Society & Success

Artist seeks to share his comics with the world

A sample comic page. Photo/COURTESY
A sample comic page. Photo/COURTESY 

The newest image of Dem Chungu, a crime fighting comic female character, shows her in full colour, in a black bikini on a beach, with one leg in the water with a look that suggests trouble.

Dem Chungu is the new comic that Movin Were (real name Mauvine Were), an artist and cartoonist, is working on. Dem Chungu, a comic inspired by Jim Holdaway and Romero’s Modesty Blaise, is set to come out mid-this year.

“The idea first came to me one evening after a day-long sketching exercise. I like to think I was reacting subconsciously to the rising insecurity in the country prior to the elections,” Mr Were says.

Aside from his ambitious pursuit to have a comic of his own, the industry’s mood is also encouraging. With the likes of the late Frank Odoi leading the way, there is a growing revolution by artists like himself who want to create more local content.

He has just completed HillSide Campus, a digital comic series telling the stories of campus students, which is published on the Capital FM website.

“We have local stories to tell. Like the way television and animation is growing, we (artists) want to be part of the change and also grow a comic book industry,” says the artist.

Being a busy man, finding time to work on his commercial projects is a challenge, but Mr Were is determined to finish it. That is why he can talk about Dem Chungu all day.

He starts with a good story line. Since he does not trust his story writing skills, he is fanatically searching for writers has he develops the visual characters.

“Illustrating is not really a problem because what people will remember is not the artwork, it’s the story. No matter how good the art work is, it cannot make up for a bad story,” says Mr Were.

Dem Chungu’s storyline, like Modesty Blaise, is for a mature audience.

“I want to tell mature stories. There is a perception that comics are for just for kids. I want to test the waters, whether it’s (market) ready or not we’ll see once it’s done. But from just the response I’m getting through Facebook, it is really encouraging me to go ahead and finish it,” he says.

He feels that he has a winning formula with a heroine. He says he was not so keen on a male character but a female one gave him the chance to challenge himself and create something new. Plus, a comic heroine would stand out more.

Dem Chungu is a not a secret project; using his Facebook page — Movin Were Graphic Artist and Cartoonist — he has periodically been updating his progress with copyrighted sketches and full colour images. Apart from being a marketing tactic, he wants people to appreciate the developing process of a comic.

“And whether I like it or not, I believe I will have to slot in a professional marketer also for the comic book to achieve a fair amount of success,” he says. It is also a way to ensure that the project does not die.

The updates also count as part of his creative process. Every now and then, he ventures for outside opinion. He values this injection of objectivity as it brings new angles and possibilities in his work.

“One weakness I know artists have is they tend to fall in love with their work and this can limit progress, if you’re not open to changes or new directions,” he says.

This is especially so with his diverse commercial projects. He is a storyboard artist for advertising agencies, draws cartoons and other illustrations for various clients both local and overseas and at corporate events, he does as-you-wait caricatures for guests.

He also had two weekly cartoon strips running in Taifa Jumapili, and monthly editorial cartoons for a local magazine.

“I love drawing. I would draw comics in my spare time in school. Sometimes I would keep them for myself but some I would submit for publication although without much success,” he says.

This did not deter him to live his dream. In June 2006, one of his comic strips was picked up by a local newspaper and thus he became a professional artist. “I love the idea that I can draw, a pleasure in itself, and get paid for it. I felt I wasn’t working at all,” he says.

The best advice he has ever been give was — always be professional, work with a great attitude and take client deadlines seriously.

“That no matter how good your work is, if you keep blowing deadlines and are difficult to work with, you will lose work to a lesser skilled artist but who keeps deadlines and is a pleasure to work with,” he says.

His end goal is to have Dem Chungu comics in bookshop. The challenge yet to come is printing the 20-page comic in full colour. He says that the printing costs are prohibitive, especially for up-coming comic book artists who intend to do full colour comics.

This will not deter him as he wants to share his love for comics and art with the world.

mwikalilati@gmail.com