*TAYO Fatunla can be inextricably linked to a swan in terms of the ease, poise and beauty of his artwork. Those who are aware of the avian metaphor used would know that while the swan glides on water, its webbed feet are working overtime to produce the illusion of effortlessness.
In order to understand the gracefulness and beauty of TAYO’s art in general and cartoons more specifically, you have to board the proverbial time machine and travel back to Lagos (Nigeria) circa 1976 when TAYO was a student at the Lagos Baptist Academy. Little did anyone know that the hand-drawn and primitively produced comic books under his made-up company name of Osprey’s United Artists would develop into the internationally acclaimed artist we know and love today. Using the avian analogy/metaphor further, the egg that the ‘Osprey’ laid in the 1970s is now a fully-fledged bird soaring the heady heights of cartoon journalism.
TAYO was in his final year of secondary school when I became a student at the Lagos Baptist Academy. TAYO was known by all my peers as Senior Eyito. The Eyito in question was the moniker of his superhero in the aforementioned comic books he produced. The character was called: Fearless Eyito. Eyito was the shortened version of his full name ‘Eyitayo’. Till this day, I refer to him as ‘Fearless’ while my peers still refer him as Eyito.
I don’t know why ‘Fearless’ took a shine to me. He was four years my senior but we became best friends which is quite unheard of in Nigerian culture where different age groups do not really mix. After school we would scale the school walls rather than take the more conventional route of walking through the school gate, in order to access the offices of Apollo magazine where TAYO obtained his first ‘gig.’
OTHER NEWS ON EURWEB: TAYO Fatunla’s Ivory Coast Diary – GBICH! A Parody Cartoon Newspaper Publication
If Fearless Eyito was the egg then, Apollo was where the egg hatched and the chick that was a product of the egg was free to wander and explore its wide surroundings. The cartoons he drew for the magazine made him a minor celebrity at school and before long he started pecking his way outside the walls of Apollo and started exploring other opportunities to enhance and showcase his art. Further opportunity for exploration came in the face of going to America to study cartooning at the Joe Kubert School of Art. After leaving secondary school every Nigerian parent wants their children to go to university and study medicine, engineering or law. No Nigerian child would have the audacity to tell their parents that: (1) they want to study art/cartooning (2) you want to go to America to do it.
Credit to TAYO’s parents, they were aware of their son’s prodigious talent and allowed him to pursue his dream.
TAYO became known to all Nigerians when he worked at the Punch (a daily newspaper) and produced a cartoon character called ‘Omoba’. The character was so popular that Omoba t-shirts were printed. I was one of the few lucky ones who got his hands on the limited-edition attire (courtesy of TAYO) and anytime I wore it people called me Omoba and actually thought I was the artist…I dined on that fame until the t-shirt became frayed and ragged.
TAYO’s sojourn in America yielded fruit, the chick that had flown to America came back as a fully grown bird and purveyed all that was before him. He worked for National Concord and was welcomed back to Punch newspaper this time drawing columns such as Cartoon Punch editorial cartoons, Sportsman for sports cartoons and Superstar character who parodied the Nigerian entertainment scene.
If working for the Punch was big, ‘ThisWeek’ was bigger. ThisWeek was based on internationally acclaimed magazines such as Time and Newsweek and due to the quality of the publication which was complemented by TAYO’s exquisite artwork and political insight, the magazine took root in the Nigerian psyche.
Despite TAYO’s growing fame in Nigeria, he decided to forsake everything and start afresh in England/United Kingdom; I thought it was a risk but he didn’t. TAYO’s cartoons soon started appearing in African Concord, New African, South, West Africa and BBC Focus on Africa magazines and the Voice newspaper which once again led to national fame and private commissions but the master stroke came when he started producing the African-centric strip ‘Our Roots’ which is a celebration of black people/pioneers through the years. Our Roots is now considered to be the Who’s Who of black achievement…He still hasn’t featured me which goes to show that unlike, TAYO, I am yet to ‘make it’.
This is a potted history of TAYO’s illustrious career but just in case you think the avian metaphors and analogies have got lost in the process, they haven’t! Apart from his obvious talent and deep Christian faith, if you asked TAYO why he has been so successful for so long, he’ll point to one of his cartoons depicting a vulture where the caption was ‘The vulture is a very patient bird’, I would say that it is Fearless too!
DECADES is a compilation of TAYO’s editorial cartoons and some have been featured on EURWEB.
Ricardo Estee Wale is a UK-based university lecturer and Practitioner Psychologist
TAYO Fatunla is an award-winning Nigerian Comic Artist, Editorial Cartoonist, Writer and Illustrator is an artist of African diaspora. He is a graduate of the prestigious Kubert School, in New Jersey, US. and recipient of the 2018 ECBACC Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award for his illustrated OUR ROOTS creation and series – Famous people in Black History – He participated at UNESCO’s Cartooning In Africa forum held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Cartooning Global Forum in Paris, France and has held a virtual OUR ROOTS cartoon workshop for SMITHSONIAN- National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. His image of Fela Kuti is featured in the Burna Boy’s mega-Afrobeat hit song “Ye.” –– firstname.lastname@example.org