By Denrele Animasaun
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step -Lao Tzu
I have known the cartoonist, Tayo Fatunla for over three decades; our paths have crossed during our respective media journeys. I first met him when I was at Punch and we clicked because of his sense of humour and love of cartoons. He then worked in Vanguard and he became a fan of my father, so he became an extended part of the family. Then we met again in London and collaborated on several community projects.
Tayo is contagious: his laughter and generosity of spirit is so inspiring, you cannot but like him because he always wants the best for you. So, Tayo has been someone who has done so much to inspire young people in Nigeria, in the US and in the U.K. So pleased that he has been recognised across the world and awarded a life time achievement award to Pioneer Nigerian Cartoonist in Philadelphia. He has done Nigeria proud.
The ECBACC Pioneer/Lifetime Achievement award was inaugurated in 1984 to honour men and women and many unsung who have made innovative, dynamic and lasting contributions to the Comic Art industry and who have paved the way for others. Nominations are solicited from and submitted by a select ad hoc consortium of comic book historians, writers, artists and aficionados who make their own independent submissions. The 2018 Awards on the 18th May were awarded to five veteran cartoonists who are modern-day creative pioneers and who have maintained a consistent presence in the industry for over 3 decades.
Former iconic Punch cartoonist and comic artist TAYO FATUNLA is one of the awardees. The award is for his contributions to Black history through his cartoon feature “OUR ROOTS”. Tayo began his cartooning career in Nigeria, drawing for local and mainstream newspapers and magazines, including the popular cartoon commentary column “OMOBA”; for the Punch newspapers and “TIROGO” for the Nigerian Herald. It was Uncle Sam Amuka (Vanguard publisher) who gave Tayo the opportunity to draw cartoons for Punch while he was Managing Director of the newspaper group. He took him to the cartoon department then and gave him his seat where his style of drawing kicked in. Tayo attended the prestigious Kubert School, an art school based in Dover, New Jersey.
It was in the US that he created OUR ROOTS whilst in art school. OUR ROOTS is an illustrated educational feature by TAYO through which he has drawn and highlighted the achievements of Black people in the diaspora and has also highlighted Africans and Nigerians who have made great contributions to world history but have gone unrecognized. Some are well-known but then TAYO believes that there are others who should be appreciated. Tayo, was ahead of the times; very forward looking and determined to raise the awareness of the achievements of black people around the world.
TAYO and four other well-known and established African-American cartoonists and awardees namely Ray Billingsley, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Jerry Craft and Ralph L. Stevenson, cartoonists who are pioneers of Comic art in their own right will be presented with awards in Philadelphia.
OUR ROOTS has featured in Newspapers in the UK such as the Voice newspaper and in US-based newspapers such as the New York Amsterdam News, Sacramento Observer, Miami Times, the Chicago Defender and the Atlanta Voice. Many African Americans so much relate to OUR ROOTS and have embraced it through the years. OUR ROOTS was also published briefly in the editions of Nigeria’s Sunday Times and This Day newspapers. TAYO has done projects for the BBC World service and the British museum, being spin-offs from OUR ROOTS.
Just before he travelled to collect his gong, I asked Tayo a few questions; When did he become interested in comics? “My first comic was in primary school. The moment I came across the first comic ever is when I knew that there is a gift in me to draw. And the first comic was Marvel’s Mighty Thor. Now the character is just called Thor. Funny enough he resembles Sango, the god of thunder. Perhaps Marvel was inspired by this Yoruba god”
Has he ever lost the drive to create cartoons? He said; Not at all. The drive has always been there. Not even discouragement or setbacks could stop me. A moment came when I wanted to then further my ability to draw by going to an art school.’
Does he have any message for young people? “When you set your heart to doing something, excel in it. Keep keeping on. Education matters though for Plan B. Also, a cartoonist or his or her works must inspire you. I was inspired firstly by Daily Times and Punch cartoons as well as British and American comics. In those days we learnt to draw the hard way. These days technology makes it easier. You must though have a basic knowledge of drawing to use digital art”
What kept him going? You need encouragement and I have had that in abundance with people wanting my services as a cartoonist, illustrator, storyteller (which an artist should be), comic artist and designer. When you start getting fan mails or aspiring artists approaching you, then you know you are on the right track. I have had another invitation to a cartoon festival in the Middle East. I give thanks for all the travels and invitations by various countries in recognition of what I do”.
What next? More cartoons, more projects as they come my way. I want to be consistently consistent like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe once said. And as a member of the Cartoonists Association of Nigeria, CARTAN, the much I can do is support and be involved, like the #Drawing Blood cartoons which Nigerian cartoonists are producing at the moment to highlight the needless terror killings.
Tayo is modest, he has worked tirelessly with several media bigwigs including the BBC but he also gives his time offering free workshops to young people, teaching them the art of cartooning. He has done us proud and is a worthy award winner and I know there is more to come.
‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition’ – Steve Jobs
*Denrele is off for one week