With an imposing figure, a smirk on the face, and a somewhat clumsy appearance, Christian Mafigiri looks like having jumped out of his own cartoon. In April 2013 he won the publication of a comic booklet in the Ugandan Comic and Cartoon Contest held by the Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/ Ugandan German Cultural Society (GZK/ UGCS). In an interview the friendly and always a little nervous man tells me how he became what he is: a journalist, cartoonist, and activist. 23 years ago, Christian was aged about seven (he tells me that “most likely” he is 30 years old now), and he was sitting in a classroom in his primary school in Nakasero, Kampala. His teacher furiouslytook away a comic book from his classmate, announced that everyone should do some proper reading instead, and tore the book apart. With his brother, Christian later collected all the pieces and glued them together again – from now on, this comic book was their treasure.
Born to an engineer and a civil servant, Christian had ten siblings and many of them were into drawing. They had some inspiration fromthe only cartoon broadcast of the only station their TV could receivebut lucky enough to have cousins in the UK recording cartoons to send loads of tapes straight to Uganda. “We always had competitions in the family about who could draw certain action figures best”, Christian says, who, ironically, never won.
At the age of ten, his parents sent him to another school, due to its generally higher standard. It had art as a subject. The lessons consisted in copying existing images, which after a while became very boring. His classmate, however, used to draw scenes from action movies during the school breaks – and when Chris realised that this attracted the girls’ attention and he became jealous, he started to create his own pictures with “a lot of action elements and a lot of guns”, he laughs, “and the plan worked out very well”. But the teachers were kind of extreme – he objected to the cane beating bit in particular – and he left his new school soon.
Changing schools again took him to another level. Christian was accepted at the prestigious Ntare School in Mbarara (years ago Museveni had attended the same school), where art was taught as a serious subject and examined on a national level. Here he could really focus on drawing techniques and develop skills that would become very important for his professional life. When he passed his A-levels, his art exam was the best one in the region.
Christian then chose to study journalism at the Ugandan Christian University, and during this time, drawing was more of a hobby – he adds, completely upright, that to him neither studying nor drawing had seemed even faintly as important as partying and drinking. (Christian’s constant grinning leaves his face when he tells me about it. Not like someone who goes on about his student orgies but like someone who regrets having wasted his time.) However, the one thing that he did at that time – drawing cartoons for the University newspaper – actually helped him get his life back on track: His sister gave his cartoons to a friend who worked for the Daily Monitor. This friend agreed to train Christian in Photoshop every day after office hours, for half a year.
While he began to work as a freelancer for the Daily Monitor and other papers, he soon got a job as a cartoonist for Red Pepper – Christian says that however controversial it may be to work for the tabloid press, he appreciated the experience to be obliged to meet deadlines and to draw routinely. For him, all of this might have been a good training. But doesn’t artistic expression fall by the way?
From another odd job (rather absurdly, Christian drew all the images for an e-learning course for midwives) he made enough money to print his first complete comic booklet “Tekezesasi” in January 2012, designed “ for kids and youngsters”. He went from school to school to sell it – his old school refused – and the booklet soon acted like a CV. “It spread
around and more and more people called for work.”
Despite being busy as a cartoonist, Christian also does a lot of NGO work. In 2012, he founded A.D.A.M. (Anti Drug and Alcohol Movement) together with a friend, quite obviously as an attempt to make up for the wasted time in his life that he regrets so much. On top of that, Christian goes to Mogadishu almost every month to do some supporting work for his fiancée’s NGO Hili Somalia for women and children.
So how did he still find the time to come up with a few work samples for the Ugandan Comic and Cartoon Contest? He didn’t, but handed in some sketches of an idea that he had developed months before. Fair enough. A while ago, he had sat together with the writer Carlos Lwanga to discuss the concept for a mutual project. Their approach sounds shamelessly commercial: ”What kind of story about Africa would sell in the US?”Maintaining their commercial ambition, the two artists still managed to develop a culturally relevant and aesthetically consistent concept: They created a futuristic African scene, a science-fiction approach to the African continent that convinced the Goethe team and that won him the publication of the comic booklet.His futuristic “Children of War” will soon be published by GZK/ UGCS.
by Dennis Große-Plankermann