Akokhan—more than a comic: A Chat with Frank Odoi
Frank Odoi (Fran) is one of the most outstanding cartoonists in the African continent. Every Saturday, his engrossing and spellbinding comic Akokhan keeps us enthralled and it is often described as “more than a comic story.”
Kimani: What inspired you to pen the Akokhan story?
Fran: My Ghanaian background. One glaring difference between West Africa and East Africa is how local religious beliefs and rites are perceived. Traditional religions in Ghana and West Africa as a whole is culturally and accepted and respected, while this is some how frowned upon and referred to as voodoo, juju, witchcraft and other humiliating names in East Africa.
I read the Superman, Batman and other super hero stories as a child. The power of the western superhero is derived from scientific sources and thus easily explainable. So I created Akokhan, an African superhero, whose power sources are unexplainable. Call it magic, but then when you breath life into fantasy, it stops being magic… bringing fantasy and African roots-religion together gave me Akokhan.
Kimani: That is interesting. Take me through the journey of your life—-when & where were you born?
Fran: I am a 20-year-old man with 36 years life experience. I was born on a Sunday, in Tarkwa, a mining town in Western Ghana (where my parents from the Ga tribe in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, were residing.) The third child among seven great sisters. As a child I did nothing but draw and play football, since all my sisters helped me out with household chores.
Kimani: Where did you go to school? What are some of the memorable thoughts of your life while you were growing up?
Fran: Primary School was at a place called Awaso also in western Ghana. Secondary school was O’Reilly Secondary, Accra then I attended Ghanatta Art college also in Accra, before joining the Medical School in Ghana as an assistant medical artist.
Kimani: What did you want to do in life? Did you always want to be a cartoonist?
Fran: I love comics than cartoons, so that’s what I want to be remembered for. I would like to sit back and create comics for both children and adults, especially those with story lines like Akokhan. Hopefully someone might come along and create movie versions of my creations…These are my dream………
Kimani: What prompted you to choose your career as a cartoonist?
Fran: I didn’t choose to be one. I grew up loving fine art. I like to draw anything living or dead…I mean anything.
Kimani: Please give me an outline of the body of your works- the things that you have done- both in Africa and internationally.
Fran: That will be like giving you my CV, and it will be boring… My works have appeared in the major newspapers of Ghana and all the countries of the E. A. Federation. I have been featured several times on both BBC radio and the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine, Politiken (Denmark) Noticias (Mozambique) Helsinken Sanomat (Finland) etc., etc. I have also illustrated several educational books for most of the major publishing houses in East Africa, especially here in Kenya.
Kimani: Which one was the most challenging and why? Which one do you think is the lousiest and why?
Fran: Drawing for survival as a Scientific Illustrator at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya. Can you imagine an Artist working in the middle of all those Scientists!!! That was challenging, but I did it for three years! After all someone has to do it.
Kimani: Where do you draw inspiration for your work? Who was your role model in the industry?
Fran: I like watching Hollywood blockbuster, fantasy/horror/suspense movies. These and the follies of human nature inspire me. My role models were the artists whose work I hold in high esteem, Master Michael Angelo being one. He is my god!
Kimani: That is profound. Why do you say that?
Fran: That guy pushed art to its limits; he painted heaven and hell while hanging upside down; and he dared generations to emulate him. That’s the man I always want to be. Then there is comic artist Frank Frazetta, Harvey Kurtzman, John Buscema and the great Will Eisner…I love to see good, detailed art.
Kimani: Please give me some highlights of: your happiest moments/memorable time; your trying/challenging time.
Fran: Happiest moments? Several. Anytime I meet a fan of mine I get high. I am happy as long as I am with happy people. When I first met former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, I was happy because he was happily presenting me with a Best Cartoonist Award. I remember former Prime Minister Geingob of Namibia shaking my hand and at the same time asking me why I hated governments. I also remember the great time I had with comic artist Leif Packalen in Kemi, Finland, where I first fell in love with snow and the Arctic Comics Society. And I remember the first time I met Paul “Maddo” Kelemba and told him his artwork and style was “just not in Nairobi”. And still, I remember the first time I met Caroline, the girl who later became my wife.
Kimani: What are the other things that you like doing when you are not working? What are your hobbies etc.?
Fran: I like hanging out with the right boys and girls at weekends. I love a variety of music genres, I boast of a collection that will make any FM station envious. I also like the English Premiership, Manchester United and Chelsea. I detest smokers of cigarettes and other things.
Kimani: Back to Akokhan. Why is the comic book described as “more than a comic story?”
Fran: Look at the storyline of Akokhan. It has humour that turns into horror just as your laughter starts to pick up. I drew it as graphically as I could, like a print version of a movie. It is just another story of good against evil, and yet it is so different from “good cowboys shooting down evil Indians.” During one of my exhibitions at the French Cultural Center Nairobi, I had pastors and church people ask me about the source of my creation and I loved it because if I could tickle them, then I had made my point… Akokhan is more than a comic story.
Kimani: What are the “Konadi Chronicles” that seem to be the driving force behind the age-old battle between good and evil captured in the battles between Akokhan and Tonkazan?
Fran: Like any other religious set up, there are those few selected “Popes” who are entrusted with the secrets of their Spiritual order. The verse from the Konadi Chronicles is fiction, written by me to introduce the reader to Akokhan… You know what? I love those lines. I might even write a whole book based on that verse.
Kimani: The phrase “where grass has grown, grass will grow” has been repeated over and over in the Akokhan story. What is the significance of this phrase?
Fran: It simply means Akokhan is invincible… More or less like the infinite theory. It only needs rain to fall on a ground where grass has grown… and grass will grow.