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Comic books illustrations as an art form, with Nkumelenis

Inspired by his love of DC and Marvel comics books, Soweto-based Nkumelenis has created his on universe, a bold mix of fantasy and African mythology, where women are warrior queens and float among the stars.


How did you get started? Are you self-taught or did you acquire your skills through formal training?

I am mostly self-taught though I did go to college to study animation. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil. I used to draw the cartoons I enjoyed watching while growing up. And then it reached a point where I decided it I was better off drawing from my own imagination.


Where does your love of comics come from?

I was always into myths and legends growing up, whether they be African or from other countries from around the world. I guess they just helped feed my imagination. The way I see it, comics are just another version of those myths.


You named comic books illustrators Adam Hughes and Jim Lee as inspiration. What do you think sets them apart from other comic illustrators?

What sets them apart from other artist is their line work and posing and the types of art they do and how their art represents itself. What sets them apart, for me is the story behind their art. There is usually a hint of a story about the characters in their art, they aren’t simply nice drawings to look at. In terms of comics, I’m mostly a fan of DC. Let’s say 70% DC and 30% Marvel...  


Are comics popular in South Africa? Are there any African / black comics illustrators that you follow or that we should know about?

Among black people... it’s a slowly growing trend. The majority of people living in places that are mostly occupied by black people still see things like comics and cartoons as entertainment only meant for children.  But as the years go by I have noticed an increase that people are more open to new and different experiences.

In terms of African illustrators that are doing interesting things, there is Anda Mncayi, Cyzo, and Terence Ntsako Tako Maluleke, among others.

 Queen Tiye by Nkumelenis


Deconstruct your piece Queen Tiye for us: what is the inspiration behind it? Who is Queen Tiye?

My introduction to Queen Tiye was from a Facebook post. The post was of a head bust of her which included a description of who she was:  one of the most respected, powerful and revered woman in African history, evidenced by the amount of artefacts that depicted her beside her husband Amenhotep III.  She held great power even after her husband’s death.

After doing my own research and collecting as much inspiration and reference as I could, I began to draw a basic depiction of how I thought she would look. But I found the artwork to be quite bland. Later, I decided to split her up to make things more interesting. What I want to say through this portrait is that it does not matter who you are, the family you were born into or the situation you find yourself or others in, we should all be respected or at least those who have earned it like queen Tiye herself.


You love fantasy and dystopian novels. What do you think of the “afrofuturism” movement?

I believe in order for Africans to have a brighter future that it is up to us as Africans to work towards such a future and that it falls upon us as African artists to depict ourselves in a positive light, to imagine and depict a future where we thrive as a people without the need of outside forces, to create stories and artworks that help uplift those depicted within them.


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