Opus Grand Creative Studio breaks into rare art space in Lesotho

SOBUKWE MAPEFANE

Music, fashion design, theatre arts, dance, fine art, poetry and literature are some of the mediums that Basotho have explored for many years, but with the advent of the digital art space, a new breed of artistes was also born.

With the growing popularity of the unconventional digital art space sprouted graphic designers, photographers, film makers, animators, music producers and what could be considered as the latest addition to the arts family, “comic book creators”.

Maybe it is important to first appreciate comic book creation as an art form by understanding the history and evolution of it.

“It is a publication that consists of comic art in the form of sequential juxtaposed panels that represent individual scenes that are often accompanied by brief descriptive prose and written narrative, usually dialogue contained word balloons.

It originated in Japan around the 18th century with the largest market valued at 6 to 7 billion US dollars and became popular in America as well as the United Kingdom.” ( ref- Wikipedia).

Over the years, the world has enjoyed films birthed from comic book stories. Characters from the Marvel and D.C. Franchises such as Spider-Man, Super-man, Batman, Aqua-man, Thor, Superwoman  have been part  of many people’s childhoods, serving as keys that unlock a fictional dream world where both children and adults get their imaginations enticed.

Lesotho’s creative sphere has evolved over the years as more art genres are tapped into with each generation and now enters a group of artistes daring to open another creative portal in the art space.

“Hhh” reporter sat down with Sekants’i Mokhohlane the creator, lead artiste and writer of KSHYZO – Lesotho’s first and only comic book, to find out as what inspired him and his work partners Teele Sehalahala and Mokhele Ntho to develop a comic book.

“We have been working on the comic book seriously since last year, but I came up with the plot about three or four years ago. The combination of my ceasing to procrastinate, my long standing love for the comic book creating craft, and my passion for storytelling through this particular format were the main influences, which drove me to take a chance and ensure that this project is realised.

“Surrounding myself with the right people also played a major part. My partners Teele and Mokhehle really pushed me to work hard in instances where I was slacking and I truly feel that we fed one another the energy to go on, whilst sharing a common passion for the craft and the project in particular.” Mokhohlane says.

Currently studying Economics and Management at the Rhodes University in South Africa, Mokhohlane has taken a year off his studies to complete this ground breaking body of work.

Despite being the only member of the outfit who doesn’t have formal arts training, he is however, confident that everyone of them is an artiste in their own right.

Sehalahala is a Fine Arts graduate from Rhodes University whilst Ntho holds a degree in architecture from the University Of Cape Town.

“The three of us were drawn towards similar subject matters and through Kshyzo, we explore science fiction, action, the paranormal and deeply psychological matters. We are loyal followers or supporters of comic books , manga, anime and generally any superhero centered content, which we approach very critically as consumers and artists.

“I also feel that the amazing or powerful aura that made comic book creating look near impossible is gone, mainly because we are  part of that creative family now, we are actually doing it. I suppose Kshyzo is our attempt to fix a lot of things that bother us about the books , movies and shows that we love so much that got us interested in comic books in the first place,” Mokhohlane adds.

On the creative process, he says it was incredibly tiring and demanding as he discovered that studying a story in the classroom is nowhere near challenging mentally compared to having to conjure up a story of your own.

Kshyzo is essentially a story about an accidental hero, whereby the protagonist is gifted with incredible powers from the gods of his home world, which he has to use to protect his people.

However, something happens that lands him on planet earth where he learns a disturbing truth about his super powers.

It is a coming of age story that is deeply  psychological and deals with a lot of subject matter that is rarely if ever explored by many African authors and storytellers.

“The team started meeting in  2017 on Saturdays  to develop the story and ensure that the characters had enough depth to get started after initially approaching my teammates about the kind of story I wanted us to tell.

In building the story I was deeply influenced by similar material, everything that I have watched and read throughout my childhood up until now. For example Akira which is one of my favourite anime movies that was released in the 1980s a science fiction animation that presented dark  philosophical concepts, like how a hero is defined and the concept of heroes abusing their  heroism to ultimately be considered villains.

“I was also influenced by Star Wars and The Lord of the rings in creating the world of our protagonist. I asked myself what it would be like if The Lord of the rings was African and what the end result would be if we gave a script like that to George Lucas to reimagine,  Kshyzo has a strong feel of that re-imagination,” he says.

The story follows Tersym , a young man gifted with super powers and all the challenges that come with it. Mokhohlane says unlike Kwesi,a character from a South African comic book, who is somewhat built like an African Superman equivalent, he wanted to build a character that was more relatable and not necessarily one dimensional. He chose to build a character that has a strong moral value system and mature set of humanistic principles.

Following his story in the comic book Tersym displays emotional volatility and a longing for a sense of family despite being graced with powers that release him from that kind of humanistic disposition, which is where the deep psychological concepts in the story also  manifest.

“He is very similar to Dr Manhattan from Watchmen in that sense and I was really trying to create a character that had more depth than Superman , whom I don’t like and feel was created for children and not necessarily an older audience. The longing for family that Tersym has is seen in his interaction with his companion York and the readers will grasp that as they read through the comic book.

“I also wanted to portray an Afro-Futuristic world, whereby I drew  inspiration from the cultures of people of colour from all over the world, like Polynesian, East Asian and Arabic cultures, but mainly African. The reader can expect to see influences from the Sesotho, Egyptian , Xhosa , Zulu and Nigerian cultures. Another important factor is that the onomatopoeia is Sesotho based, meaning instead the usual “kablaam or phow” that’s used in comic books there will be expressions like  “joatla and pha” as well as “ichu” where a  character experiences pain,” he notes.

Mokhohlane shows that some of their major challenges were financial and that they had no reference or customer control group in the country mainly because Basotho have not been exposed to this kind of product before.

Other challenges came from printing, sales, marketing, interviews and  online presence just to mention a few. Their triumph through all these hurdles was mainly prompted by Sehalahala’s persistence in trying to understand how everything works.

“The response has been really good as many people have shown willingness to participate or at least find out what the book is about, but as exciting as that is , I’m hoping this body of work is not over simplified to us “making cartoons” because it is of a higher substantial value than that. People need to understand that we do literature in illustration format and not animation, and that our aim is to leave the readers equally  impressed by the literature as they are by the images in the book.”

“Another challenge is that of readers being able to pronounce  some of the names and words that we made up, but I’m confident that by issue 15 they will have grasped the grammatical rules we follow to create them. Finally I think seeing a PlayStation game adaptation of this project would be very interesting, I wouldn’t really like to see that of a movie as I feel a film is too short to capture the whole story.”

Just as Black Panther currently stands as on one the most successful films in the cinemas that was developed from a comic book, it is not overly dreamy to visualize Kshyzo being adapted into an African original story that captures multiple cultures through an Afro-Futuristic Sci-Fi theme.

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