The world has always told history through illustrations. In prehistory, for example, communication took place through cave painting. Nowadays, comics have diversified and democratized the dissemination of illustrations in order to tell stories. Countries like Japan and the United States have turned this kind of art into a gigantic industry. In Africa, on the other hand, several talents have emerged in order to tell African history from another perspective and also give a new meaning to the genre. Mixing African tradition and the fictional universe of superheroes, some names are gradually gaining space and accumulating a legion of fans.
“Comics created elsewhere is framing. Comics created in Africa tell the authentic story from the African’s perspective. They are richer in symbolism and imagery given the history of the continent and include themes such as colonialism, Neocolonialism, racism that may not be as prevalent or as nuanced as in Africa.”, says Eugene Ramirez Mapondera.
Eugene is the creative director at Kay Media Africa, an audiovisual and animation company based in Zimbabwe. He is also the founder of the Comexposed platform and Comexposed Converge, a convention on digital arts and innovation. Mapondera told ATLANTICO that his goal is to show the work of African artists by guaranteeing a space for them to exchange experiences and publicize their work.
Like Comexposed, there are other platforms and publications aimed at comic fans. Based in Ghana, Squid Magazine, for example, is an online publication that showcases the collection of new artists. In addition, it presents interviews with comic artists of greater notoriety and reports on the African geek scene.
“We are beginning to share our narrative, to share how we see the world and how the world should see us”, celebrates Kadi Yao Tay, editor of the platform. The online magazine was founded with his friend Kofi Sydney Asare, both from Ghana, and today has the collaboration of Nigerian Cassandra Mark and Tobi Oluwafemi and occasional contributions from Zimbabwean Bill Masaku.
The passion for comics crosses the continent and manages to gather fans at events held in several countries. Among the best-known conferences are NAICCON (Kenya), Lagos Comic-Con (Nigeria), Mboa BD (Cameroon) and Comic-Con Africa (South Africa).
“I grew up reading comic books, but always found that the pictures painted therein where far removed from my lived reality as a boy living in Sub Saharan Africa. I always longed for stories that appealed to the African child and took a chance to write comics. At first, I thought the comics would not garner any interest among locals. To my surprise there is an entire community of comic book lovers, who were longing for the release of African and Zimbabwean comic just as I was ”, shares Eugene Ramirez Mapondera.
Two publishing companies today are gaining prominence in this scene that still increasing: the Nigerian Comic Republic and Kugali Media, both specialized in the distribution of comics in digital form.
Kugali Media is an online platform that offers 4,000 anthologies from African comic artists to an estimated 2,500 readers from 20 different countries. The company is financed through a combination of subsidies from the Nigerian government, a crowdfunding campaign, and book sales.
Founded in 2013, the publisher Comic Republic has also gained space in the digital distribution of comics. She has as main character a superhero, the Guardian Prime, created by Nigerian comic book artist Jide Martin. According to the author, the hero’s idea is to show a positive outlook on his country.
Comic book artists and publishers looking forward to expanding to a different medium: the audiovisual sector. The hit comic book series “Malika – Warrior Queen”, for example, became a short film in 2019. The film was produced by YouNeek Studios and the character’s creator, the Nigerian Roye Okupe, who also wrote and directed the film and want to expand Malika’s story into a feature film and hopes to find a place in the Nollywood film industry.
YouNeek has raised more than $ 70,000 on the Kickstarter funding platform so that other comic book series can also become films, such as E.X.O., WindMaker, and Iyanu. In addition, in the past three years, the studio has sold more than 100,000 copies of comics and graphic novels.
The YouNeek studio wants to repeat the success of the Supa Strikas series (or Super Strikas in some countries), a series of South African comics about the football universe. Considered one of the most circulated comics in the world with more than 1.4 million copies sold in 16 countries, the title became an animated series in 2009, the result of a partnership between the publisher Strika Entertainment and the studio Animasia.
“Currently, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Uganda are the main producers of comics and animation, especially,” adds Kadi Yao Tay. “As the industry takes shape, I can see it becoming very competitive, resulting in very unique stories that will capture the world in the same way as manga and anime.”
Rising geek market
In its sixth edition in Brazil, the Comic-Con Experience (CCXP) brought together 280 thousand people in the city of São Paulo for four days in December 2019. In South Africa, Comic-Con Africa received more than 45,000 visitors, 212 exhibitors at its inaugural edition in 2018.