7 Jul 2011

PAY ME WHAT YOU OWE!

The Mona Lisa
Parents born 45-60 years ago in Africa may not know this but art is very lucrative. It's funny how some parents say, "When you graduate and get a real job you can pay for an art course," like art is a silly hobby. No-matter what form you take it in, art forms the foundation of almost everything we know. Art is like that stalker who you seem to see everywhere and cant get away from. It's in the buildings, its in the cars, its in the spoons, the cups, the medicine boxes, the capsules, the tablets and the bottles. We wear it, sleep on it, sit on it, knock a thief upside his head with it... Come to think of it I should try and think of what isn't art.
So basically art cannot be ignored. Well now that I've gotten to the point of my post, what next? Ill tell you what! Most artists have a problem quantifying the worth of their work. The major difference between sciences and arts is application versus creation. (No, duh!) So while your lawyers will read books to try to find wiggle-room in a case and your scientists/professors will try to apply formulae that they didn't "discover" to solve issues, the artist will lay down and conceptualise. Sound's lazy doesn't it? So why don't we watch a show created and scripted by a calculus professor? I imagine hours of rib-cracking fun or immersion into entertainment like no other. (NOT!)
Mr Mark Millar
The problem with artists is that we are smarter than scientists and non-artsy career people but the world doesn't really know it yet. You may not believe me because I'd never be able to make an iPhone or a space shuttle if you gave me a century and a factory full of manuals & steps. Well, in my defence, Steve Jobs would never be able to create the Mona Lisa with his hands if given two centuries and a painter's guide. So we are at some-what of an impasse aren't we? Well not really. Think about this; most "real jobs" are either labour intensive or require a large amount of concentration and experience. Sucks to be you "real job" people. Mark Millar on the other hand (Writer: Civil War, Old Man Logan, Wanted, Kick Ass, Nemesis, Superior, bla bla bla) just needs a pen, a pad and a breakfast mug to make millions of dollars. Is Mark lazy? He will be if Oxford Dictionary announces a reboot of the word but for now, he is just smarter.
We have now arrived at the problem. Art comes easy to the artists due to their superior intellect in their field and thus the rest of the world finds it hard to financially quantify their work.
I like this old story told to me by a friend. A guy is approached by a leading car dealer to do some art to promote the vehicle company. When he asked for payment he was told that his art would be seen by a massive number of people and it would be good for exposure. He then asked them to give him a car and he would drive it around and a massive number of people will see it as he moves around. Isn't it the same thing though? People assume that because art comes so easily to the artist, it shouldn't be worth much. After-all, I created a code for months that can allow me to build a search engine when all he did was sit at the breakfast table for one day and sketch.
All Ill say is, don't victimise artists for their genius. Pay them what you owe!

WHAT IS AFRICAN?

I have been yammering on and on about how annoying it is that book publishers turn down urban themed books in Kenya because they aren't "African" so I'm on a quest to find out what is African according to these editors and what the readers would want to see in their books.
LWANDA MAGERE (Pinched from Google)
I read the Lwanda Magere comic book that came out not toooooo long ago. It wasn't bad besides the excessive focus on pin-ups rather than a sequence of panels. I was pleased when I read it because I thought FINALLY we are getting comics published. Staying with the subject I found myself at a party two years ago with members of the Blackstar Entertainment company. I had heard that they were planning to get into comic book publication (Two years later I wonder how that went) so I approached Brian Smallz who was in attendance. We discussed comic books and Blackstar's plans for the same and this is what he thought.

We want to launch comic books that will be relevant to the youth in Kenya. Lwanda Magere was cool but who in Nairobi today will find that story relatable? I want something that young guys will see and feel like its in line with what they go through or experience.

He then proceeded to pull-out his iPhone to show me what kind of comics he would like to see. This was a funny moment because the comic he showed me was my own. I had been circulating a portion of a comic I was drawing and it landed in his hands. What are the odds right? We parted ways and promised to communicate but I later discovered he was a tough man to reach. We haven't spoken since.
Alright, so coming from a potential publisher, spears, arrows and mud-huts just won't cut it with urban youth. So again I ask, what is African?
In an era where we are all chasing technology and cramming names of designers to the point where some Kenyan ladies can identify a foreign designer just by looking at a dress, what's going on with comics? Our leaders wear, drive and use foreign, kids are up-to-speed with gadgets as they are launched abroad and don't get me started on the slang... I'm just trying to understand how everything about us is foreign but when we throw in iPads, spandex suits and super powers in our comic books SUDDENLY we are not being African.
If I were to ask my target audience when they last saw a mud hut or tended to livestock in the fields I would get blank stares and possibly roaring laughter. If I were to push it and talk about planting in the farms and going for village meetings they would walk away. So as a comic book writer and artist, what is African? Are we being just a tad bit unrealistic?
My sister, who is a writer herself constantly nags me on how westernised my comic books are. I find this rather interesting because I've read a good chunk of her pieces and in none of them did I see "African" philosophies being pushed. They are centred around our modern lifestyles. I guess because we can't physically see her characters then she can get away with it and I cant.
I can go on and on for days with this but I guess what I'm saying here is; You don't like local shows because they aren't as good as the international ones you watch. You claim that America is making millions with Tarzan, Thor, Karate Kid, The Loch Ness Monster, Godzilla and goodness knows how many other traditional concepts they have no connection with. So how about this, you let me do my "unAfrican" stories as beautifully as those of the west that you enjoy and let me capitalise on what isn't mine. That way you get the quality that you want from a Kenyan and I get the market that I want just like the Americans have done over the years.
Isn't that fair?