Why Can’t I Find a Reliable African Illustrator?


Dear Ancestors and Sweet Baby Jesus:

Whatever I have done to offend you, I repent for it! Okay! I yield. I give up! Ah. Warrenthis?

Oh. You want to know what has me so agitated, eh? The title should have served as a clue. I am overwhelmed and confused as to why I cannot secure a reliable, talented illustrator for my books. I just don’t get it.

I have struggled for 2 months about whether or not to write this post, ever since it became evident that the company I had contracted in Ghana to work on my next project was not going to meet the deadline we had agreed upon in November of last year. Still, I kept my fingers crossed and hoped for the best.

Stupid me. When it comes to dealing with Africans, I should always rely on the portents, not my optimism. I know this – with every fiber of my being – and yet I still dare to hope!

Ever since I decided to become a professional writer, I have made it a goal of mine to make sure that every aspect of my novels supports another African. When I needed an editor for my first book, I contracted with a Nigerian editing company and paid a pretty handsome sum. I was rewarded with a product that was returned with MORE typos and grammatical errors than I submitted. When I wrote my second book, I didn’t make the same mistake. I sent it off to a white woman in Seattle who charged me 25% of the price and sent me back a pristine product. I was both pleased and perplexed.

When I decided to write a children’s book, I looked everywhere for an illustrator and referred to a Nigerian gentleman for whom this would be his first time illustrating. I don’t want to go into too much detail about the kinks with that whole encounter, but suffice to say the kinks were aplenty. I decided that I would not give up so easily and try to find someone Stateside to redo the work, since I know for a fact that there are plenty of talented artists in Ghana who are looking to elevate their skill and turn their hobbies into a profitable business…or so I heard. That’s why I contacted a group in Ghana to have them illustrate my new book – and I’ve been burned for it.

The MOM Squad knows me. I have no problem naming and shaming, particularly when the targets are big. But this group of artists are a small outlet and I don’t want to come off as a bully by putting them on blast here. Beside, I’m not really angry with them. I’m just really, really sad about how all of these events have played out for the last 5 months.

As I mentioned before, I reached out to their director who is responsible for getting new clients on board. We struck up an easy social media friendship. I was quick to answer his queries. I told him that I would do and give him ANYTHING to get the project done on time, which was in February. I wanted the release of this particular story to coincide with Black History Month.

“And I have your cash ready too,” I said solemnly. “I don’t like chasing people for money and I also don’t want chasing anyone for money.”

We laughed, especially when I remembered that someone owed me a couple hundred myself.

“Great. And on our part, we will send you concepts back and forth until we get an idea of what you are looking for.”

He was very honest and said that they had one other client they were trying to wrap a few things up for and that they would get on mine as soon as they were done. That didn’t seem like a problem from my end, because there was plenty of time ahead.

I continued to keep in touch with him throughout. First he said that Christmas was coming, so the guys weren’t really working. Then it was New Year’s with the same “explanation”. There was radio silence throughout the month of January. In the middle of February I sent a message to ask how it was going. I was assured that there were no problems! February 28th came and went. And then, in the middle of March, I got a voice message telling me how “sorry” they were.

“Oh, Malaka…hahahaha! We haven’t really started on anything for you. We’ve been so busy with another client. But here is are some sketches of some ideas we have. Oh, by the way, can you send the concepts for these scenes?”

“Dude. I’ve already sent them twice,” I said tersely. “But I’ll send them again.”

Then I got another voice note asking me what range I had asked for (they offer a low, mid and high price range) and for some other particulars we had already discussed. That’s when I lost it. That’s when he went from “dude” to “nigga”. This was just TOO unprofessional.

“You aren’t doing me a favor,” I hollered into my phone. “I AM paying you for this service. You’re not ‘helping me out’ and doing it for free! As cool as we are, I am still you’re client. This isn’t cool.”

When I asked him how he would feel if I tossed him around the way he and his group have tossed me when it was time to pay, he got serious.

“Let’s deescalate the tension, shall we?” he replied stonily. He said he would send me an invoice and I said that would be great.

“And my sh*t better be spectacular.”

That was 2 weeks ago. I haven’t gotten an invoice, an final image (out of the 15 I need), a nothing.

Like I said, I’m not even mad. I’m just sad. You know why? Because I’m going to have to break my commitment to invest in African artists, and find me a little weed smoking, Dorito eating, basement dwelling white boy in Nebraska who will finish the work when he says he will. And you know what? Basement Boy WILL.

The only good thing about this encounter is that I did not pay a deposit that I’d have to fight to get back because these young men did not fulfil their end of the bargain, but this really hurts. I was looking forward to bragging about them and recommending their work. I can’t recommend anyone whose business practices and delivery suck, no matter how great their product may be.