Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Linda Musita
Oh yes, serious cartoon time at the Kwani Tent on Sunday 3rd October at around 5pm. Dayan Masinde was moderating a session with Reima Makinen from Finland and Paul ‘Maddo’ Kalemba. He is an artist and cartoonist too, so it was three cartoonists discussing issues centered on cartoons in Finland and Kenya.
Dayan asked Reima and Maddo to say something about the demand of creative products in their respective countries. In Finland the demand for creative products is limited according to Reima. Comic books are not so popular with the Finnish. The only front that cartoonists can rely on is comic strips in newspapers. And here, they also have to grapple with the fact that worldwide syndicates offer the newspapers cheaper strips.
Maddo attributed the lack of demand in Kenya to ‘rotten leadership’. It is true that the people leading the country today do not understand and appreciate creativity. They seem to have more ‘important’ things to cater to. Therefore it is virtually impossible for them to realize the importance of promoting artists, cartoonists and even writers. Maddo’s argument is that younger leaders are likely to push the artists’ cause and work hard to ensure that creatives thrive and become self sufficient. I agree with him too. We all can’t have white collar jobs. Reality makes that possibility impossible and even if it were posible, a lot of God given talent would go to the bin.
On promoting art, Reima further suggested that if cartoonists could promote their work through radio broadcasts, they may be able to gain some ground in terms of demand for their work. A member of the audience supported this suggestion. He gave a scenario whereby an artist like Maddo is a daily guest in a breakfast show. He then directs the listeners to his strip or caricature and gives a juicy hint of what it is about.
Reima’s second suggestion for creating demand was that cartoonists should have a weekly comic book edition; A compilation that includes several cartoonists and their different strips. Maddo acknowledged that this was a good idea but it would be hard to implement. Maybe it would work if it were an annual compilation or volume. It would be hard to implement because Kenyans don’t buy books, comic books included. Reima also added that it is hard to sell culture because people have urgent needs like paying school fees ,buying food e.t.c . Hardly any money is left to indulge in artistic creations. However a cartoonist who makes the effort to let the people know about his work can help his work along. Leading back to the point of collaborating with broadcasters.
Dayan asked them whether they preferred to have their work distributed in the traditional print form or in digital form through the internet? Reima acknowledged the fact that one cannot make money on the internet because of illegal downloads. He noted that in Japan and Korea, they have portals that support cartoonists’ content but that the money generated from that is still not much to brag about.
According to him,Printing is very expensive but it has to be done. The internet can be used for less popular pieces and the printed work should be more powerful but then again, the key here is marketing the printed work aggressively.
Maddo agreed with the fact that the internet doesn’t do much in terms of money. Nevertheless, it helps to draw attention to an artist’s work. Consequently creating opportunities that include the chance to publish on print. He does have his work on the internet at www.itsamaddworld.com and he will be publishing on print early next year. So, i guess opportunity knocked at his door.
Digging further into the money issue, Reima added that it is easier for Kenyan artists to make money with systems such as M-pesa in place. Such systems do not exist in Finland and arranging payment there is not an easy straight forward process.
The moderator turned to the audience and asked them whether a cartoonist should be aware of the audience he creates for? A certain gentleman made some noteworthy points on relevance. He gave an example of Makmende and how if he was to be translated into a comic book character, he would only attract a limited audience. That audience, and i concur, is people born in the 80s. It would be hard for today’s child to relate to him. So Makmende is not a good idea for a comic book that is intended for today’s child.
He also gave an example of Pied Crow; a comic book that some of us read while growing up. Back then, children, especially those from the rural areas were able to identify with the content in Pied Crow. Parents bought them and schools stocked them in their libraries. His question was how come such zeal and relevance does not exist anymore?
To answer that, Maddo said that writing for a target audience was okay. But a cartoonist also has to earn money. Therefore it would be hard for a cartoonist to have a comic book series that is relevant to a child in Turkana and run a similar edition in Nairobi that is relevant to a Nairobi child. It all comes down to the economy.
Dayan noting that creation of opportunities is vital to the lifeline of artists, asked the panelists what would happen to the cartoonists that do not have access to the opportunities that they have? Maddo wisely said that if there are no opportunities ,then the proverbial lid is closed. However opportunities are being created. Newspapers/ media houses are hiring illustrators. TV animation is also opening doors with shows like XYZ hiring thirty to forty artists to deal with the puppets.
The final question directed to Reima nad Maddo was why they do what they do? Reima said that it is because he can’t do anything else. Perfect answer! He encouraged cartoonists to believe in what they love. Stick with it, so to speak. Maddo said that he is lucky to have space in a daily newspaper, otherwise he would be doing something else. It is a tough world.
I have to commend the moderator Dayan Masinde. He did a supremely fantastic job that involved the audience. A job well done considering the fact that he had no clue that he was supposed to lead the discussion. I wish you were there to see his reaction when a little birdie told him that he had a session to lead! To die for; that reaction!