Japhet Miagotar describes his work as a cartoonist as a reflection of social behavior, shaped by personal history, ideologies, studies, African statuary and his environment. In this interview by Dzekashu MacViban (translated from the French by Nfor E. Njinyoh), Miagotar discusses the ideologies that shape his art, North-South relations, and his current projects. Find one of his latest comics, »Un Nouvelle Vie,« here.
Dzekashu MacViban: Your comic strips are usually futuristic and address political issues. Is exploring these concerns a conscious decision or is it a coincidence?
Japhet Miagotar: A work of art is usually presented as the result of a clever mix of science – by virtue of the various technological means involved in its creation – and freedom, because it is the result of the representation of thought-through images, sound, or other vehicles of expression. As such, the stylistic leanings of an artistic production cannot, in any case or way, be ascribed to »chance« or a coincidence. I perceive a work of art as a mirror or a reflection of some social behavior peculiar to each artist, shaped by their own history, that is their life, their training, their values, their shortcomings, their convictions; in short, their social and family background.
As concerns the manifest singularity of my comic strips, especially with regard to the characters – who look like they’re drawn from an African sculpture review – it can simply be attributed to the family, social, and academic contexts in which I grew up, as well as the many people I’ve met in the past and the influences that ensued from them. In other words, I had a very conservative family and social upbringing. My secondary and higher education were marked by a specialization in visual arts. I have met comic artists of all kinds, with whom I have had constructive exchanges that gave me an idea of what my comic strips should look like.
»I perceive a work of art as a mirror or a reflection of some social behavior peculiar to each artist, shaped by their own history, that is their life, their training, their values, their shortcomings, their convictions; in short, their social and family background.«
As for the political issues addressed in my comic strips, the only coincidence, if any, resides in the single fact that these issues, while they are not new, made newspaper headlines and were contemporaneous to my efforts to master the ninth art and create works in this category. In substance, the said issues are an apt summary of the perception some Westerners (the obtuse ones especially) still have about Africans, and of the political nature of the relationship between Western countries and leaders and their African counterparts. Comics, by virtue of their popularity, are therefore an efficient way of highlighting this type of absurdity, given that most of the actors in traditional media (radio, TV, newspapers, the Internet …) are corrupt, fabricating and distorting information from the comfort of their offices.
DM: Another important issue in your work is how you explore North-South relations, as evidenced in Cargaison mortelle à Abidjan, and Dernière bataille en terre gauloise, tome 1: Un voyage… une guerre. How do you view the future of this relationship? Do you think your work can shape the future?
JM: I view the North-South relationship in a different light, which can be summed up in a few words: reciprocity, mutual interest and respect, honesty. Africa’s resources (which represent over 80 percent of the world’s resources by the way) belong to African peoples, not otherwise; it should be up to them to make the best of the resources by getting rid of the unjust and inhumane contracts signed between the two parties decades ago. The embassies of Northern countries in Southern countries should not be outposts for the policing, interference in, misinformation and destabilization of the latter countries. Rather, they should be poles of stability and development. The leaders of Northern countries should stop practicing predatory economics, as well as using their media, NGOs and international bodies as tools to justify war, the occupation, invasion of Southern countries and the killing of the elected leaders of the latter. If war is a solution to any problem, the countries of the North should make it an option for resolving problems within their own space, because Africans have had enough and want it to stop.
From an observation and analysis of this relationship over several decades, it is evident that the North behaves like a warmonger, a conqueror. It organizes and funds wars and sociopolitical, economic, and even cultural destabilization campaigns; plans the systematic plundering of the natural resources of Southern countries, without any basic moral consciousness or respect for human life. NGOs, international organizations, and some African accomplices, have thus become vectors for the establishment, implementation, and perpetuation of this system.
Can my work impact this situation in any way? I have no idea. I make comics, I create, I express myself. Leaders of Northern countries have always been inhuman and violent toward Africans. They don’t care about art. The only language they know and understand is the language of war, guns, lies, corruption, cynicism, death … They are pleased with the current nature of the North-South relationship, and I don’t count on them to change it. When I make comics, I conceive them as and compare them to classical music, composed not for everyone, but only those who can understand it.
DM: Can you give us the context regarding the choice of the faces (and shape) of your characters?
JM: The morphostylistics of the characters in my comic strips is the result of several factors: academic research, which has always pushed me to explore new avenues towards creation; the transversality of art, given that I first experimented with these characters on ceramics before adapting them to comic strips and animated cartoons; exchanges with other African and European comic artists, who encouraged me to dig deeper into African statuary to find better solutions and modes of operation for plastic arts.
»I view the North-South relationship in a different light, which can be summed up in a few words: reciprocity, mutual interest and respect, honesty.«
DM: What are you currently working on?
JM: I am preparing a comic strip exhibition, and an animated short following the same style. I am also writing an article and a book on the relevance of comic strips that are specifically African, as well as the issues, challenges and opportunities for development through comics and animated cartoons.
DM: Are there any contemporary comic artists who stand out? Which of them would you recommend?
JM: Of course, there are. In Cameroon, for example, you have BG, a comic artist with a rather original approach to the comical. There’s also Georges Pondy, whose characters’ traits are very much akin to those of Japanese manga. In France, I can think of Adjim Dangar, who also uses African masks for his characters; and of Simon Mbombouo, who has a traditional, but well-executed style.