by Odera Igbokwe
I am a 90s baby (1990 to be exact). When I think back to my childhood, I have flashbacks of waking up at 6 am to watch episodes of Sailor Moon, X-Men: The Animated Series, and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Growing up, I would go through tons of videogames, anime, and other “nerdy” forms of entertainment. I was one of those kids you would find on message boards creating poorly drawn Final Fantasy fanart or sheepishly clogging the manga and comic book aisle of Barnes & Noble.
My sister (who is now a writer/performer/producer/BAMF) and I would ingest these stories to inspire our own narratives. We created dozens of games. Our favorite was “Alex & Samantha,” which paralleled our own lives, but in this world colors were a bit more vivid, magic was a bit more tangible. We even had our own doorbell that would melodically coo out our names. Alex and Samantha did everything from competing in Olympic Marathons, to preparing concert setlists, to experimenting with alchemy for our spells (that meant mixing our father’s cologne with flour, water, and cheap jewelry) .
I would tell “Samantha” that we had to save the world and harness our special abilities, and she would respond, “Yes, okay! But we can only save the world after going to class and practicing our dance routines.” Alex and Samantha were students, performers, magicians, and warriors. Any role was possible as long as we had our imagination. I didn’t realize it back then, but these were my earliest lessons in honing my craft as an artist. We were creative children to say the least, and our ability to play has kept our sense of wonder alive to this very day.
In recent years, I find myself exploring the same characters I used to worship as a child, and asking why I was so drawn to them. These characters were usually strong women, mystical children, or those who were underrepresented and oppressed. They were all different faces of the same story—of the same hero (or let’s be real here: of the same diva) .
Lately, my childhood “diva worship” has evolved into a full-blown exploration of contemporary mythmaking. With my illustrations, I love exploring classic archetypal characters and ancient mythologies. However, I am most excited when I start to unearth my own personal mythology by finding new faces within old archetypes.
These new faces allow me to define and reclaim different pieces of my identity. It is as though I am meeting myself at the gates of the spirit realm to unravel my mythopoeic self. In this realm there are tons of characters living in a vast nebula of creativity and wonder. They are simply waiting to appear in this reality. So the physical process of creating new work is the crafting, stirring, and molding of this nebula to form new stars, constellations, and galaxies.
When it comes to the actual physical process of creating new illustrations, I have a very systematic approach to sort out the chaos. Typically I start by collecting reference images and doing stream-of-conscious sketches. These sketches are very loose, and are mostly about motion and raw visceral energy. It is akin to freestyle dancing or authentic movement where I allow myself to just move and live on the page free of judgment. Then I create thumbnails based on those nebulous scribbles. When I find a thumbnail that works well, I create a more refined sketch. From there I work on the value structure, and then move onto color. As the image becomes more refined, I allow myself to play with parts of the image through detailing, noodling, and really dancing throughout the picture plane. So essentially the process is a journey that allows me to go full circle.
All of the wonder and curiosity from my childhood is the root of my inspiration. Many years have passed since those days of running around the house shirtless while yelling different incantations and spells. But I still find myself playing, and allowing my wonder to steer me into imaginative worlds.
About the Guest Author
Odera is a recent alumnus of Rhode Island School of Design (Class of 2012). As an illustrator and performance artist, Odera explores storytelling through color, mythology, African dance, and of course, divas. With his degree and diverse skillset he hopes to create interdisciplinary work that addresses the sacred and assists in unlocking the mythopoeic self. When Odera is not exploring the spirit realm, he is busy saving the world as a contemporary Sailor Scout or furthering his knowledge in Beyoncé Studies.