Frank Odoi was probably Africa’s Hergé, Urdezo or the Marvel Comics team all rolled into one.
Very few artists on the continent have established themselves so supremely as producers of comic stories. He brought his characters to life – on lifeless, inanimate, white paper.
Such was their impact that, as one followed the epic battles of Akokhan and Tonkazan, one would easily imagine it was a movie.
Frank came to Kenya at the start of the 1980s and quickly established himself in the print media, joining hands with the daddy of Kenyan cartoons, Terry Hirst, contributing to the premier illustrated humour magazine, Joe.
He later inherited Terry’s perch at the Daily Nation as editorial cartoonist while spreading his comic series to the then amazingly bold magazine known as Men Only. This is where I met Frank in 1984.
I had followed his work from 1981 and, as a young, struggling cartoonist, was so thrilled to meet him. He was doing a new comic story, he Male Syndrome, a satirical look at men, while I produced some illustrations and a comic strip for Men Only, both of us under the watchful eye of its unorthodox editor “Mambo Gichuki” Brian Tetley.
We struck a firm bond immediately that was to last until Saturday April 21, at about 9.30pm on Jogoo Road.
Frank was a remarkable soul – quick, intelligent, witty, a debater with a firm grasp on world affairs, both culturally and politically. I loved the nights we’d engage over a bottle of lager; we fought, laughed, hugged and dreamt of a better Africa.
Over the years, we tried our hand at several publications. We produced the short-lived African Illustrated in 1997 along with Gado (of the Daily Nation) and Kham (The Standard), and several Nairobi cartoonists, illustrators, photographers and writers of the time.
The monthly saw only three issues before folding up in a hostile publishing environment.
Not quitters, our next bold publication was Penknife Weekly (it was actually a bi-weekly!) in 2002 which, for a year, survived the high mortality rate of magazines before falling victim to uncooperative advertisers and political ill-will.
But Frank pushed his comics for publication and has several titles locally and abroad. He lived comics, dreamt comics.
His well known series Akokhan has run in The Standard and Daily Nation and was currently being published by The Star. The story – the unending rivalry of Akokhan and his nemesis Tonkazan, has a special audience; I know so many people who’d go sick whenever the series took a break.
The first book collection was published in Finnish while its English version was successfully launched in Nairobi by Kenway Publications.
Other compilations include Golgoti, whose title is derived from Ghana’s old colonial name of Gold Coast. Frank told me that the corruption was not from West Africa but rather Nyeri in Kenya, where he met an old man who, when told Frank was Ghanaian, remarked, “we used to call that country Gologoti.”
Frank’s work has also variously appeared over the past two decades in a host of publications such as the defunct Kenya Times, Population Education (PopEd) magazine published by the UNFPA Kenya Office, Ugandan Monitor, New Vision of Uganda, Daily Graphic of Ghana, Noticias of Mozambique, Dejembe Dapanda of Denmark, HelsingenSanomat in Finland and BBC’s Focus on Africa magazine.
His exhibitions have been viewed across East and West Africa and most of Europe. He was a member of World Comics headquartered in Finland and chair of the East African association of Cartoonists (Katuni).
One of my greatest regrets, as we all absorb the impact of Frank’s departure, is that he has not lived to see the animated Akokhan, which is in the initial stages of production planning at Buni Limited – the XYZ Show production company.
Buni is a sister company to 4D Innovative, where he shared directorship with Gado, Kham and I. It is also pretty unnerving that Frank was lost in a reckless road accident after campaigning for better driving attitudes especially in his 1990s strip Driving Me Crazy. He will also never see the foreword that he wrote for my own forthcoming collection.
Frank was a family man and met his death while headed home to his beautiful daughters, Francesca and Francine, and their mum Carol.
Gado and I found Frank on Monday morning. Nothing had prepared us for the shock of seeing the lifeless body of the man we had shared an office with for over 10 years. A sheer waste of specialised talent and a loving husband and dad.