Artist Paul Louise-Julie counts among his inspirations the words of Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, the images of Star Wars and the whispers of a Senegalese elder who opened his eyes to the oral history of West Africa.
Six years ago, the American-born Louise-Julie who has Creole, European, African and Indian ancestry, challenged himself to combine influences with his skill as an artist and his desire to tell African stories. One of the results of this endeavor is Yohancè, an upcoming futuristic space operarich with imagery influenced by ancient African culture and design, which aims to connect people with Africa’s past by creating a new mythology inspired by the continent.
The first installment of the graphic novel is planned for April and tells the story of professional burglar Yohancè, whose martial arts and acrobatic skills have earned him the nickname ‘The Monkey.’ Yohancè is on the run after stealing a precious artefact from a ruling empire, an object that he discovers is connected to his past.
Louise-Julie, spent much of his youth traveling with his parents around Africa where they ran their own telecommunications and security systems design business.
Back in the US, Louise-Julie came across a diary entry detailing the meeting. Recalling the South African-born Tolkien’s use of different mythologies to create the sprawling fantasy world of Middle-earth, he began researching the history, oral stories and artworks of different African tribes and nations. He used his extensive research to create an encyclopedia of sorts, a frame of reference to create new storylines, characters and civilizations rooted in African history.
The first fruits of this research was The Pack, a graphic novel series published last year which tracks a group of Egyptian werewolves. Late last year, he began work on Yohancè, which he describes as a compelling space romp filled with alien futuristic cultures, an intergalactic universe of colorful characters. The first chapter, titled ‘The Ekangeni Crystal,’ will be published for free.
During his senior year, spent at an international school in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou, the young teenager was introduced to a Senegalese griot, or storyteller, who spoke to him about the history of the region; recounting stories of kingdoms and wars, of royalty and noblemen.
“Mythology isn’t just a collection of stories,” says Louise-Julie, but “one of the fundamental pillars of civilization.” If we want to redefine culture in a post-colonial world, “then we have to re-establish that connection, at least to that mythology,” he believes.
His parents extensive collection of African art was a deep source of inspiration for Louise-Julie’s work. Yohancè’s headgear is modeled on the aesthetics of the Fang people in Central Africa, his spaceship inspired by the Bambara people of Mali, and the architecture references historic Ethiopian, Malian and Benin design.