As part of its African project to document the experiences of book illustrators for African youth, Muna Kalati’s team met the man known as Almo The Best, an important figure in Cameroonian cartooning, illustration and comics. He has collaborated with many magazines such as La Cité, Mamy Wata, Bubinga, Le Marabout and Spirou hebdo. He was president of the “Trait Noir” association, which brings together comic book illustrators and draftsmen in Douala and was listed in the Dictionnaire mondial de la Bande dessinée in 2010. The latter was kind enough to answer some of our questions about his relationship with reading, his career and his vision of children’s books in Cameroon.
MK: How did your meeting with books and reading go?
I grew up in a family that can be considered “intellectual”, since I have always seen illiterate books and comics around me since my earliest childhood.
MK: What were the first children’s books you read? Were they African? Any childhood authors you remember?
I don’t know what the first books are anymore. As I mentioned earlier, I had permanent access to many works. My mother even worked for a publisher at that time. I only discovered books for African children when I arrived in Cameroon at the age of 10. So if we have to quote an “African” author I remember, there is only Bernard Dufossé, the author of Kouakou. Most of my artistic influences come from authors like Cabrero Arnal, André chéret, Cabu and Manga authors like Goldorak, Flame Captain, Albator and many others (when I was a child). As I grow up, I have many other influences and I continue to be inspired by those who have become my colleagues.
MK: Could you give us an overview of your career?
It would be difficult to draw up in a few lines a picture of a 28-year artistic career! Let’s just say that I am a cartoonist, comic book author, illustrator and designer. I have published my works all over the world and I have won awards everywhere. For example, in 2000 the Special Jury Prize (Jury chaired by Plantu) at the FESCARY (Yaoundé Cartoon Festival), then the following year, at the FESCARY 2001, the Irondel Prize whose Jury was chaired by Tignous, and finally, in 2005, the 3rd Pietro Miccia Prize in Italy.
MK: Why did you become interested in the world of children’s books?
In fact, I have an overflowing imagination and depending on my mood, I create stories on different themes (humour, adventures, science fiction…). It is true that the comic strip character ZAMZAM the Third World, who is a little African boy, telling stories in the form of gags is a great success with children and the not-so-young, but it comes more from the materialization of an idea, than from a deliberate choice.
MK: What are the difficulties and obstacles you have faced?
I created the ALMO PRODUCTIONS label in order to publish and promote my works and creations. But I hope in time to be able to do the same with other artists.
MK: How do you promote your books? What is the reception of your work with the public?
I promote my books through my ALMO PRODUCTIONS structure, which publishes and promotes not only my comics, but also my work as a cartoonist and illustrator. People love my work and always tell me: “Your place is not in Africa with such talent! »
MK: How many children’s books have you published so far?
The ALMO PRODUCTIONS label has published 9 books since 2010, including 3 albums of comic strips from the adventures of ZAMZAM the Third World. Volume 1 is entitled Les Mbènguétaires. Volume 2 is entitled Délestage and volume 3 NDJUNJU KALABA. Other books include:
- The School of Democracy, text by Biyong, album, 1998
- Pass, text by Biyong, album, 2000
- Shegue, collective album, 2003
- Para-Jaka, online fanzine, 2005
- Black line, collective album, July 2006
- Insertion in Spirou Hebdo, 3565, August 2006
- Thermal fluid, fanzine, from 2006 to 2007
- Bimonthly board “Tuk and Zem”, in Children’s Planet, 2008-2010
- La bande dessinée conte l’Afrique, collective album, Éditions Dalimen, June 2009
- Zamzam le tiers mondiste, Les Mbènguétaires, album, Éditions Lazhari Labter, June 2009
- Zamzam the Third Worldist, Les Mbènguétaires, album, Almo productions, May 2010
- Billy and Aïcha-Minedub and Jica, album, Japan International Cooperation Agency, June 2011
- Zamzam the Third Worldist, volume 2: “Délestage”, album, Almo productions, May 2012
- “I have a dream”, a new world is emerging, collective album, Éditions Steinkis, August 2013
- Are you crazy about driving or don’t you care about your life? Almo productions and SDWT, November 2014
MK: What is your relationship with African youth illustrators from Cameroon and/or abroad?
I have participated in many collective projects, festivals, comic book workshops, associations, collective works, conferences and others in Cameroon and abroad. In 2013, with the Association Cartooning for Peace de Plantu and Koffi Annan, I participated in the writing of the book “I have a dream”, a new world is emerging, by Gilles and Michel Vanderpooten, published by Éditions Steinkis in France. In 2015, I participated in the manuscript day at the end of which was published: I am not a sex maniac (it shows!).
MK: In Cameroon as in Africa, the children’s book sector is not well known to the general public and especially to parents. How do you explain this phenomenon?
All you have to do is put the right people in the right places and provide support to the right people. There are many people who are not really interested in the book and its stakes; they have a mercantile spirit. Of course, when you are a publisher, you have to make figures, but I think that you also have to love books, love creating and enjoy discovering works.
MK: What do you think of the general situation of books and reading in Cameroon? Do you have any proposals to improve its management?
MK: In Africa, children’s literature is located on the periphery and seen as a marginal genre compared to classical literature. What do you think of that?
I do not share your point of view at all. In Africa, all literature is marginalized.
It is on these notes that our meeting with the Cameroonian illustrator Almo The Best, who we recall, ended, was associated with the Editions “Fluide Thermal” and those of the French Cultural Centre of Douala, for the publication of a 400-page “Best Of” on his work over more than two decades: “ALMO, DU CRAYON PLEIN LA GOMME…”. Some of Almo’s drawings and plates can be seen on the website: http://www.artmajeur.com/almothebest
You can also find it on Twitter: https://twitter.com/almothebest