It is quite an achievement itself that OUR ROOTS has been a Black history cartoon column featured series for 30 years. It was first published in the UK’s Voice newspaper. The history of Black people must be illustrated and that is what Tayo Fatunla (whose artistic name is TAYO) has been doing through his journalistic drawings after discovering the need to teach Black History to children of African heritage internationally.
OUR ROOTS is a historic journey which originally began as a school project whilst Tayo was a student at The Kubert School in New Jersey, US, where he first created the series which he initially titled African Sketchbook. A few of his tutors helped with the project including the legendary US comic artist Joe Kubert.
Steve Pope, the then editor of the Voice in 1989, wrote to TAYO (by post…would you believe that) when he was residing in Hackney East London to visit the Voice premise on Coldharbour lane with keen interest in his idea, hoping to be featured in the paper.
Tayo remembers sitting down with Yvonne Taylor and Steve Pope to discuss how to run the feature in the weekly paper. Tayo says the initial challenge he had was to research about Black history makers from the UK and from all walks of life internationally. His idea was not to focus on one particular Black community but all Black peoples in the diaspora, things, places and events. It worked and the interest in OUR ROOTS began to take shape for the future.
Tayo recollects when Jerry Robinson the creator of Robin and the Joker who ran a US based syndicate called Cartoonists and Writers Syndicate, now Cartoon Arts international, called him. He showed interest in OUR ROOTS and asked Tayo to have his series syndicated in US newspapers and so it did in such newspapers as News Sentinel, a Fort Wayne Indiana newspaper. OUR ROOTS has since featured in New York Amsterdam News, Chicago Defender, Sacramento Observer and The Atlanta Voice.
Nigerian-American painter and art historian and tutor, Professor Dele Jegede (himself a famous cartoonist with Nigeria’s Daily Times in the 70s and 80s) says, “Tayo Fatunla embarked on a graphic journey with the creation of his trailblazing and imaginative series, OUR ROOTS. It’s a journey spurred by Tayo’s sensitivity as a Black diasporan and visual documentarist to issues of identity, proclamation, and affirmation. His visual snippets, extraordinary works that roll history, art and journalism into a ball pack, highlight the criticalness of acknowledging our ancestry at the same time that they incentivize people to take pride in identifying with inspiring role models.”
The British Museum so much loved OUR ROOTS series and asked Tayo if he could visually create ten AFRICAN KINGDOMS’ illustrations for its THE WEALTH OF AFRICA online educational resource. Tayo produced the Benin Kingdom and the Swahili coast to mention a few of them. Commissioned formats as Spirit of Lagos Comic for the Lagos state Government is also as a result of OUR ROOTS. And there are OUR ROOTS comic and books.
At the Kubert School, Tayo’s tutor, Hy Eisman (Popeye cartoonist) helped with the logo and David Cuccia his classmate helped with the lettering. Tayo wanted to give the illustrations a comic book look to it and also educate with it.
In 1987, it would then be published first anywhere in the world, in FLIGHT AFRICA, a Nigerian aviation magazine, which was published by journalist Femi Ogunleye, now a Yoruba royal. The first four feature illustrations he produced at school were the initial AFRICAN SKETCHBOOK drawings in the magazine.
Tayo’s research for OUR ROOTS first began whilst at school at Dover library in New Jersey. Apart from drawing, Tayo also reads to research information for his series and bring to awareness sung and unsung heroes and heroines.
“What a fabulous journey and creation God blessed me with right from my Kubert Art school days,” he says.
Through the years of drawings, the ignorant and the less informed have been well educated. Children have got to know achievers, heroes and heroines, sung and unsung, people, places and things in Africa, The Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia, South America, the US, Europe and many more Black role models and Black people in the diaspora. Tayo has since done and continues to do OUR ROOTS presentations in schools, libraries, Museums and Universities internationally.
In 2018, he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Philadelphia, US, for the drawings. Tayo thanks schools and their teachers who have invited him and used OUR ROOTS to educate and have blessed the young, gifted and talented with the knowledge of drawing.
OUR ROOTS Black History Sketch book is available through enquiries – firstname.lastname@example.org