Growing up in Brazzaville, Kiyindou Yamakasi began making comics at a young age sharing them with his primary school friends who would act out the scenes. His characters very closely resembled those he read about in Japanese and American comics. They took subways, they suffered through terrible winters and were White or Asian.
His earlier work is a great contrast to his new fantasy comic series, Little Little Orishas that draws inspiration from Yoruba spirituality with his characters as revered deities.
His main character, Sango is the god of thunder and lightning while his sister is Oya, is the goddess of wind in Yoruba spirituality. Little little orishas is the story of Sango, a simple-minded and defiant wandering spirit, and his gentle sister Oya. They want to live a better life in heaven, free from the gods that bully them on a daily basis.
It is a story of overcoming barriers, dealing with bullies, class issues and resilience. All these are topics that are close to Yamakasi’s heart having endured similar hardships in school. With the support of his parents, he’s now equipped with the tools to get his stories to a larger audience using comics and hopefully in future an animated series. His parents wholeheartedly backed his decision to drop out of university in Brazzaville where he was studying economics and accounting and instead join AFDA in Cape Town where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Motion Pictures. He hopes to further his studies in film and television.
His bet is paying off with the first comic book of the Orishas series having been read by more than 50,000 people and also having won the 2017 Lagos Comic Con award for Best Child Friendly comic book. The book is available free online, was published by a Nigerian publishing house, Vortex, and is in easy to understand Nigerian pidgin English.
Then Yamakasi learnt about the doll tests that led to the success of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case that struck down school segregation in the US. The realization black children preferred the white dolls and thought of the black dolls (and thus themselves) as inferior made him realize the importance of children having positive images of people – including fictional ones – that resemble them.
“I knew I was being called to make comics that will make African children proud of who they are. Everything about how my characters look is about embracing blackness—their hair, their skin, their lips, their noses. It is all deliberate. I want people to value this type of beauty.” It is for this reason that he chose for Osun, the goddess of beauty to be the darkest character in the book.
The idea to draw on African mythology and spirituality also adds the layer of a colonized people digging into their past to discover its richness. He credits his time in South Africa with exposing him to African myths and turning him into an avid pan-Africanist.
In future he hopes to make comics inspired by other African heroes including one on the Hausa warrior Queen, Amina of Zaria. For now, he is looking for production companies interested in animating the Little Little orishas that is still in the early stages of development. He hopes to uncover even more African myths, legends, heroes and heroines and have them come alive on TV and cinema.
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