Tuesday, 13 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: The Illustrations of Alaba Onajin

Next up in my celebration of art in Nigerian literature - the works of Alaba Onajin, an illustrator and graphic novel artist, whose work I love. Alaba Onajin has been working professionally since 2005, and has illustrated comic book strips on African Women's History for UNESCO, as well as children's books and his own graphic novels. Here's some of Onajin's illustrations.
Wale Walking by Alaba Onajin
Onajin illustrated two digital comic strips - one on Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and the other on Taytu Betul - as part of UNESCO's Women in African History series. Here are some of the illustrations for Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti's story.

Images via UNESCO.org
I especially like Onajin's cover for The Birth of the Pale Rider by Ifedayo Adigwe Akintomide. I just want to know what they are saying to each other (the turtle and the boy) and how they are communicating.

Before and after. Image via The Alaba Onajin Project

Onaji has also written and illustrated his own graphic novels, including The Elephants and the Grass and The Adventures of Atioro.

Graphic novel about child soldiers

Images via carbonmade
... as well as Anike Eleko - a children's graphic novel, written by Onajin and Sandra Joubealio about a young street seller who dreams of winning a scholarship so she is able to go to school. 

Images via FacebookTwitter and Pikore

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: Chinua Achebe and the Art of Edel Rodriguez

For my second celebratory post I go to the book covers of Chinua Achebe, but not just any of his covers. I focus on the series designed by Cuban-American illustrator and artist, Edel Rodriguez, with art direction from Helen Yentus, for the re-issue of Achebe's books for Random House (Anchor Books/Vintage between 2008 and 2010). There is something wonderful about a series of books being redesigned together, and I remember the first time I saw some of the book covers in person - it was in 2013 at Busboys and Poets in DC - and I was in love with everything about them.

Busboys and Poets where I first saw Edel Rodriguez's cover designs of Chinua Achebe's books in real life.

Well, here are the 11 book covers Rodriguez designed. From Things Fall Apart to The Education of a British-Protected Child. 

Cover designs by Edel Rodriguez for the re-issue of Chinua Achebe's books

Rodriguez's page gives an insight into the many rough sketches and ideas for the book covers he has, as well as the hand lettering, before he settled on the final one. The whole process is amazing and it's really wonderful to be able to see it - from his sketches to the final pieces, as well as the ones that didn't make it (which are still absolutely gorgeous). Things Fall Apart  was the first piece Edel Rodriguez was commissioned to do - here he shares the final art, the hand lettering and the rough sketches. I love the artistic depiction of things literally falling apart.

Final art

All images of Things Fall Apart via Drawger

From there he did 10 more. Here's the final art work for No Longer at Ease, as well as the 12 different sketches Rodriguez worked on for the book cover.

Final art
All images of No Longer at Ease via Drawger
... and the images for Chike and the River, which he also illustrated.

All images for Chike and the River via Drawger

So so gorgeous, and the rest of Edel Rodriguez's sketches and the final artwork for Achebe's covers can all be found on Drawger

Saturday, 3 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: Three Crown Books

For my first celebratory post, I am going back in time - to the 1960s - for one of the early publishers that aimed to make African literature accessible to a wider audience. Not Heinemann or Longman, but the 'largely forgotten' Three Crown Books (launched by Oxford University Press in 1962). 
Caroline Davis' 'Creating Postcolonial Literature'
Three Crown Books had East, West and South African branches, but as this month is dedicated to all things Nigerian lit, I will be focusing on the book covers of the Nigerian writers they published - namely Wole Soyinka, J P Clark, Obi B Egbuna and Ola Rotimi. 

Plays published include Soyinka's A Dance in the Forest and The Lion and the Jewel (1963), 5 Plays (1964), The Road (1965), Kongi's Harvest (1967) and Three Short Plays (1969); Clark's Three Plays (1964) and Ozidi (1966); Egbuna's The Anthill (1965) and Daughters of the Sun (1970) and Rotimi 's The Gods are Not to Blame (1971). 

On the covers,Taj Elsir Ahmed - a Sudanese artist from the "Khartoum School" - designed A Dance of the Forests and The Lion and the Jewel, while according to this post on justseeds.org, Jimoh Akolo (a founding member of the Zaria Art Society) designed the cover for Kongi's Harvest. 

For The Road and Five Plays, Caroline Davis writes that Soyinka attempted to get a new artist to design the covers (I wasn't able to find the designers for these two), but he was too late for Five Plays. With The Road, while roughs for the new jacket design were approved, they were submitted too late to be used and so the book was rushed over through production with 'an indistinct photograph of a dirt road on the front cover'. 

Three Short Plays jacket illustration - of a tree, with Wole Soyinka's name forming the basis of the trunk and four African figures below - was designed by Lazlo Acs. This cover proved

to be unpopular in both US and African markets, with the Nairobi branch of Three Crowns complaining that the cover was 'almost insulting' to 'Africa's leading playwright'. As for Clark's and Egbuna's covers, I was unable to find the cover designer for Ozidzi, but Three Plays was designed by Dennis Duerden

Similarly, I couldn't find the cover designer for Egbuna's The Anthill, but Daughters of the Sun was designed by Bill Botten. As Davis writes in her books, the original cover design depicted the daughters of the sun as two identical naked African women, side by side, against the sun, but this was rejected by the Nigerian branch, and in this finished cover, the two women are clothed in white tunics.

* All images (except Daughters of the Sun, 5 plays and Three Short Plays) via justseeds.org, whose Judging Books by their Covers series you should check out.

Later Three Crown Books published (mainly for the Nigerian market) include Rotimi's
Kurunmi (1985), Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1974) and Our Husband Has Gone Made Again (1977) and Soyinka's Madmen and Specialists (1971).

Thursday, 1 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: Book Cover and Illustration Galore

Google Doodle celebrating Nigeria's 2014 Independence Day

My how time flies! I can't believe it's been a year already, but it's that time of year where I celebrate Nigeria's Independence by dedicating the whole month of October to all things Nigerian literature. 

A lot has happened in the world of Nigerian literature since last October - Ankara Press - Cassava Republic's romance imprint - was launched, as was Omenana - a spec-fic literary magazine edited by Mazi Nwonwu and Chinelo Onwualu. We have also had new releases from A. Igoni Barrett, Chinelo Okparanta, Nnedi Okorafor and E C Osondu to name a few. Parresia also announced their 2015 Parresia Books Imprint, which includes works from Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu, Maik Nwosu and Amara Nicole Okolo. Let's not forget that Teju Cole and Helon Habila were 2 of the 3 fiction winners of the 2015 Windham Campell Prizes (the 3rd was South African, Ivan Vladislavić), Chigozie Obioma's debut, The Fishermen, was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, Lesley Nneka Arimah was the winner of the Africa region for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize with her story Light, and Uzodinma Iweala's 2005 novel, Beasts of No Nation, has been adapted for the screen as a Netflix original. Obviously there's a lot more that's happened in the last year - from Ben Okri winning the Bad Sex in Fiction Award to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's  essay on depression being published without her consent on The Guardian and the 2015 Nigerian Prize for Literature - which focused on Children's Literature this year - emerging with no winner - but all in all, it's been another great year for Nigerian Literature. So let's recognise it.

This will be my fourth literary celebration, which tries to look at our literature across our Independent history, and this year I have decided to celebrate Nigerian book covers and illustrations. I haven't kept it a secret on this blog, I judge books by their covers and I am obsessed with design - I might love the illustration of a book, as much as I do the content. As such, it makes perfect sense to me that for this year - from book covers and comics to children's literature and everything else in between - I will look at the last 55 years of art in Nigerian literature.

Illustration for Granta Magazine by Pietari Posti - created for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story Ceiling
As always it's my little way of saying Happy Independence to my fatherland - the country where I was birthed and raised. So I hope you enjoy reading them, as much as I do putting them together. Previous celebrations can be found here, here and here

Friday, 28 August 2015

Must Have, Must Read: Paul Louise-Julie's 'The Pack'

I have just discovered The Pack - an African Mythology Graphic Novel created, written and drawn by American-born, French-Caribbean artist and designer Paul Louise-Julie. According to Okayafrica, the series has five seasons, broken down by region (North, East, West, South, Central), with each season comprised of about five sagas focusing on a particular kingdom or realm. Issue 1 (A Wolf in Egypt) was published in March and Issue 2 (Brothers Out of Bond) in July. 

Wait, What?!! This has been out since March!!! Why am I only just finding out about this? I blame my self-imposed hibernation,because this has me written ALL over it - mythology, ancient civilisations, werewolves, gorgeous illustrations!!! Seriously, can't contain my excitement. 

Both issues have already been downloaded on my Kindle ready for the weekend, but here's a synopsis - so you understand why I am so excited: 

Former Assassin Khenti is now a fugitive from the Lotus Kingdom and running for his life. His only hope is to reunite with his brother Nekhet and escape to Nubia. However, he soon finds there are much more dangerous things than soldiers lurking in the Egyptian Marshes ... 

The Pack is a Graphic Novel about a motley group of Nubian and Egyptian Werewolves. It follows their tales and misadventures as they travel through the fantasy land of Africa...

Why the focus on mythology? In an article written in March for Bleeding Cool, Louise-Julie writes that:

'Maybe it's because they are the cornerstone of civilisation? I mean, the greatest civilisations in human history incidentally had the most memorable mythologies that still inspire today. From Gilgamesh to the Greeks or China to the Mayans. all of these fascinating cultures had equally fascinating and complex mythologies. They provided a foundation upon which their art, language, architecture, clothing and philosophy were based. In a way, out mythologies define us. They're an artistic representation we hold dear.'
On the inspiration behind the series, Louise-Julie goes on to write that while he had visited over 23 countries by his 19th birthday (that's pretty awesome) and he was captivated by the mythology in these cultures - 'each country was brimming with its share of modern or ancient fantasy' - there was still 'one problem':
'You see, as an American-born, French-Caribbean kid growing up in Europe; I couldn't fully connect with these stories. I mean - I loved them - but I could only identify so far. I knew I couldn't cosplay as Peter Parker, Legolas or even Harry Potter without feeling awkward. I was an interested tourist, nothing more. So I scoured the bookshelves of my collection (like Gandalf when he looks through scrolls in The Fellowship of the Ring). But the ironic truth was that I didn't feel represented in any of the worlds, books, comics or movies I loved so much. Being an artist, I tried drawing "Black versions" of my favourite fantasies but to no avail. In the end, they looked like non-creative knockoffs like a blaxploitation movie without the soundtrack. What was I to do?'
What Louise-Julie did next was pretty awesome. Going back to the continent, he 'discovered the remnants of Ancient Empires that even locals had forgotten', met a Wolof man - Moktar - who took him 'to a secluded part of the city [where] and old man seated on a rug' who told him 'the history of the entire region spanning back centuries.Tales of knights, and Realms, kings and heroes, demons and spirits'. And then for the next 5 years 'studied everything from ethnolinguistic blood groups, to Ancient African history, art and ruins'.

Read the rest of The Packs origin story and how Louise-Julie 'designed over 30 different civilisations' on Bleeding Cool. Also, in April, Okayafrica spoke with Paul Louise-Jean who revealed more about the series, and it sounds oh so amazing. After the Egypt Saga, there's 'the Nubian Saga ... Sokoto Saga followed by the Tuareg and Marakash Saga. That ends 'Season 1: The North'. Season 1 will be set on the Western part of the continent. In between saga, numerous chapters will also be released, including 'History of the Akanti', 'History of the Dwarves', 'Tale of Queen Candace of Nubia', 'The Dragon Slayer' and more. Seriously amazing!!! 

The Pack is available for download on iBooks and Kindle. You can also follow the series on Twitter @ThePackComic, and here are some of the amazing illustration from the first two issues via Paul Louise-Julie's Behance page:

GORGEOUS!!!! Well, I'm off to tuck into the first 2 issues. Wishing everyone a lovely bank holiday weekend. Hopefully it's dry.