Louis Appiah recounts the journey to discovering his animation potential and using comic characters to spark discussion on social and political change in Ghana.
His former boss at Western Group of Companies walked into his office one morning and asked if he could make the company’s logo at the time – a giraffe – walk. Louis Appiah, then a 23-year-old visual designer, was skeptical initially. Little did he know this challenge thrown at him will be his iconic quality several years on – animation. Appiah asked for three weeks to figure it out but his boss extended the period to two months. “For me, I always want to prove myself and not feel like I’m short with regards to certain design skills,” he said.
That day, he went on a search and learn mission, scanning through tutorial videos on YouTube and other websites to learn how to make characters move. He left the office some few minutes to midnight. The next morning, 24 hours after accepting the challenge, he walked into his manager’s office to tell him the four magical words: “Your giraffe is walking.”
“I decided that this is interesting and why not give animation more tries. So I started working on a character I have had in my mind since junior high school, who is a teenager, very controversial, fashionable, a ladies’ man, blunt, witty, sarcastic and influential – Nazir.” Since then, Louis Appiah has gravitated towards animation and honed his skills incredibly well, making him the creator of one of the most popular online animation series, Tales of Nazir. “I chose the name Nazir because it was a stand-out and I have only met two people in my life by that name, one in high school and the other in Dubai.”
Appiah, now 26, grew up in the SSNIT Flats at Dansoman, a few minutes from the location of his current home cum studio. He used to watch his senior brother sketch comic figures each and every day, a major influence on his artistic career. From day one, his family was supportive and backed his dream to become an artist. “I started as far back as kindergarten when I drew a witch who had a tiger as a pet and all. I drew very well from kindergarten and if I showed it to you, you wouldn’t believe it was a kindergarten boy’s work,” Appiah tells me in the verandah of his yellow-painted home and studio.
Standing at 6ft tall, in a plain black T-shirt and jeans on a Saturday afternoon, Appiah flashes his highly conspicuous teeth in frequent bursts of laughter as he told his journey to finding his passion and the future of his craft.After leaving his job at Western Group, Appiah went on to found Louicage Studios, a design and animation company. Louicage Studios has several animation productions to its credit including Tales of Nazir, ‘We Do Som’ and a full length animation movie. “I didn’t get training in animation, everything is self-taught,” he says. “I learnt everything in my room, it’s just that I’m conversant with design software so it was easy to use them.”
The central figure, Nazir has become a social media sensation, spurring various memes and tag-lines. The guts with which Nazir takes on political and social issues are enviable. Appiah believes using episodes of his animation series to comment on socio-political happenings in the country is his way of contributing his views to national development. “I wouldn’t say Nazir belongs to any political party, it’s just on neutral grounds. I’m just doing comic exaggerations of socio-political issues.”
Asked if there are fall-outs and repercussions after such episodes resonate across social media, Louis says there are demerits, however the bipartisan support has been overwhelming. “Generally, people love it. It’s just that seeking other contracts and certain endorsements, you tend to face the demerits because you are tagged as political and most corporate bodies wouldn’t want to liaise or affiliate with anything political. I wanted to veer away from politics a bit, that’s why I came up with the Ebola and bribery and corruption themes and left the president out a bit. But I’m coming back because that’s what Ghanaians know Nazir for.”
After he premiered the first episode of Tales of Nazir titled ‘A Call to God,’ his social media notifications were blowing up. Yet a personal encounter at a shop after the episode went viral got him to realize the impact of his work. “I went to a shop to purchase an item,” he recounts. “Two women at the shop were not attending to me but busily giggling and laughing as they watched what seemed like a video on a phone. I realized they were watching Tales of Nazir, and here I was, standing right in front of them. I froze for a while and went blank when the shop owner asked me what I was purchasing. For me that moment was very beautiful, random and I had never experienced that before.”
Louicage Studios was named as one of the 100 most competitive start-ups in Ghana and Tales of Nazir won honours at the Accra Francophone Film Awards. “Of all the moments I feel like giving up; the nominations, awards and recognition push me to keep going. The messages of support and inspiration that comes through my inbox on a daily basis are amazing. I remember I got this message from a young boy in a remote area who had to stop school for lack of funds. Just by looking at what I do and how I’m pushing arts to the limelight, it also inspired him and now he is a graphic designer and making a living out of it. It’s just beautiful how much I’m touching people indirectly, those I don’t even know.”
Louicage Studios released their first full length animation movie – Tales of Nazir: The Movie on the day after New Year’s Day this year. Hundreds of people thronged to the Silverbird Cinemas to enjoy a 60-minute tale of Nazir, the central comic character who is loved and adored by both the young and old on social media. “It was crazy to premiere a cartoon on the same day as a movie by Yvonne Okoro but I like taking risks,” he says. The response was really good and impressive, with people sitting on the stairs in the cinema after all the seats were all occupied. I almost cried because of the success of Nazir – The Movie.” Louicage is working on their second full length animation movie, hoping to release it on Independence Day next year.
Inspired by animation legends such as Stan Lee of Marvel and Seth Macfarlane, Appiah believes his firm will become the most sought after on the continent and beyond in a decade to come. “In 10 years I see Louicage as the main company Marvel will like to liaise with, regards to African comic content,” he said. “We will keep producing creative, engaging and excellent animation content.”
By Henry Derben