KINGO, the â€˜silentâ€™ cartoon strip that runs in The New Vision and Bukedde newspapers, initially puzzled both the readers and the editors who published him. They just could not understand the style behind the humour. But today, Kingo basks in celebrity status as one of the funniest cartoon strips
Kingo is an old, muted, loudmouth with a legendary taste for alcohol, has an extremely jealous housewife. That notwithstanding, Kingo is often involved in all-too-public extra maritual affairs with young, beautiful, women, completing the image of the 20th century male philanderer.
His son, a mischievous character, sadly appears to be taking after him.
Although Kingo sometimes appears intelligent and witty, he is more often than not, hopelessly ignorant, unbelievably stupid and pathetically naÃ¯ve. Nevertheless, this unpredictable character never falls short of a hilarious glint usually setting himself up for ridicule. For some inexplicable reason, everything about him is funny from his vintage Volks Wagon Beetle to his bald, rectangular head.
Because of this comical cartoon hero, I have always imagined the author of the strip, James Gayo, an elderly, humorous man. I have also thought him a trifle crazy.
When I meet Gayo at his,
Dar es Salaam based advertising agency however, I was stunned by his vibrant, youthful, presence and fashionable sense of style. He was reclined behind a drawing table, busy making cartoon sketches.
â€œI am running out of time, yet I have several publications to send the cartoons to,â€ he says with a sense of urgency. I stay around and watch him for a while, at times breaking into chuckles of laughter. â€œThis guy really is crazy after all!â€ I think to myself.
â€œWhenever a humourous idea strikes, I smile,â€ Gayo says as if reacting to my cryptic facial contortions.
â€œI also laugh when making sketches or sometimes when revisiting old Kingo strips. Iâ€™m just like any reader who appreciates humour.â€
While Kingoâ€™s jokes are undeniably hilarious, it is also true that not everyone understands his humour that easily. Sometimes the cartoon strip seeems so complicated and the joke is missed.
When Gayo started the Kingo cartoon strip in 1985, there were words to the illustrations. The cartoon was hilarious but he could not publish the same joke in different countries. So when a friend advised him to concentrate more on the action, â€œI decided to mute the cartoon,â€ he says.
â€œIf people can make others laugh without speaking, I imagined a cartoon without words could still remain humorous,â€ he says.
â€œI look at Kingo as the activities going on behind a glass building that can still induce a hearty laugh from the people on the outside.â€
Today, outside the illusionary â€˜glass building,â€™ is a huge audience gripped in rib-breaking laughter.
The cartoon strip is published by newspapers and magazines in East and Central Africa â€“ Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda and several times in the Finnish special magazine VAIHDA.
Gayo says however, that after muting Kingo, it was not easy to get him published in some papers.
The style puzzled the editors. In Bukedde, for example, the first Ugandan newspaper to publish the cartoon strip, the editor advised Gayo to use words in the strip or at least interpret the humour in the next strip because â€œpeople did not understand the cartoon.â€
â€œI ignored him and continued sending the cartoons. And he kept publishing them,â€ he says with a stubborn streak.
However, his most amazing experience was in Zimbabwe. The editor of the Zimbabwean Herald declined to use the cartoon strip saying that it was just too African.
â€œI laughed and wondered what the hell the guy was talking about,â€ he says curtly.
Nevertheless, Gayo persisted with his style and received positive criticism from a fellow cartoonist.
â€œWhen I met â€˜Snoogieâ€™ â€“ a Ugandan cartoonist nearly 20 years ago, he advised me to maintain only the facial expressions that express the emotions I desire to convey,â€ says Gayo.
This explains his simple yet vivid illustrations, creatively laced with humour and sarcasm. Yet even with a remarkably wide fan club, Kingo still remains cryptic to some people who claim that the cartoon strip is too complicated to understand.
Gayo insists that the uniqueness and exciting aspect of the Kingo cartoon strip is its lack of words.
â€œThe reader must therefore â€˜readâ€™ the actions to find the humour that words would never quite convey in quite the same way.â€
The simplicity with which Kingo is drawn is deceptive. Gayo says he may take a couple of days fishing for ideas and making sketches. On good days, he will have a hearty laugh. But there are days when he runs out clean out of ideas.
â€œKingo is very demanding, challenging and tiresome,â€ he confesses. â€œIt is something I have to do when settled and focused.â€
He has to open his eyes and mind wider to the world around him which is his source of inspiration.
The world is an arena brimming with events and fascinating theatrics: drunkards mingling in bars, media reports, pedestrians obliviously sauntering through busy streets, dodgy school children and many other interesting characters.
He recomposes these scenarios with an artistâ€™s creativity and a cartoonistâ€™s flair. This â€˜silentâ€™ cartoon strip reflects life among ordinary Africans and focuses on two contrasting lifestyles â€“ urban life influenced by development and the simple, rustic, village lifestyle.
â€œAfter jotting down the ideas, I identify those that require research before developing them into thumb nail sketches,â€ he explains. â€œThe panels may come up to 10 but I drop some ideas and merge others until I come up with one.â€
He spends more time in cartooning and less in advertising. â€œYet I will never stop criticising what other advertising agencies do,â€ he says with a grin.
With his wife out of the country for the last two years, Gayo has to take care of their two children â€“ a son Katizu, 10, and his eight-year-old daughter Loyce. The children watch movies at home with him or go jogging by the ocean.
Gayo was born in Tanzania in 1962. After getting a diploma in fine art and design from the National Art Council of Tanzania, he became a cartyoonist. He has also worked as a graphic artist in several printing firms.
So how did he come up with the name Kingo?â€
â€œUh, a 16-year-old boy suggested the name. I liked it because it was simple and easy to recall,â€ he says. â€œLater I came to learn that Kingo was an old chief of his tribe.â€
â€œEh,you have the nerve to make fun of a Chief?â€
Gayo the brain behind Kingo