Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Alama's Walk, Healing the Earth (graphic novel, book 2)

It’s 5:30pm and sun is going down in equatorial Kenya, the sky is now a reddish orange. The smell of rain is the air, dark clouds form as Alama is led by three young boys to Aba Yusufa, the village elder. Alama is amazed by the rich river basin, a sharp contrast from his desert scrubland in the north. Fat cows, fields of maize, bananas and mangoes stretch across the land. A vibrant village with a rich culture deeply connected to the land. Alama absorbs joy from the children as he feels the warmth of the people. He has journeyed far. Soon it will be dark and Alama will rest his feet and gaze at the same stars from his homeland.

This is the scene I worked on over the last two days for the second graphic novel scheduled for the fall of 2022 - Alama's Walk, Healing the Earth.

These are the feelings I tried to encapsulate in the illustration. I had several conversations with Sultan Somjee, the author/ethnographer of One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet about this scene. Besides my readings and image research online and from books, he advised me on time of day, the rain clouds, material culture and clothing. It is like going back to college and learning about the culture, landscape and ethnography. Like many art forms. I find this kind of illustration both enjoyable and meditative as I delve into a form of deep learning. 

Sadiq Somjee (Ilustrator)

Friday, October 22, 2021

One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet - Book Reviews

Alama's Walk , the graphic novel
Alama's Walk, The Oracle Speaks is a graphic novel  is based 
on Sultan Somjee's book One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet 

Muse India - the literary ejournal 

"One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet engages with the eternal and universal quest for the source of peace within self and oneness with the environment, as well as collective social cohesion...

Somjee’s main protagonist is a Turkana elder called Alama who sets out on a spiritual-philosophical quest for the source of peace. He is troubled by his desire for revenge against humiliation suffered against his family and clan, largely based on his upbringing that a warrior must take pride in acts of aggression. Restless and uneasy, he sets out from the arid lands of Northwest Kenya and traverses the Kenyan landscape in a quest for self-discovery."

For the full review visit Muse India - the literary ejournal 

Quote from Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

“The book has a lot of history in it. With a very profound title, ‘One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet’ is driven by a dream, Somjee’s dream driven by his belief in the people and a dream that makes us survive.”

Book launch YouTube video 

Old Africa Magazine - Issue 95 June-July 2021

"Written in a truly poetic manner while evoking the land, the traditional heritage of material culture as well as proverbs, parables, music and dance, Somjee’s style has evolved in leaps and bounds into a work of profound transparency that touches a chord of deep harmony. He also shows the beauty of silence within the parameters of utu - I exist because of you - reminding us of the importance of utu, of being, of relationships. Relationships with others, with the nature, with the land, with dreams, with peace. A relationship that is not limiting; elders are involved, the entire community is involved."

Old Africa Magazine

Awaaz Magazine 

"The story takes the form of a walk of a pastoralist seeking one of humankind's most sought-after ideals, the search for peace, especially relevant now during the times of internal and external conflicts. The protagonist, Alama, (Somjee’s alter ego) sets out to explore Utu, an African humanist philosophy. Utu comes from the Swahili word meaning 'being mtu' or simply 'being human.' It stands for a set of traditional African values that connect the spiritual realm, the community, ancestors and nature in reciprocal relationships of respect. In South Africa, Ubuntu can be translated into many African languages bringing the meaning home... Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o launched the 614-page book on November 25th, remarking "prophets are very conscious and connected to the land and environment." "

Awaaz Magazine

Alberto Parise, Comboni Missionary Rome, November 2020 

"All that resonates so deeply with my 18 year experience as a missionary in Kenya... One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet is a captivating reading, very entertaining, with an unpredictable plot and a vivid narrative that paints every scene as a microcosm that unfolds through rich sensorial renderings and spiritual insights. African readers will find inspiration in it, and a path to develop an appreciative and critical consciousness of their own cultural heritage as a gift for peace."

Learning Peace Through African Biocultural Diversity

Review Vancouver

"His background as an ethnographer gives him ample material for his story lines. What makes him unique, however, is his insightful, poetic voice. His writing reaches deep into recesses in our being human. It awakens forgotten parts of our humanity, long hidden, covered up by lives immersed in acquisition, self-preservation, and egoistic endeavours. It refreshes the tired spirit, and opens doors to new visions of a better way to be. We taste what Alama seeks." 

Review Vancouver website

Amazon Reviews 

"Now in an original book, One Who Dreams is Called a Prophet gives us a rare, kaleidoscopic vision of Indigenous cultures of peace. Weaving together memoir, history, and peace heritage traditions. Sultan Somjee tells the story of one of the most sought-after ideals of humankind, the search for peace within each of our souls."

More Amazon reviews

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Map Game with People and Animal Cutouts

This map game may be used as a resource to learn about the Indigenous peace traditions as you read the graphic novel, Alama's Walk, The Oracle Speaks. You will be introduced to East African Indigenous customs, stories, traditional clothing, artifacts and ornaments. Great for older kids too :-)

1) Print and glue the map onto card paper 

2) Print and cut out the people and animals along the dotted line
3) Glue onto card paper
4) Fold on the solid line at the base so they stand upright

5) Play the characters on the map and enjoy Alama's Walk

Alama, the nomad, starts his journey in search of peace from his village of Kataka. He walks to Maragoi and ends up near Tamba, both towns in the northern region of Yeta. Alama is guided by the Oracle who lives in the acacia tree at the Red Brown River and the Kokoloko bird. Along the way, he meets elders and people from various cultural communities from across the land. The elders exchange stories and their walking sticks made out of peace trees. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Illustrating Time, Light and Shadows

Alama's Walk Time, Light & Shadows

In Swahili 7 am is called the 1st hour of the day and 6 pm is the 12th hour. The movement of the sun is rhythmic and predictable in equatorial East Africa. This celestial harmony sets the rhythm for all life. After the morning coolness and long shadows, the sun gradually brings warmth. At noon the sun is overhead and shadows hide under you, the day gets very hot until it begins to cool in the 9th hour of the day. The characters on the facing page show how the shadows fall during different times of the day. The shadows are long in the morning and shorten towards noon when they hide under you. That's when they are the shortest. Then they start to lengthen again until dusk and disappear with the sun. In the graphic novel, they show the time and direction of Alama's walk. 

The dawn sky reveals a splendor of colours, beckoning Alama to pray and bathe in its beauty. Animals, birds and roosters also awaken to graze and sing. Memories of my childhood awaken as I illustrate. I lived perhaps 300 miles south of Alama in Nairobi, the big city. When I close my eyes, I can still see and smell the mist and rain that bring out the beauty of the sun against the blue skies and opaque clouds. Dark rain clouds put on a spectacular show at the time when the rains arrive. The rains are brought by the monsoons from the Indian Ocean. New growth of seedlings and vegetation sprout, bringing gazelles, goats and creatures of every sort to feast in this season of abundance. The rivers and waters swell and replenish giving joy to the desert shrubs, trees and vegetation, and inviting birds, grazers, carnivores and vultures to fatten.

Illustrating this book, I began to feel the vastness and open spaces of the desert, the barren landscape and blue sky over the flat horizon. I thought about Alama, his reverence and prayers to colours of the rising sun. I began to respect and appreciate Indigenous wisdom drawn from environment and I started learning from him. Ultimately the desert scrubland is Alama’s home and land of his ancestors he knows and loves. Alama survives by digging up roots and tubers to drink from, catches desert hares with his homemade traps and harvests honey from his hollowed out tree branch beehives. I tried to capture these  elements and feelings visually in people, landscapes, colours and nature. While illustrating this book, I often became Alama, dreaming, walking with a stick and slowing down to reflect in the emptiness of the blue sky.

Once again I remember the colours of the sky, and shadows that predictably tell time, the smell of arriving rains and refreshing after rain smells mixed with the cooling earth. These are the feelings, colours, memories and dreams of my childhood that come alive as I read One Who Dreams is called a Prophet and illustrate Alama’s Walk, The Oracle Speaks.

Sadiq Somjee

September, 2021

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Material Culture in Alama’s Walk: The Oracle Speaks

Alama's Walk, The Oracle Speaks

From the early 1970s, I started collecting and documenting the material culture of Kenya across Indigenous communities for the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nairobi, and the National Museums of Kenya. Hundreds of objects passed through my hands. I studied and sketched them in my field books. And I learned what material culture meant to the people. Working closely with the illustrator, Sadiq Somjee, we bring that experience of Indigenous Africa into the story of Alama’s Walk: The Oracle Speaks. This is a book of fiction inspired by the resourcefulness of the Turkana, Pokot and Borana people who draw from their histories, languages, and cultures to create objects of art and function. They also draw from the resourceful nature of the scrubland desert of northern Kenya. 

Their walking sticks, attires, containers and ornaments are artfully designed for use and adornment. These objects also hold cultural aesthetic codes and carry social meanings.

The elders’ walking sticks are often crafted from sacred (or peace) trees. They support the elders while walking and are held between men to stop fights. They are exchanged among peers of the adversary groups during negotiations to close the conflicts. Thus, they are also known as peace staffs and have distinctive shapes and properties of the wood sensed by touch and sight. In the book, they have personalities and I have given them names in Swahili. I have made them peers of the protagonist, Alama, so he may speak with them as an elder to an elder, and to the readers to say who they are.

Alama the Seeker, carries a headrest to lay his head down at night and when tired during the day. He carries the headrest together with the milk gourd, and a snuff container made from cow’s horn. The woman with a shiny belt and the man in white, too, carry water or milk containers with the peace staffs that are characteristic of their cultures.

The skin attires of Ua and the woman with a shiny belt are distinct. In that, they have been fashioned with distinct cultural patterns that are made by shaving and trimming calf and goat hair on the skins. The women of the two neighbouring cultures also have particular styles of wearing their skin apparels that are different from each other. 

Similarly, the sets of ornaments on the two women show the richness of diversity of Indigenous adornment and colours of Africa. Some, like the waist belt leketyo is a highly respected object. It’s revered as sacred for it supports the womb that is life of the unborn. It’s also a powerful as a symbol of motherhood. I have seen the leketyo  dropped between two fighting young men and immediately the blows ceased. In fact, in several of the eight Kalenjin communities, the word for peace is the woman’s waist belt called leketyo.

Sultan Somjee 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Process of creating a graphic novel page

Many people have asked me about my graphic novel creation process, now that I’m on my third graphic novel I have a pretty refined process. Although the creative process is dynamic and I like to keep it open and fluid.

This time I am the illustrator and not also the author like for my previous books. I wondered how it would work collaborating with someone, that is would I loose my autonomy and my fluid creative process. Well it turns out that I am really enjoying the collaboration especially after self isolating for over year. Although most of collaboration takes place online and over the phone.

In a nutshell after the story script is done, I make a storyboard and review it with the author, after some back and forth a polished story board with text emerges. Then I get to do the final artwork, page layouts and panel designs. Even at this stage there is a back and forth between the illustrator and the author, lots of tweaks, edits, adds and discards. This is why I go with digital as edits as they are easier to manage. Typically I complete one or two pages a day which equates to four to six panels (pictures,) so essentially it is a full time job. 

In this example, I have included a page from my sketchbook and short video of my digital creation process using an app called Procreate. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Hyena Sketches

There are so many interesting animals in "One who dreams is called a prophet", I am enjoying sketching them.