African comic book heroes gaining popularity

19 January 2016

Nicknamed “Africa’s Avengers”, the African superheroes created by Nigeria’s Comic Republic, range from Guardian Prime, a 25-year-old fashion-designer-by-day who uses his extraordinary strength to fight for a better Nigeria, to Hilda Avonomemi Moses, a woman from a remote village in Edo state who can see spirits, to Marcus Chigozie, a privileged but angry teenager who can move at supersonic speeds.

“I thought about when I was young and what I used to make my decisions on: What would Superman do, what would Batman do? I thought, why not African superheroes?” explains Comic Republic’s founder, Jide Martin, who started publishing comic books in 2013. The company’s tagline is: “We can all be heroes.”

The company is leading the way in developing unique, Afrocentric stories and characters for markets long believed to lack interest in African-inspired characters. The publisher has a team of artists and writers that create the stories, which are published online and are available for free. Downloads of the issues have grown from a couple of hundred in 2013 to 25 000 of the latest release in December 2015, as the series has become more popular.

As well as creating new worlds and amazing characters, Comic Republic also publishes comics for companies and NGOs that are focused on delivering positive messages to children, including in the public health services sector such as malaria prevention and HIV/Aids education.

The start-up is part of a growth of made-in-Africa music, literature and art that is beginning to resonate beyond the continent. Over half of Comic Republic’s downloads are by readers in the United States and United Kingdom; there are also readers in countries as far as Brazil and the Philippines. But it is in Nigeria that the stories are finding the most extensive market, so much so that, according to Martin, Lagos even hosts an annual comic convention for the comic and entertainment industry.

Guardian Prime, “a black Superman” as Martin calls him, is, in particular, finding popularity across Africa, as a home-grown Man of Steel.

The trend is expanding across the continent and other African publishers and artists are creating their own take on the idea of the superhero.

Popular South African graphic novel Kwezi was created by designer and artist Loyiso Mkize, for example. Its superhero is a teenager in Gold City, a metropolis imagined along the lines of Johannesburg. The story, which features plenty of local slang and cultural references, also has a strong moral centre and an emphasis on education, according to Mkize. He refers to his story as “a coming of age story about finding one’s heritage”.

Another Nigerian animator is Roye Okupe, whose graphic novel, E.X.O: The Legend of Wale Williams, was published in August 2015. In the same vein as Superman and the Marvel universe, Williams has found a huge international audience, “putting Africa on the map when it comes to telling superhero stories”, says Okupe. There is even talk of a live action feature film for the character.

Much like its Western influences, diversity and inclusiveness are hallmarks of the African comic book. Of the nine characters created by Comic Republic, four are women, which Martin believes is a reflection of the fact that women are active in Nigeria’s social politics. “[In] today’s Nigeria, we’re very indifferent to whether someone is a man or woman. I wouldn’t say there was any strategic decision. It’s just a way of life for us,” he said.

Beyond battling evil and saving the day, the comics are also meant to show how individuals can come together to provide for a “better, safer Africa”, says Martin. It’s a message that appears to be getting across to some readers.

One fan wrote on Comic Republic’s Facebook wall about the character of Guardian Prime: “My favourite quote [by him]: All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to stand by and do nothing. I won’t stand by. I am Nigerian.” I’m not Nigerian, but heroes are going to help the youth and stimulate patriotism.”

Source: Quartz