Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Paul Kelemba (Maddo)

Cartoonist Paul ‘Maddo’ Kelemba describes himself as a natural artist.

But if his parents had had their way, he would have become an accountant.

"When I completed Form Four, my parents enrolled me for an accounting course at a college in Mombasa. But I refused to attend because I knew I was poor in mathematics," he says.

Instead, he wrote to Coast Weekly, a newspaper, asking to be allowed to do a comic strip for it. He was asked to send samples and they were published. His career as the first indigenous political cartoonist of national prominence had begun.

Maddo says the schools he attended — Kisumu’s Victoria Highway Primary and Vihiga’s Nyang’ori Secondary — did not teach art. He learnt to draw and sketch on his own.

When he was not in class, he drew characters in comic books and strips such as Dandy, Toppere, Bino, Archie and Modesty Blaze. The latter —by a Spanish comic — was his favourite because it was on life experiences.

It was not, therefore, surprising that the work he did for Coast Weekly was based on real life drama.

"After a couple of episodes in 1981, I got a Sh2,000 cheque and I thought I had arrived! I pitied workers who earned Sh800 a month," he recalls.

But his joy was not eternal as the strip was discontinued after four years. He then did casual jobs at Shimanzi, Mombasa Town’s Industrial area.

"I carried gunias (sacks) from one place to another at a fee," he says.

He later got a job as a clerk with a tea export transport company at a salary of Sh5,000 a month, much less than what he earned as a comic.

But before long, he saw a newspaper advertisement by Ginewa Designs, a graphic design firm, calling for an illustrator. He applied and got the job.

Four years later, he moved to Nairobi and joined Viva magazine as art editor. His responsibilities included drawing illustrations and cartoons for the publication. Two years later, when the magazine folded up, he worked for Drum and True Love.

In 1986, Maddo moved to the Nation newspapers as an editorial cartoonist.

"The job was very challenging and I had to stay on top of social and political issues to offer visual commentary," he says.

While the job gave him national prominence, it also came with a lot of criticism.

"My cartoons that commented on social issues were popular because they dwelt on drug abuse and domestic violence. Political cartoons elicited and still elicit positive and negative comments," he recalls.

If he features a politician from the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) wing of Narc, he is accused him of being a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) sympathiser and vice versa, Maddo points out.

But he soldiers on in the belief that cartoonists shape society through their commentaries. He says they get away with a lot because when a picture depicts rather than describes, the cartoonist can always plead ignorance if push comes to shove.

However, it has not been all smooth sailing for the cartoonist. There have been instances when politicians sent aides to intimidate him.

Last year, one sued The Standard over a cartoon Maddo had drawn. She claimed it had libelled her.

In the early years of his work, Maddo consulted editors a lot. But now he knows what is good, what the limits are and how to edit himself. As a result, he consults them much less.

While at the Nation, he teamed up with writer Wahome Mutahi — popularly known as Whispers who died last years — to establish Views Ltd. In 1991, he joined The Standard as an editorial cartoonist and illustrator and is the creator of "Penknife", a Sunday Standard insert that has been running since 2003.

Before this, he published "Penknife" independently as Penknife Weekly. "Penknife" was preceded by yet another publication, African Illustrated.

Maddo’s flagship is: "It’s a Madd, Madd World". He also has a cartoon commentary in The Standard on Saturday.

Maddo says he enjoys himself illustrating some topics more than others. He, for instance, loves cars and whenever he illustrates a scene on them, he joys knows no bounds.

Throughout his career, Maddo’s trademark has been his protruding eyes. Even in his CV, he cites his outstanding features as "protruding eyes and greenish brain matter".

In 1997, he teamed up with other renowned cartoonists Frank "Fran" Odoi and Godfrey "Gado" Mwampembwa to establish Communicating Arts Ltd.

The company does visuals, cartoons and illustrations for United Nations, publishing and advertising agencies.

During a visit, this writer was surprised to find that Maddo shares an office with his greatest rival, Gado.

"We do our newspaper work separately but many other things together," Gado says.

One of their common projects is a United Nations Population Fund publication, Pop-Ed.

Maddo works six days a week. He says with the gains that have been brought by information technology, the cartoon business will grow and create more opportunities for the practitioners.

Maddo has received several awards for his work: Outstanding contribution in humorous and satirical cartoon drawings by the Giant Group of Nairobi in 1990, Special Recognition and Merit by Kisima Awards in 1997 and last year's Sober Drive and Infrastructure Award from the Kenya Union of Journalists.

Maddo spends his free time with his family or drinking with friends. Maddo, 42, is married and has two daughters and a son.

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