip
Above: The final, poignant Mama Taxi strip, which was published on 14 December 2018.
In the Cape Argus tribute Thomson said "I will miss the daily grinding of gears, sirens, and screeching of brakes but will be forever grateful to Brown and Mama Taxi for slowing down just long enough to pick me up for the ride."

He also posted a final tribute comic to Brown on the strip's Facebook page the day after her death where he said: "Deni was a tower of strength throughout her battle with cancer and was an inspiration to me and everyone around her. Her concern for those around her surpassed her own concern for herself. To the end, as it was with our partnership with Mama Taxi, she was organising everything. Making sure no 'i' weren't dotted and no 't' not crossed, (I would drive her mad with my poor spelling : )".

Mama Taxi Co-Creator Deni Brown Dies
Above: Gavin Thomson, Mama Taxi's artist, posted this tribute comic on Facebook to announce Deni Brown's death.
Brown's career before Mama Taxi included time as a rock 'n' roll musician, and she also published a number of light-hearted books about cats, so, as a result of her death, there are a few South African creative industries that have now lost one of their shining stars.

Tags: Cape Town, Comics, South African Comics/#sacomics

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