Interview: Elizabeth Wanjiku, CEO of Avandu Vosi Studio
Today we’re talking to Elizabeth Wanjiku, CEO of Avandu Vosi Studio based in Nairobi, Kenya. As CEO, Elizabeth has overseen the production and distribution of 7 comic book titles, merchandising, animation, concept art and illustration projects. She has also led the successful delivery of projects for clients such UNICEF, Triggerfish Animation Studio, Trademark Hotel, Goethe Institute and Docubox. Avandu Vosi Studio recently released two comic books: “Sanamu” and “Beast from Venus,” both available on Amazon’s Comixology platform. On the horizon, they are excited to release “Moraan,” a fantasy-horror graphic novel about a young maasai warrior. Just like Avandu Vosi Studio, Elizabeth is passionate about creating content that intrigues and captivates their viewers, and we’re excited to share this interview with you.
Tell us a bit about Avandu. What is Avandu’s origin story and how its founders decided to pursue animation professionally?
Well we are primarily a comic production studio, but we also produce animations and video games. Now, for the story…Two geeks happened to go to the same high school. One geek, Geek #1, used to get paid by fellow classmates to make drawings of romantic poems written by his classmates to their crushes. When the other geek, Geek #2, saw this could actually be a business, he approached Geek #1 to form a company that makes drawings for clients. So after clearing high school, the two geeks began their design business called Urban Design Kings. After almost 10 years of client services, the duo rebranded to Avandu Vosi Studios in line with their new vision of telling stories inspired by African narratives to show that ‘all people’ (avandu vosi) are more similar than we are different.
Geek #1=Salim Busuru
Geek #2=Joseph Nzomo
Who are some of your favorite long term collaborators?
Oh man, this is a tough one. We have collaborated with so many talented artists in some fun projects that we are very proud of. We especially loved working with Yvonne Njeri in producing the “Rovik” comic and then the “Sanamu” comic, which are now available in Comixology. Her creativity in storytelling is just incredible and she has a way of captivating the readers with world-building, action, gore and adventures that draw from different cultures across Africa. We also enjoyed working with Kiprop Kimutai in “Beast from Venus,” because he is very conversant with African folklore, which for us was a deal maker. We were even learning about our own folklores while working with him. “Beast from Venus” is also available in Comixology and there will be a second volume. Nur Cherubi, our content writer and editor, has worked with us in creating some great originals like our upcoming title “Moraan” that will be available on Patreon on June 15th and “The Next Rainbow,” which is an animation short that won a pitching competition in 2018. We are still eager for that story to come to life.
Some other great collaborations have resulted in a diverse range of productions that we otherwise might not have produced on our own, like two video games called “Kade: Ule Mtoi Mrui,” and “Operation Mlinzi.” These were video games that we produced in 2015 with Evans Busuru. We were inspired to create our own African video games because we love video games and have played them since we were kids, from PC to console (mostly PlayStation 1-4, and we are now eyeing PlayStation 5). While these were cool, we wanted to have games that draw from our experiences as Africans, something more relatable to us, but we found none. So that’s when we took it upon ourselves to create our own games. Other exciting partnerships were with Kevin Mbaasu in creating “Maotero,” a 5 min comedic animation for kids and teens. It’s freely available on our YouTube page, Avandu Vosi. We are currently working with Kelvin Shan, a dope color artist, on some upcoming comic shorts and Sen Kanyeri in some animations.
What scene was the most fun to work on for your upcoming graphic novel Moraan?
That’s another tough one. Ok, without spoilers, our favorite part was world building. Imagining how the maasai would have developed culturally, collaboration instead of colonization, has been the most exciting journey because of how much we have learned. The designs and ideas we produced gave us a sense of fulfilment, in the sense that we can ‘see ourselves’ a bit more clearly.
What gear do you tend to use, especially in the production of Sanamu?
Writing is usually the most chaotic part and to be very honest, Sanamu took years to write. As you can imagine, through those years, notebooks were scribbled on and some pages torn out before the story was done. When the storm was over, the story was then compiled and typed on a laptop.
For the drawings, we primarily use Wacom Tablets, but we always encourage our creative team to use sketchbooks whenever inspiration strikes. We believe that while technology makes things efficient, an artist without a used sketchbook is an artist without ideas.
Who are some of your influences?
An inspiration has been Todd McFarlane, the fact that he went out and started his own thing with his comic, ‘Spawn,’ also inspired us to start up our thing and push it to be successful.
Kelvin Sirnare’s business acumen especially in the local art scene and his coloring skills, which are awesome, also inspired us. No man is an island, and the fact that we are on the same journey is greatly encouraging because we can talk to each other and share notes and words of motivation.
Salim Busuru, founding and creative director of Avandu studio, adds, “Mike Mignola’s comic “Hellboy” has been the strongest inspiration to me when I was younger because of his style of drawing which tells the story efficiently. I wasn’t the best of artists and I struggled with trying to draw everything. Mike Mignola’s work showed me that you only need to draw what is necessary to tell the story. That greatly reduced the mountain I thought I had to climb in developing my skills enough to make comics. This greatly inspired my art style, which has become the studio’s style.”
What is your dream project? Dream collaborators?
Wow this one is t….ok, ok, I’ll stop saying that.
Our dream project, it’s hard to say, our IPs are like children to us; we love them all equally. But at gunpoint it would be the production of SANAMU into an animated series. That story has everything: action, adventure, romance, fantasy, drama, you name it! We believe this would be a strong showcase of African culture and mythology that all audiences can enjoy without saying “it’s good for an African production,” but rather when people watch this it will just be, “Wow, that was awesome!” It’s our dream to one day collaborate with HBO in the production of this animated series.
Another dream collaboration (and there are many) would be with Lucasfilm in the production of our African Star-Wars fan fiction title “Rovik.” I mean for a whole universe, who are Africans supposed to identify with in there? But more than that, it would be cool to see what an African based society would be doing with “the force” in Star Wars.
Where can we find you on social media?
You can find us on:
Facebook: Avandu Vosi
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