Are you curious about what it’s like to be a Comic Artist and Graphic designer in Kenya?
I’m excited to feature Humphrey Osoro who fits both of these titles. There was a time I thought I’d try to be a comic artist ( manga-ka – CLAMP had inspired me at the time) but the drawing talent was missing and I definitely prefer to read them.
So, I’m beyond excited to present this interview from Humphrey who has worked to realize the dream for himself. I hope his answers inspire even more comic artists in Kenya.
Q. Who is Humphrey Osoro?
A; I’m a comic artist and graphic designer based in Kenya. I make comics on the side and do my graphic design work as my day job. I’m a simple guy really, I love anything comics. Anything that tells stories just gets my attention: whether it’s movies, a good book or even a good work of art.
Q. So, why comics?
A. Growing up, I dabbled a lot in traditional art forms and in creative writing/storytelling. Once I got good at both, I wanted something that could combine the two and comics did that for me. Comics allowed me to combine my artistic side with my writer side. I was now able to use my art to tell an actual written story and since then I’ve been hooked on it.
Q. What’s your inspiration?
A; My main inspirations are guys like Jason Brubacker (author and artist of RE-mind webcomic), Tim Bradstreet (Punisher comic covers) and writers like Elaine Kamari in Kenya (Her blog is “Elly in Nairobi”). (EK dances like a fan girl at the mention). All these people push me to keep improving and work that much harder at my craft
Q. You’re a Comic Artist. What is it like establishing yourself in Kenya?
A; Being a Comic Artist here in Kenya is very different from another Country like let’s say Japan. Over there, they have Otaku Culture, which is this strong following around their manga (Japanese comics) and anime artwork. It’s a little easier to kick off a career as a comic artist and all this is possible because people are aware of what manga art is and they appreciate the value of it. Those guys are basically rock stars in the art world in Japan. Japanese – owned companies like Viz Media who run “Shonen jump” and many others have capitalized on this and they sponsor these artists. They also give new upcoming artists opportunities in their magazines by running their work in black & white, only giving them coloured runs when they prove successful with the masses. This system works very well there, the artist gets paid his due, people get to read good content, everyone’s happy.
In Kenya, the picture is a little different. It’s harder to establish yourself here. Comics just started getting popular recently, so not many people even knew what they were. Some can’t tell the difference between a comic book and a cartoon strip in the editorial newspaper, so it’s a bit of an uphill task trying to explain what it is you’re making. Most really just think that comics are meant for kids, which isn’t the case. Comics these days are more targeted at adult themes like crime, passion etc. They address such a wide variety of topics as opposed to a few years ago when they were exclusively limited to children’s themes. It’s the younger generation that grew up watching these cartoons on TV, like myself, who make up the bulk of the current comic readers and artists. These people are the ones who appreciate the true value of comics. They recognize that comics are like movies, just in picture form. These are the readers that give me hope that the industry is heading in the right direction.
Giving up gets you nowhere. People will eventually start taking notice of you if you stick around long enough. You’ll start getting calls and gigs you never thought you’d get. The beauty of it is, not everyone has the patience to make a comic, so count yourself lucky, they’ll look for you specifically. So hold on, keep cranking out some art!
Establishing oneself as a comic artist here in Kenya is a bit of an uphill task, though once you do, it’s really rewarding. You really have to be patient as it doesn’t happen in a day. Anyone willing to take on this behemoth of a task should be willing to take the untraveled path. If you’re an introvert like me, then be prepared to polish up those people skills. You’ll have to hit the ground running, reach out to other comic artists in the industry, learn from them but don’t expect too much from them (They’re also struggling as much as you are, just at a different level). In short, its a labour of love, you do it because you love the craft, money will follow in spades.
Speaking of money, don’t quit your day job just yet. Because no one knows who you are, chances are no one will be willing to give you any commission. Most of the Kenyan mindset is of the opinion that western stuff is better than the locals, which is true, but only because those guys got a chance to shine. They were all beginners like us, it’s just that someone listened. If you don’t aggressively market yourself, you’ll never get anywhere here. Prepare to be ignored online, receive cold stares when you make proposals and many more of the stuff I can rattle off the top of my head.
But, its not all gloom, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Get inspired by other people when you’re down. I recommend reading Elaine Kamari’s post on Self Publishing here in Kenya in her blog “Elly In Nairobi”. Everything was so much clearer and easier after reading that, so give it a chance. Giving up gets you nowhere. People will eventually start taking notice of you if you stick around long enough. You’ll start getting calls and gigs you never thought you’d get. The beauty of it is, not everyone has the patience to make a comic, so count yourself lucky, they’ll look for you specifically. So hold on, keep cranking out some art!
Q – The first 30 pages of your comic, The Unaffected Resolve- Chapter 1 are released at 254Comics.com. Will you release Volume 2 at 254comics too?
A; Yes, definitely! The book is actually more than just those 30 pages, I released those because they were the ones already done in colour. It’s actually 114 pages long. Yeah, I know. That’s a LOT of pages. Well, when I began making the book, I decided I would create the thing until I finished the whole of Chapter 1. I’ve written dozens of scripts for “The Unaffected Resolve”, they’re a total of 11 Chapters for the first story arch. Each script has more than 24 pages of words in it, which in a comic made up of pictures and those words translates to almost 100 pages. 100 is the magic number because I’m targeting at creating a true graphic novel of “Resolve”. Each Chapter will have at least 100 pages so that at long last they can be compiled together into a 500-page graphic novel. My inspiration is the likes of Graphic novels like “Akira” in Japan. Now that one has 600 plus pages!
Right now, this comic book is finished, though in black and white. I’ll release the rest slowly as I keep colouring but you can head over to 254comics and read the first 30 pages in all its full colour glory. Stand by for a review of the book here by Ellie, It’ll be a detailed review of all 114 pages so for those who want to get an idea about it, stay posted right here. Though here’s some bonus art for Chapter 2 that’s currently in the kitchen! Completely reworked art-style for chapter 2!
Q. You’re also an illustrator, what type of commissions have you taken on since your start?
A; I’ve done so many of them so far. I used to dabble in the traditional pen and paper collisions whereby someone wanted a hand-drawn piece. I still do them but only exclusively because of how taxing they are.
I also did a lot of painting on canvas for clients and friends. These were really enjoyable, seeing a mess of colours come together into a nice final piece of art is just so satisfying.
I also do book illustrations. I’ve worked with publishing companies mainly on children’s illustrations. These are done digitally and require a completely different kind of art style. My style is usually highly detailed and complex, so having to make them simple was a nice fresh change for me.
I also do book illustrations. I’ve worked with publishing companies mainly on children’s illustrations. These are done digitally and require a completely different kind of art style. My style is usually highly detailed and complex, so having to make them simple was a nice fresh change for me. I do these in a cartoony kind of style that will appeal to the kids. The biggest book illustration project had me handling 65 coloured pages. I was able to crank out 10 pages a day at the time so within a week I was done. It was challenging but it taught me a lot about sticking to deadlines.
I’ve also handled logo design, business cards, banners, strips, posters and other stuff relating to Graphic Design. I’m a Graphic Designer by profession at the Nation Media Group at the moment, so I do the normal graphic stuff like making advertisements, proposals, posters etc. It’s been an eye opener on what it really takes to be a good Graphic designer. So anyone looking to be an effective Graphic designer, try applying there and see if you’ll get lucky. The deadlines and pressures at work really prepare you for when you have to deal with clients in your illustration hustle. Overall, it’s the illustration type of logos and designs that really pique my interest. I find these make full use of my talents as a human being. I get to combine both Graphic Design and my love for illustration.
I can say that as long as I can remember, I’ve been doing comics since the beginning. I did them for my high school magazine back at “Friend’s School Kamusinga“. It was a piece called “Demolishon” that addresses many of the negative vices in society. I still do it today, so make sure to check out my Facebook page & other media platforms. I finally undertook a personal project to create my own comic book back in 2017. It’s called “The Unaffected Resolve”, go check it out at 254comics.com. There’s nothing more I enjoy like making comics, it’s like seeing a movie in your mind and your hands are there to translate that to paper.
In comics, I’ve done comic pages for a couple of clients that I really can’t name due to non-disclosure agreements. I also offer some of those comic book services to fellow artists whereby I do inking of your basic sketches and colour them for you at an agreed fee. A good example of this, is a good friend of mine, he’s called “Kimzy Flimzy” on Facebook, go check out his art. We collaborate on a couple of gigs when he’s really busy and I step in to help out so we can beat the deadlines, so big thanks to you bro if you’re reading this!
Q. What is your creative process like? Do you have a favorite spot where you must work? Or a favorite pen?
A; My creative process is simple. It usually starts out with me just closing my eyes and playing out a movie in my mind. I see the characters, I see them alive, breathing , talking and moving about. From here when I grab my pen to sketch them out it’s easier from there.
When I’m down on creative gas, I just put everything down and let loose. Play a computer game on my PlayStation, ride my bike on a mountain run in my area because there’s so many cycling trails over here or just get down and do some exercise.
My favourite pen is the good old blue “Bic” pen. The ones we all used in high school and campus. I was that kid that looked like he was paying attention but if you looked closely, you’d always find me sketching. I sketch everyday. I found that by doing this, I was able to master movement of my characters by not being too rigid in my drawing approach. So yeah, get a trusty pen, doesn’t need to be blue like mine!
Q. What would you say to aspiring comic artists and illustrators in Kenya?
A; First, nothing comes easy. You want to be a comic artist? Then be prepared to be a jack of all trades because if you only know one thing, then chances are you won’t succeed. Take the time to learn other forms of traditional art, learn the basics of proportion, colouring and more. All these will apply at some point when you’re working on your book.
Second, consider learning some basic Graphic Design. You ask, “Why?” Well, because comics are essentially picture books at the end of the day. This will equip you with knowledge on layout, formatting of your book since chances are no one around you knows how to format a comic book. (The dimensions of a comic are different from your average book on the shelf.)
First, just have your comic ready. Finish it. At least in Black & White because you need to have something to put in front of your potential readers. From here, market the hell out of your book through various channels available such as blogs, social media platforms etc.
Third, be assured it’ll take some time before you get your name out there. First, just have your comic ready. Finish it. At least in Black & White because you need to have something to put in front of your potential readers. From here, market the hell out of your book through various channels available such as blogs, social media platforms etc.
I could go on and on but at the end of the day it depends on you. How badly do you want to tell your story? Because I know you didn’t get into comics to just make money, you had this story in your head you wanted to share with the world. You do it because you love the craft, even when you’re paid peanuts. Now that’s true passion right there. I know I did, so what about you?
Connect with Humphrey
Facebook: @Humphrey Osoro