Encounter with Godwin Akpan, The Self-Taught Artist Who is the Artistic Director for the HBO Max Animation, Iyanu
With Iyanu, Malika and Plaything, Godwin Akpan has established himself as a force in the Nigerian art scene. A little over a decade ago, he began his career as an artist and through sheer will, passion, and perseverance, he has since gone on to accrue dozens of projects credited to his name.
Akpan studied Fine Art before he dropped out of school to focus on a career in digital art. “I always imagined that I would be drawing books for children or trying to sell my paintings in galleries,” he told The Nollywood Reporter. “Once I realised that I could make a career out of digital art, I instantly made the career switch. I then dropped out of school because I realised it was no longer a part of me.”
Akpan credits the inception of his career to movies and video games. Being in Nigeria means the amount of information he had access to was limited. Schools to study digital art do not exist in the country, so for a while, Akpan did not know that he could make a career out of it. That was until he started paying attention to the behind-the-scenes of movies, video games, and artists who worked on these projects.
Like many other self-taught artists and creatives, Akpan owes a lot to the school of YouTube. “Early on in my career, I watched a ton of video tutorials on YouTube and read a ton of books,” he said. “I had no backup plan, so I gave my craft 100%. I told myself that this is what I like, and this is what I will do.”
It looks like all his hard work is finally paying off and it’s coming in the form of Iyanu: Child of Wonder. Akpan worked as the art illustrator on the original comic together with his close friend Roye Okupe. Now that the comic has been picked up by HBO Max and is set to become an animation, Akpan is understandably excited.
“We’ve been pitching Iyanu since 2019 and we got a lot of rejections before we got this win. This is one of those things we kept hoping would happen and now that it has, it feels very rewarding to know that the project I invested a lot of energy in, is finally getting the recognition it deserves.”
Although Akpan has worked in different studios in notable positions of authority, this is going to be the first time he will be working as the Art Director on an animated project. Understandably, this is a big deal for the artist as it would be for any other person in this line of work. “Sometimes, it can get daunting because there are millions of amazing talents in the art space. This moment makes me feel rewarded and hopeful for what’s to come.”
Because he worked on the original comic and possesses more knowledge than anyone else on the team, it was only natural that HBO offered him the position. As an Art Director on the project, he will have many duties assigned to him. Apart from coming up with the design briefs, he will also review and give feedback to other artists as well as proof-check the character designs to ensure consistency.
Since announcing the deal, Akpan told TNR that he’s received a plethora of offers from people looking to work with him. “Sometimes, I get apprehensive about checking my emails because I don’t want to have to reject another project that I simply don’t have the time for.”
He doesn’t credit this to just the deal, though. Akpan believes that he owes the influx of offers to all his hard work and many talents. “Yes, the deal has brought a ton of recognition, but my portfolio is vast and speaks for itself.”
Akpan goes where the wind takes him and he does not believe in being tied down by a particular career path. “A couple of years ago, I thought comic art was cool and I thought that was what I was going to be doing. But then I moved on to concept art for films and now, I’m the art director for a show. Everyone is constantly evolving, and I hope that is what will happen to me.”
In the next decade, he hopes to be directing a show he created based on his ideas and character. But that takes time and most importantly, money. Akpan believes that there are big prospects for animation in Nigeria, particularly in partnerships with international companies. “Animation costs a lot of money and there’s not a lot of investors in Nigeria who want to spend that amount. Talent can only take you so far if you do not have funds.”
If you’re in Nigeria and curious about animation, Godwin Akpan wants you to not be discouraged. “It can be daunting sometimes,” he said. “But persistence will get you far.”