Bite-Sized Helpings Of Human Nature In Musonda Kabwe’s Insta-Comic
Musonda Kabwe is a graphic designer and illustrator who lives and works in Johannesburg by way of Zambia. But more than this, he is a social observer whose insights into human nature are shared through his weekly comic project No Narrative. No Narrative lives on Instagram where the gallery feature launched earlier this year happens to be perfectly conducive to frame-by-frame storytelling. Each slide show is a diary entry of sorts founded in Musonda’s personal experiences then abstracted.
Rendered in flat line work and colour planes, No Narrative is foremost relatable. Musonda communicates storylines routed in daily realities and struggles: work-related stress, dealing with imposter syndrome or just getting out of bed in the morning. Other stories look to identity and our dysfunctional relationships with social media. Some more light-hearted than others, they’re themes everyone can relate to but that feel especially relevant to other creatives.
That’s the long of it, in short, Musonda describes No Narrative as a comic about soul searching; about figuring out this thing called life.
We asked him to let us know more.
What was your intention with starting No Narrative?
I started No Narrative to find myself. I was an illustrator working a design day job and I felt myself losing my vitality and sense of direction, so I started the project as a way to start drawing on a regular basis again. I kept a lot of sketchbooks and journals so I always had the content. The subject matter was already in my head I just had to do some drawings again.
What themes does it tackle?
The comic has a life of its own, nothing is premeditated so there are no set themes. I approach the comic like a weekly ‘visual’ diary entry. I can only speak about the themes in hindsight. I’ve noticed that there’s some emphasis on work-related stress, interracial dating, addiction and social media.
Do the scenarios you depict come from your own life?
In one way or another everything in the comic comes from real life experiences, the depictions are ‘allegories of a 20-something-year-old figuring this life thing out’.
I think it’s a common issue for everyone, not just creatives. But there’s definitely level to it. Nothing can ever be spoken about enough because talk is a weak currency. We talk about one thing one day and think progress has been made then proceed to talk about the next ‘thing’.
Mental health issues have been around and they’ve been talked about, these conversations just need more doing words in them.
You also include observations about social media in your stories. What’s your own relationship with social media like?
I love social media because it lets me share my work with a wide range of different people globally with a few hashtags. The downside is that the external approval is very addictive. My life becomes a game of Pacman where the white dots have been replaced with ‘Likes, Followers, & Comments’ and I’m constantly trying to beat my previous high score. This game of Pacman is endless, so it wastes a lot of my time.
Can you tell us about the significance of the blue masks in your stories and the different ways you use this device?
Right now there isn’t much to them, it’s a cool visual device that has fluid meaning. Sometimes the mask is used to show an altered state of mind, for example, when someone goes from sober to drunk. Other times it’s used to highlight a character’s facial expression and it’s also used to symbolise a hidden identity. I’m letting it develop naturally.
What do you hope readers will take away from No Narrative?
I hope the reader takes a deeply personal look inwards and asks themselves questions like “Am I spending too much time online?”, “Is this smoking thing really just a habit?” and “Am I stuck in the past?”. You don’t have to find answers, just contemplate. Project your experiences onto these allegories and let the answers come to you.
Even if the comic makes you laugh, I’m happy.
Please tell us about your upcoming solo show?
The show is titled WELCOME HOME. It’s going to be held at Gallery 57, 57 6th St, Parkhurst. Opening night is Friday 22 December.
The show celebrates Southern African/creative expression. For a long time I’ve looked around the world for inspiration, and the internet allowed me to do this to some degree. But I found myself making tons of high-minded work that none of my peers could relate to. In retrospect I can’t really make sense of some of it either.
So I’ve switched my focus internally creating work that celebrates the things that I’m into and that my friends would be able to see part of me in.
I will be whipping out my Wacom and doing some live portraits on the night, and there will be some performances from a few talented friends of mine if I can find someone kind enough to lend me a mic in time. There will be free drinks.
Interview by Alix-Rose Cowie.