So after a weekend relaxing with friends and recovering from my trip, I reported for work bright and early Monday morning at MediaPark, just north of downtown Johannesburg and the headquarters for the group of newspapers that have hired me to teach and consult here again this year.

For the first two days, the company flew in four news artists from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth — to join the four based here in Johannesburg — to conduct the first-ever meeting of the newly-created Graphics24 visual journalism team.

Now, I say “newly-created.” A number of these folks were part of the bunch I taught during a two-week session last August in Cape Town. For example, on the left here is Hanlie Malan, illustrator extraordinaire who works out of Port Elizabeth. Next to her is the Cape Town paper’s Morné Schaap, who especially excels in features-oriented infographics.

Here is Salomé Nourse of the Johannesburg paper. Not only did she attend my Cape Town sessions last year, she also worked closely with me here in Johannesburg, last October and November.

Arlene Prinsloo isn’t actually one of the artists; rather, she’s the design director of the Cape Town paper and has also overseen the visual revamping of two of the group’s five newspapers. She joined us this week as well.

From left to right is Theuns Kruger, a new member of the Johannesburg team, Jaco Grobbelaar, a longtime Cape Town-based artist and Andre Gouws, the new graphics editor.

On the left here is Trueman Myaka, who worked as an artist for the City Press Sunday paper — and Rudi Louw, newly hired from the Daily Dispatch of East London, South Africa.

These four former daily-paper artists, one former weekend-paper artist, two new hires and one new manager make up the brand-new Graphics24 team.

I find the boss to be most impressive. Andre is very sharp and very organized. He has a ton of experience as both and editor and a manager, having worked in Cape Town and then at the Gulf News in Dubai. When I was here last year, I helped write a job description and recommended criteria for a departmental leader. Seems to me they’ve chosen wisely.

And, of course, after having the honor of teaching and mentoring several of these folks last year, I now have the additional pleasure of advising and teaching them as they combine their efforts and reorganize themselves in order to serve their three daily papers and two Sunday papers.

Monday morning, we held a get acquainted session and on departmental nuts-and-bolts. I had the floor Monday afternoon with a huge news graphics slideshow, in hopes of stirring up excitement and inspiration. We spent Tuesday on issues of style and production.

Tuesday night, we put the Cape Town artists on a plane for home. I can’t believe I didn’t take a group shot of the whole bunch of ’em. I must be slipping in my old age.

So Wednesday, we got together in the new graphics department, still being remodeled out of what was once the sports department. This is my new desk, for the next few weeks.

Rudi will sit in that space directly across from me. Behind him is the space where a door will lead to a small vestibule and to the main part of the building.

If we take about six steps directly backward, here’s what we see:

From left to right, that’s Trueman, Theuns, Salomé and Rudi. Again, that yellow plastic covers the entrance to the room next door, where there is much hammering and sawing going on.

Right now, we’re standing in the other half of the room we’re in. Which belongs to the new investigative team. None of them happened to be in Wednesday. Let me turn to the left so you can see the huge picture window:

Is that a view, or what?

That window catches quite a bit of sun in the morning. Right now, though, it’s mid-afternoon. You see the South African Broadcasting Company building towering over the suburb of Auckland Park, with the MediaPark outdoor patio and outdoor dining area below:

Equipment has just recently been moved in. In some cases, software is still being sorted out. Yet, folks are already hard at work on graphics of various sizes.

Here, Trueman works on that scourge of all news artists, the dreaded one-column locator map:

However, Trueman’s map looks terrific. He’s using the style we developed last year, which would be very familiar to my former staffers in Des Moines or Norfolk.

And directly behind Trueman is the boss man, Andre, in his new office:

It’s a bit plain, but he just moved in. I’ll give him a few weeks before I start bringing him action figures and shelves for his office.

I’m having some trouble telling my Andre from my Andres. Like I said, the new graphics editor is named Andre Gouws. However, that is not to be confused with Andries Gouws, the lead front page designer for Beeld, the daily here in Johannesburg. Evidently, there is no relation.

Andries, of course, is the guy who sent me large batches of pages during the World Cup. In return, I managed to find a special little gift for Andries:

Yes, that’s Louis Silverstein‘s book Newspaper Design for the Times, stuffed with all sorts of interesting tidbits about the Times and how its various sections came to be: Rough sketches, prototype pages and so on. Great stuff. (Find used copies here, although Amazon has the cover art wrong.)

Andries has a huge love of the New York Times and its history — and, of course, of news design in particular. It was my pleasure to find the conjunction of those interests and address them with this book, long out of print.

Andries and Andre and all the rest of the graphics folks also received another very special gift this week: Autographed copies of There Goes a Mermaid by Norfolk-based children’s author and free-lance journalist Lisa Suhay. Lisa was kind enough to hold a small book-signing session just for me, right before I departed last week:

Not only is Lisa a good friend but she’s also the wife of Robert Suhay, a wonderfully talented designer for the Virginian-Pilot. The illustrations in the book were drawn by the Pilot‘s Sam Hundley. Also in the book are maps and painted mermaids by my former Pilot graphics staffers John Earle and Ken Wright.

Last year, I brought the artists wind-up plastic crabs that said “Virginia Beach” on them. They were very cute, but I wanted something a little more fun and a little more personalized this time around. Lisa’s book — which has just been reprinted in a new edition — was perfect.

Find Lisa’s web site here and her blog here. Order There Goes a Mermaid here. Order the sequel, The Mermaids and Yellow Jack, here.

FOLLOW ALONG ON MY LATEST TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA