It's easier to crack a joke and make people laugh than let a cartoon do the same, says UAE-based cartoonist Zuhair Al-Yahia

For a cartoonist, Zuhair Al-Yahia has a surprisingly temperate disposition. He doesn't crack jokes. He doesn't pepper his conversation with funny anecdotes or puns and he doesn't leave you clutching your sides with laughter.

But take a peek at his sketches and it is immediately clear that he has a hidden aspect to his personality. The drawings are "a true representation of my funny side", he says.

As a 9-year-old, he was fascinated and inspired by the comics on Superman, Batman, Popeye the Sailor and Mickey Mouse. "I started to sketch then and haven't stopped since," says Al-Yahia, 43.

So, would it be safe to assume that he graduated in art considering his love for sketching? No. Al-Yahia studied civil engineering instead. "It was a sensible choice," he says, "wherein I could utilise my artistic talent."

Today, despite the absence of formal training, he finishes a complex comic sketch in less than 10 minutes.

"Sketching comes as easily to me as scribbling my signature!"

For about three hours a week, Al-Yahia works in the relaxed setting of his study at home where the air is punctuated occasionally with the chuckles and shrieks of delight from his five children which, in turn, makes Al-Yahia smile.

"There is an old Arabic saying: ?Sometimes you laugh easily, sometimes you'll be forced to laugh'. I consciously focus on the happy side of things," he says, talking of his art.

His caricatures, comic sketches and strips have been published in various magazines and newspapers in Kuwait and Jordan, and his works displayed at several exhibitions in the Middle East, including the UAE. He also undertakes freelance work for several publications and companies.

Al-Yahia even draws black and white sketches for children, which can be used as colouring charts. "It is a gratifying job - to bring laughter into a stranger's life. It makes me happy," he says.

Al-Yahia, whose comic themes deal with social situations, admits that cartooning is a tough job.

"Humour is as subjective as it is spontaneous. Everybody has a different sense of humour, which is constantly changing. I work hard to ensure my characters and the central message of my sketches are universally funny."

The funniest comic character ever created, according to him, is Obelix in the Asterix comic books.

However, he is disheartened by the the waning popularity of the comic-book culture in modern times. "Kids today prefer animation," he rues.