Morak Oguntade and the Art of Everyday Expression

After reading Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco a few years back, the unusual happened. I developed a keen yearning to rediscover a dormant space in my mind for the appreciation of illustrated stories and cartoons. I remembered the political cartoons of Josey Ajiboye and Omoba (Dotun Gboyega) and the entertainment illustrations of Morak Oguntade and some others. The illustrations of these men were as political and useful as the illustrations of Joe Sacco, hence the yearnings. Josey Ajiboye was a pioneer and grandmaster in the print media industry. The depth and influence of the work of these illustrators are incalculable as was elaborated in The Role of Editorial Cartoons in the Democratisation Process in Nigeria by Ganiyu Jimoh.

My favourite illustrator at that time was Morak Oguntade. Unknown to me hitherto, I am on the same WhatsApp forum with Oguntade. To narrate my appreciation of Oguntade, I have to tell a little story. In 1978, I was a junior in Baptist High School, and my senior was a guy named Wilson Ometan. I had recently arrived in Nigeria from the UK, and I found Ometan very interesting firstly because of his intellectual curiosity and secondly, he had stacks of illustrated magazines, most of them foreign. One Saturday in his dormitory cubicle he handed me a copy of Ikebe Super, a part illustrated comedy magazine. Then it looked like a hybrid between the UK’s Private Eye and Time Magazine. I remember all the stories in that magazine after over forty years. Fokkadder and the World versus Village Superman are unforgettable.
Ikebe Super had the primary storyline centred on some usual characters such as Bobo Jasco, a boy of mischief; Papa and Mama Ajasco, his eccentric parents; Pa Jimoh, a hapless loose cannon and hanger-on; Pepeiye, a holier than thou belle. Between these characters, there was always a storyline that started or ended with hilarious mischief, misadventure or miscalculation.
Still, in secondary school, Ikebe Super was transformed into a broadsheet format in 1980 and also from a part-illustrated to a fully illustrated magazine. Wale Adenuga, the publisher, must have been overjoyed at the sudden leap in the magazines’ fortunes. Morak Oguntade perhaps in his late teens or early twenties had taken both Ikebe Super and Nigeria by storm. Oguntade could creatively tell a story by way of illustration alone, without words. Words only became useful for comic effect and used only in dialogue. There is a story where Oguntade illustrates Papa Ajasco, who had taken a severe beating with exaggerated facial bumps and bruises. Papa Ajasco now asks his wife, Mama Ajasco, if a panel-beater could fix his face and she responds that a carpenter would do the job better! Pepeiye putting up highbrow appearances but sneaks into lunch at a slum eatery. She requests: two pieces of Towel (cow gut), two pieces of Roundabout (cow intestine), one part of Show boy (cowhide), one slice of Fukufuku (cow lungs) but is caught out by a friend!
Oguntade used several caricatures and simple representation to illustrate set pieces in the magazine such as the “Gate to Heaven or Hell” or a two-illustration on a one-page major event like a robbery, a protest, a beating etc. The caricatures Oguntade developed and used in Ikebe Super and also Punch and Vanguard national dailies had an archetypal quality to them. Oguntade would portray a rich man’s caricature as a fat-faced and big-bellied man sitting in a plush office or standing by a posh car, indicating excess. A political or corporate thug would have a large head, enormous neck, broad shoulders but a smaller compact, muscular body, showing intimidation. A penniless man representation would be aa skinny scantily dressed and wearing a remarkable plaster, indicating a lack of well-being. Thieves were men having big teeth and wearing Zorro-style face-masks, suggesting a combination of avarice and hiding of shame. These are just a few archetypal caricatures Oguntade presented to his audience of several million. Oguntade is also famous for in comic trips in national dailies: Emulewu – a hardworking taxi driver who sober only half-sober daily; Mama Twins – a canteen madam with unusual customers; and Mojo – a Nigerian superhero.
The ten years Morak Oguntade spent with Ikebe Super, Punch and Vanguard coincide with the golden days of illustration in Nigeria. Still, there were other illustrators too who acted as a mentor in the person of Josey Ajiboye. Those years are no lost or forgotten but waiting for reclamation. They were innovative, attractive, entertaining, lively, fashionable, hilarious and poignant at the same time. What a virtuoso mix! Let us not forget that Oguntade and his colleagues were journalists who listened-in keenly on streets and particular circles for news, events, trends, fads and tastes, and got their source material as such; it was what they did with the information, perceptions and impression they gathered and filtered that was the magical part.
Morak Oguntade is still a very active illustrator to this day and also works as a consultant and artist on various projects. You can find out more about his newest projects and other works on  www.morakoguntade.com
Grimot Nane

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