Nelson Mandela: comic book hero

17 July 2008

Biographies are about great human beings, comic books are about heroes. And that’s what Nelson Mandela: the Authorised Comic Book is about – a hero.

Launched in Pretoria on Wednesday – two days before Mandela’s 90th birthday on the 18th of July – the comic book tells the story of Madiba’s birth and childhood, his struggle against apartheid and oppression, his 27 years incarcerated in prison on Robben Island, and his eventual rise as the first democratically elected leader of South Africa.

Comprising eight chapters, the book is an amalgamation of eight individual comics that were circulated for free to South African schoolchildren between 2005 and 2007. The book will enable the comics reach an international audience, and proceeds from its sale will subsidise the distribution of free copies to schools.

A Son of the Eastern Cape

“You know you are really famous when you become a comic character,” Mandela joked in 2005, when the first comic in the series, A Son of the Eastern Cape, was launched.

Mandela and his cousins at play, from A Son of the Eastern Cape
(Graphic: Nelson Mandela Foundation)
“My hope is that elementary reading of comics will lead the youth to the joy of reading good books,” he said. “That joy has been mine all my life, and it is one I wish for all South Africans. If it is easy to read for other people like me, with eyes not like they used to be, and it reaches entirely new readers, then the project will prove to be worthwhile.”

Mandela as a baby, from A Son of the Eastern Cape

A Son of the Eastern Cape covers Mandela’s formative years, from his birth on 18 July 1918. The opening panels show Mandela as a swaddled baby in his parents’ arms in their mud hut in the village of Mwezo, near Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

The story continues with his family being forced to leave Mvezo following a dispute with a white magistrate, the death of his father, his circumcision ceremony, and Mandela’s decision to steal cattle with his cousin – to raise money so he could escape an arranged marriage. It ends with Madiba’s arrival in Johannesburg as a young man of 22 in 1941.

‘They don’t know their history’

“The current generation of youth knows that Mandela was our president and that he was in jail, but that’s it,” Nic Buchanan, the creator of the comic books, said at the time. “They don’t know their own history. We celebrated democracy and the miracle, but the building stones of a progressive and enlightened society needs work.”

Mandela’s circumcision, from A Son of the Eastern Cape
(Graphic: Nelson Mandela Foundation)
Buchanan thought that the story of Mandela’s life should also be told through comics. He approached the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which agreed to back the project.

To prepare himself, Buchanan read books and consulted historians, journalists and the foundation’s archives. He and five artists worked for six months to produce the first 26-page edition.

They faced many challenges. One was that no pictures exist of Mandela before the age of 19, so Buchanan and his artists had to imagine Mandela’s appearance as a boy. For direction, they studied his facial bone structure, including Mandela’s prominent cheekbones.

Reaching young readers

“The content is designed to engage our younger people about our heritage,” Mandela Foundation CEO Achmat Dangor said at the launch of the new book. “The aim is to bridge the generation gap so that the youth know about the struggles of the past.”

Education Minister Naledi Pandor, also present at the launch, said the values that have shaped South Africa’s democracy were the most important message of the book.

“Nelson Mandela lives the values enshrined in the Freedom Charter,” Pandor said. “He’s an inspiration to us all.”

Nelson Mandela: the Authorised Comic was published by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in partnership with Jonathan Ball Publishers and Umlando Wezithombe.

SAinfo reporter and the Nelson Mandela Foundation

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