Storytelling through comic books is almost unavoidable especially for kids. Reading comic books was once a favourite past time. A peek into one of the Saturday dailies here in Nairobi reveals a monthly supplement in the form of a 32 page comic book called Shujaaz. The stories in the comic book are in “Sheng” the street slang in Kenya, giving the youth a relatable and familiar language as Shujaaz is a magazine they can read the fun of it.
The zine has four characters, each assigned to a different comic artist. The artist can either work from a script / story outline or a pictorial breakdown. Given creative freedom to work on whatever software one’s comfortable with or even draw, some of the artists work in flash or illustrate in photoshop or illustrator. Either way, their style is never interfered with allowing the comic artists own personality and visual style to be seen in the end result. Comic strip Boyie & Maria Kim is illustrated by Eric Muthoga. Malkia is illustrated by Naddya Oluoch-Olunya or Salim Busuru. Charlie Pele is illustrated by Daniel Muli whom we got a chance to interview. Inkers are Movin Were and Joe Barasa.
How did Shujaaz get started and how was the search to find excellent artists to create the art work?
I knew Rob Burnet (the Shujaaz producer) from a previous project. He was looking to do something that involved print, radio and sms media to get educational messages out. He wanted something fun and youthful and comics seemed right. He also needed it to feel fresh, and the process involved looking for artists who had unique styles. The artists came from referrals and one or two fortuitous accidental meetings. It was pretty exciting as the first few artists were in charge of setting the tone and designing the characters and the feel of everything, even though a lot has changed since then.
Shujaaz is also referenced to as Shujaaz fm…. a little more about this?
There’s a Shujaaz radio show! You see, the comic has four stories every
month; the lead story is about a kid called Boyie who builds a radio station called Shujaaz FM and uses his broadcasts to talk to the youth about different things that affect them, societal issues, ways to make money, etc. The other characters are listeners and participants of the station. In real life, you can listen to Boyie’s pirate radio broadcasts on the stations and times that are in the comic (there’s quite a few). So the comic is called Shujaaz FM to highlight this aspect of the project.
Why did you choose “Sheng” (or Kenyan street slang) as the choice language for the magazine. It seems a controversial choice.
We wanted it to feel less educational and something the readers would relate too. Choosing sheng made it informal and passing on stories through it seemed a way to engage an audience without the straps of a “lesson through a text book”, so to say. However we often hear from teachers and parents about the choice of language.
Having distribution the Saturday Nation means massive reach. Is their a likelihood for a Shujaaz book for some high rez artwork and a compilation of the stories say at the end of the year?
That would be great. However no such plans at the moment.
With the popularity of Shujaaz it seems the next thing would be to create some animated shorts for television broadcast. Any chance we can expect these any time soon?
The epic task of doing animated shorts would be daunting, the plan is to do some motion comics from the already illustrated art work. Its scaleable and something we can work towards.
As artists – what has been your personal growth stories from it.
I think my own favourite personal growth story has been looking back on the change in my artwork for the 12 months’ worth of work! I dare say the quality of the drawing and especially the storytelling has improved from the practice. Which is not to say that I’m totally satisfied and now I’m done improving, but just that I’m finally getting jazzed with things here and there.