Gifted Hands: Dolph Banza

Meet Dolph the Illustrator Behind the Princess Halima Series!

Close to 14 years ago, we had this idea of creating a series focusing on capturing the beauty of our continent through the adventures of an African Princess called  Princess Halima. We had no idea who would create this for us, we just knew it had to be done.

As education and literacy advocates, storytelling is one of the most important traditions humans possess to influence, shape beliefs and behaviors. We could not exist without the values, the wisdom and the courage shared from past generations through the art of storytelling. We wanted to create a princess to bring Africa to the forefront and educate readers, that Africa is a continent full of rich history, and not the misconceived idea that Africa is a country. We wanted our readers to find an escape into Africa’s vast richness, love, culture, history and most importantly, its people.The focus was and continues to be to empower young minds with knowledge that will peak their interest to one-day jump on a plane and make the journey to Ghana, or Nigeria or any country in Africa; to one-day use their voice to ignite the changes they wish to see in their lives; and to one-day become the leaders we need across our continent.

We explained all of this to a young Rwandese illustrator by the name of Dolph, with ideas and concepts coming at him 500 miles an hour. He patiently listened, and presented the most captivating image of our real life Halima. A dark and beautiful princess that embodies all the magnificent aspects of girls across our continent. We fell in love!

Meet Dolph Banza, a quiet powerhouse capturing our past and shaping our future one image at a time.

Tell us your story. Who is Dolph Banza?

It’s been 5 minutes, I have been staring at the blinking cursor on my MacBook screen trying to figure out how to answer this question… who am I?

I don’t know if I am the child who started drawing because pen and paper was the only toy I could get; the bad student who could not understand teachers mimicking concepts they could not understand themselves; the boy who witnessed atrocities that no one should witness in the 1994 Genocide; or the man who is constantly changing and trying to understand his place in the universe…

What made you want to be an illustrator?

School wasn’t for me, so I drew to escape. I knew from an early age that I could only make a living as an adult by doing something I love best. When the time to start a career came my choice was obvious, I was going to make a living by playing (drawing) against all odds.

How is your personality reflected in your work?

There is less of me in my commissioned work, there is more of me in my personal illustrations….I think, the kind of drawings I still want to make after a hard day of work.

I am an information sponge. Ironically, I started looking into science concepts after school and became enthused. Recently, I have noticed a lot of these concepts in my personal creations. My style, and favorite drawing topics keep changing as I mature.

What has been your favorite story to illustrate so far? No, pressure LOL!

Truthfully, the Princess Halima Series has been my favorite story to illustrate. It was all so new to me at the time, I had never created a character, and developed her into a series much less a series that explored African diversity; it was thrilling! Everything about the series was hand-drawn, I think that added to the beauty of the project, I connected to every image.

Unfortunately, I failed to continue with the series as my company was expanding while I was personally shrinking, but that’s another story.

What are some of the most inspiring things happening in your sector?

There is a huge global community of illustrators sharing their works and tutorials online for free. Before the internet, my sketchbook would only be seen by 10 or 20 of the same people, now I get to share it with the world.

Right now, I am working with people from Nigeria, Canada, South Africa and the Philippines just to mention a few; not forgetting Rwanda my country.

I like to tease my friends who are doing different things by asking them if technology is benefiting their respective fields as it is with my own, I let you imagine their answers!

What is the best/worst piece of advice that you have ever received from someone within the industry?

I was told “to release yourself, go and have fun! You can do it!”. This advise came from a creative director, I respect from a design firm in Kigali. This is both the worst and best advice I have ever received as it’s a tough balance.

The animation and illustration field is rapidly growing in Africa, what do you think is needed to take things to the next level?

Right now, most people doing animation in Africa are trying to mimic Hollywood, to me that is a major drawback. The next level we want to achieve will only happen when we start fetching concepts and ideas from our own African cultures.

The Our Stories, Our Way Fast Three! 

1. What’s your favorite song at the moment?

Time by Hans Zimmer; while keeping an eye on what Wiz Kid is doing next.

2. Name one person you want to work with?

I will go with a company instead, and say Netflix.

3. If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and why?

Biggest creator of animation, Walter Disney!

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