Who is Pat Masioni?
Note: This piece will appear in UNKNOWN SOLDIER #13 on sale 10/28.
It was early in the life of this series when we started kicking around the idea for finding an artist from approximately the same region as the book takes place to fill in for Alberto when the time would finally come for the Italian stallion to have a much-needed break. But locating the perfect person for the job was no easy task. A lack of exposure to artists from that region of the world and the extremely jarring, culturally specific art styles of those we did find made the search difficult to say the least. But eventually we did discover our man – Pat Masioni, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He's from a little further west than where our book occurs, but once you hear Pat's story, in his own words, you'll understand why he was the best choice for this mini-arc.
Let me say in advance that Pat wasn't entirely comfortable talking about the harder aspects of his life, and it took some coaxing to get as much from him as we have. Also, a very special thanks to Antonia Neyrins, a personal friend of Pat's and, now, ours, for assisting with all of our translation needs. -- Joshua Dysart
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My name is Patrice Masioni Makamba. I am Congolese, born in Mikusi, Bandundu province in the early 1960s, to the Mbala tribe, and I do not exactly know when I first started drawing -- from the moment I could hold a pen, I imagine.
I published my first drawing at 14, supported and recognized by two Spanish priests who helped my family financially support my studies.
Through their grace I learned painting, ceramics and sculpture in Kinshasa and eventually created a ceramic bas-relief for the cathedral in anticipation of the first visit by Pope Jean Paul II there. These priests, they gave me the tools I needed to live, and I am deeply in their debt for this.
It was not long before I was a professional illustrator and doing quite well for myself. My books were big sellers, and my name was not unknown. Mostly I worked on religious books, but I also published political cartoons in newspapers.
Art had set me free from poverty and obscurity, but it wasn’t long before it also brought me trouble. Over the course of my life as an artist in Kinshasa, DRC I was arrested on multiple occasions, sometimes by child soldiers. I have been beaten for my drawings. And yet, still, others suffered worse. People disappeared. People died. I have seen things no one should see, things I’ll never forget. In 2002, after receiving death threats from people with the will and power to back them, I - literally overnight – fled for France and began the hard path of the political refugee. There was no time to consider this decision.
It was extremely difficult to start over in another country. My past, my family, my friends, my home and money, they were all gone. Over time I rebuilt a reputation as an illustrator in France, found an apartment and had my family join me, but it wasn’t easy. The culture here is very different from my own (the French sense of humor is a mystery to me), the struggle to assimilate is constant and it reminds me of how much I miss my home. I very much look forward to becoming a French Citizen so that I may return to DRC to visit, safe and free.
I have been very happy to be working on UNKNOWN SOLDIER. I can feel from inside the story. Sometimes, it reminds me of my past, and true situations I’ve seen with my own eyes. Joshua Dysart’s script depicts a notable reality, and I feel free and expressive in drawing them, all while adding a touch of African style to the endeavor. I can only hope that American audiences come to care for the truths these stories speak to.
I can define myself as a politically engaged illustrator and a world citizen. I am proud that you have elected Barack Obama as your president, and I hope to visit and discover your country one day.
- Pat Masioni
Pat Masioni started off as a professional illustrator in Democratic Republic of Congo, where his books sold more than 250,000 copies. Since arriving in France, he’s published graphic novels on the war in Rwanda and has been illustrating “Samba Diallo,” a well-known comic published in the French-speaking African magazine Planète jeunes.