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Frank Odoi: Loss of a Great Cartoonist

Friends and fellow Cartoonists– Tribute

Compiled by Kimani wa Wanjiru

James Kamawira (Kham)

When did you meet him? I met Frank in the late 80s (89 or 90) during a joint exhibition at the French cultural Centre when I became the editorial cartoonist for the Kenya Times newspaper. I had been fascinated by Frank’s drawings during my childhood in the mid and late 70s in Joe magazine and later in the Men only magazine.

How did you develop your friendship over the years? Since we were in the same field we met often and became very good friends over the years. We became even closer when Maddo (Paul Kelemba), Gado (Godfrey Mwampembwa), Frank and I set up Communicating Artists Limited in 1998. We interacted daily and got even closer.

What is your fondest memory of the friendship that you had with him? During a party he held at his house we got really pasted and I started dancing as I crawled under a plank of wood placed atop two bottles on either side, Frank laughed so hard and announced I was performing the “Famous Kham Show”. It was a hilarious night that I will never forget.

What did you learn from him over the years? I learnt a lot from Frank. He was a non-assuming man, humble and down to earth. We all came to respect him immensely and fondly referred to him as our daddy. He was always willing to help and since he had been in the business longer than any of us he placed his experience at our disposal and I learnt a great deal about cartoons, character creation and presentation.

What is your opinion of his most popular work—Akokhan and Golgoti? The two books are completely out of this world and I have never experienced anything even close to them. The mythical characters in Akokhan are so vividly portrayed that they seem to jump out of the book at you. Once you get hold of Akokhan you cannot put it down until you’re through. Golgoti is as hilarious as anything can get. For me these two books are the greatest classics of our time.

What in your opinion was the most outstanding thing about Frank? His character, so focused and serious about anything he ever did. So meticulous in his work and his humble nature. Seeing him on the street you’d never connect him to the legendary Frank Fran Odoi.

How will you remember him? I will always remember Frank as a very close friend. In fact just before he passed away we were supposed to start work on a project. The project will go on but I regret I will never see Frank pen another line. I also will always feel the void in the project, as I don’t think I will ever get anything even remotely close to Frank’s work. Franks work was unique… those once in a lifetime things, you know.

Leif Packalen, Chairman, World Comics Finland

 

When did you meet him?: We met first in 1991, when I was trying to find out how to use comics in development communication. We had corresponded about the issue a few months before we met. We hit it off well from the beginning and we started planning different training projects for budding artists in Africa to learn how to make campaign comics for NGOs. Frank visited Finland in 1991 to a world cultural conference and again in 1993 with an African comics and cartoon exhibition at the Arctic Comics Festival in Kemi. I remember how I walked him over the slippery, icy streets in -15 subzero temperatures. This was the first ever exhibition of African Comics and Cartoons in the Nordic countries. Frank came to Finland also in 1997 and 2002 for World Cultural Events and his last visit was in September 2011 to the Helsinki Comics Festival, where he took part in several seminars, had a stage interview and an exhibition.

How did you develop your friendship over the years?: We worked together in Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, and Ethiopia, training young artists to make comics for different campaigning purposes. Frank was a role model for many of the participants in the workshops, and shared his skills generously. Our roles were different, I took care of the financing, planning, and reporting, Frank stood for the creative and artistic input.

Our major joint effort was the book “Comics with an attitude…” which was published in 1999 by the Finnish Foreign Ministry. The book is a guide to NGOs all over the world in how to use and produce comics for different educational and awareness campaigns. The book made eight printings and was eventually distributed in 14.000 copies. Frank said many times that the book opened up many doors for him and other comics artists in Africa by showing that comics are useful as a communication tool, not only for making laughs.

We remained close friends even when we did not work on joint projects. When Skype telephoning became available, we had long chats, updating each other on work, family and life matters.

He recently exhibited in your country. What is your memory of this?: We had a retrospect of Frank’s work on display in The Helsinki Comics Festival Exhibition. It was all there, political cartoons, caricatures, comic strips, illustrations and also some splendid originals from the Golgoti and Akokhan albums. When we visited the exhibition, a group of immigrant kids swarmed upon Frank and gave him rock-star treatment. The kids loved to see him drawing with his elegant and swift strokes with a brush and, there it was – a poodle, a bird, a cartoon character. I vividly remember the admiration in the kids and the patience in Frank to draw still another, and another, drawing at their request. The kids were begging him to come back as soon as possible- preferably the next day.

What is your fondest memory of the friendship that you had with him?: Always when we met, we addressed each other Your Excellency! It was a private joke which we kept through the years. We were together usually for a week or so at workshops or seminars and this meant frequent goodbyes.

However, we always parted with the feeling that we will meet again quite soon. This picture I took from my travelling diary, coloured it in Photoshop. It shows Tarmo Koivisto (Finnish colleague and also a friend of Frank) hugging Frank goodbye, with myself watching at left. This was in Dar es Salaam 1996 outside New Happy Hotel in Mnazi Mmoja after finishing a comics workshop for 20 Tanzanian artists in Morogoro. Frank used to frequent New Happy Hotel on his trips to Dar.

 

Patrick Gathara Cartoonist; General Secretary of the Association of East African Cartoonists

When did you meet him? I met Frank in 2001.

How did you develop your friendship over the years? Frank, despite his great fame, was always a humble and approachable fellow. He was always ready to give advice and to mentor younger cartoonists. One of the first black cartoonists to have his work published in a Kenyan newspaper, drawing for the Daily Nation as far back as 1979, he was a father figure to all Kenyan cartoonists. I loved and deeply admired him.

What is your fondest memory of the friendship that you had with him? Several times, I had the opportunity to accompany Frank and other top cartoonists, Paul Kelemba, Godfrey Mwampembwa and James Khamawira, on tours of various parts of the country. We would meet and talk to young people about using cartoons to avoid or resolve conflict. I remember he was always very engaged and passionate about this. And, of course, he was very funny.

What did you learn from him over the years? I learnt the value of hard work and humility. He also taught me not to take life too seriously and to always be ready to see the funny side of life.

What is your opinion of his most popular work—Akokhan and Golgota? Frank was a genius at creating and breathing life into his characters, always drawing on his extensive knowledge of African folklore to produce riveting narratives. He was unabashedly a citizen of Africa and his work was a celebration of this.

What in your opinion was the most outstanding thing about Frank? His smile and infectious laughter.

How will you remember him? As an outstanding talent and a great friend.

 

Njeri Osaak

I met Frank at the Kenya National Theater in the heady days of his fellow caricaturists Maddo, Gado, Kham and the late Whissy. Heady days because they were riding the high wave of a newfound love by readers of a bold and daring undertaking…making social and political commentary in days where such activity was deemed to be walking or operating on the edge.

We were young students at the University of Nairobi and Frank and Co. were our natural allies in articulating our silent views, albeit in a hilarious fashion. Odoi’s humor was interesting and stood out because he brought an aspect of his West African culture into his pieces.

He seemed the quieter of the troops but when he opened his mouth to speak he would leave you in stitches. He seemed to listen more and weighed in to speak it seemed after sizing up the argument or discussion. And it was always to make you laugh. We laughed with him and considered him our own. He was accommodated to the country of his sojourn Kenya, married a Kenyan and was comfortable enough to make social commentaries about his adopted country. That is how at home he was with us and us with him. He will be sorely missed and what a way for him to exit…with a bang so to speak.

I am sure if he could draw one last piece it would be to say something like…”Araaagh!…, who did this to me and do they not know people?” I hope he has danced properly to the drumming of the ancestors who summoned him! He drew the line and left!

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