How Cartoonist Sarah Akinterinwa Created a Pandemic Lemonade – Black Girl Nerds

Written by: Wayne Broadway

Black British cartoonist Sarah Akinterinwa, like all of us, has had one hell of a year 2020.

In the midst of a pandemic, Sarah had lost her job, her replacement job and her boyfriend, who decided to break up with her. And, wow, we got depressed just typing that.

Yet, rather than let dire circumstances break her spirit, Akinterinwa chose to make a change for the better. Having always been an artist — but until then only as a hobby — Sarah published her comic Oyin and Kojo on Instagram for public consumption. The comic series focused on a modern, cis-het black British couple encountering everything from TikTok dances to generational pay gaps, then caught the attention of New Yorker editor Emma Allen.

Since then Sarah has started working full time as a cartoonist for both large scale publications and personal commissions.

She spoke to us via email about her decision to take control of her professional life, her artistic inspirations, and how her life has changed since the pandemic began.

So between being laid off due to the pandemic, your mom losing her preschool business, and your boyfriend then breaking up with you, would you say 2020 could have gone a little better?

I don’t think there’s a single person who wouldn’t say 2020 could have been better. For me, it was a horrible year but also the year that forced me out of survival mode and into creative mode.

Despite these different adversities (or maybe because of them?), you started comics Oyin and Kojo. What was the inspiration behind the comic?

Many people believe that being dumped by my ex inspired the creation of a fictional couple with a seemingly enjoyable relationship. Long before I was in a relationship, it was an idea I had always had but didn’t know how to execute. What inspired Oyin and Kojo was the fact that there was so little media around black British relations and black British comedy. It didn’t exist so I decided to be the one to create it.

Oyin and Kojo have Nigerian Yoruba and Ghananain Akan names respectively. Why was it important to give these names to your characters rather than Western names like Sally or Jack?

Ha, Sally or Jack! The cool thing about the British black community is that many of us are first, second or third generation immigrants from Africa and the West Indies. I wanted Oyin and Kojo to be a realistic representation of black Britons, so they had to have African names. Plus, we have more than enough black characters with western names.

After posting Oyin and Kojo on Instagram, the cartoon editor for the New Yorker the magazine DMed you about working for them. How has your life changed since then?

Since then, I’ve been incredibly blessed with so many more opportunities to create comics and cartoons with various brands and publications. Be a contributor to New Yorker is a huge privilege that few black people and POC get. For this reason, I can be an inspiration to other people like me who want to become cartoonists and hopefully contribute to the New Yorker too much.

Is there anything you would change about 2020 knowing that would be the outcome? Plus, you know, the more apocalyptic aspects of that year.

Other than the world essentially collapsing in every aspect, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t think I would have gotten to this point without everything that went wrong for me. If there’s one thing I would change, it would be applying for jobs (and constantly getting rejected) that I knew I didn’t really want to do but thought I had to.

Since then, you’ve made cartoons depicting everything from How to survive Christmas with your toxic family at the secret life of indoor plants. What inspires you to choose particular topics?

“How to Survive Christmas with Your Toxic Family” was a comic that I knew people from all walks of life could relate to. I chose the subject because I wanted to humanize Oyin and Kojo even more and show that they are not just a happy couple sharing humorous moments. They also experience the same things as us. Overall, I love creating cartoons that are super relatable and humorously say what we’re all thinking.

What advice would you give to budding black artists like you who have always felt creative, even creating art as a hobby, but are afraid to show their work to the world?

I would say create something every day. It can be something that takes 5 minutes or an entire hour to create. Stay dedicated to your craft and don’t give up. If you really want to make a career out of art, being bold enough to show the world your work right now is an important step.

And finally, a word for the ex?

To my ex, thank you for dumping me at the height of the pandemic. Our breakup inspired me to be even richer, hotter, smarter, brave, and creative, so now I’m even more out of your league. [*drops mic*]

Sarah Akinterinwa can be found on her website and via Instagram.

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