82 Un­caped cru­saders How African comic au­thors and il­lus­tra­tors are us­ing their tal­ent and tech­nol­ogy to tell black peo­ple’s sto­ries

Armed only with a pen and a mouse, ev­ery­day African he­roes are fight­ing back against the white and West­ern over­lords of the cre­ative uni­verse, telling their own sto­ries

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - By Ka­maria Balkisson in Johannesbu­rg

On the week­end of 15-17 Septem­ber so­cial me­dia was flooded with art­work – draw­ings, paint­ings, por­traits, il­lus­tra­tions, car­toons – with one thing in com­mon: all the artists were black. It started with the hash tag# draw­ing while black, a ‘snow­clone’, or play on words, based on ‘driv­ing while black’, which calls out racial bias by Amer­i­can po­lice. The arty hash­tag was cre­ated by 19- year-old Anna belle Hay ford, also known by her Twit­ter han­dle @spark­ly­fawn. As a young Ghana­ian-Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tor and il­lus­tra­tor in the US, Hay­ford didn’t see her­self fit­tingly rep­re­sented in the global art in­dus­try. So she launched the vir­tual cam­paign as a means to prompt artists to show­case their work and be recog­nised for their tal­ent. The in­ter­net has no bor­ders, and art flooded in from all over the globe, but par­tic­u­larly the Afr ican con­ti­nent. It ranged from por­traits carved with a ra­zor­blade on burnt wood by Nige­rian Alex Peter (@al­ex­peter_art), to @pen­g­ra­pher’s hand-printed Banta jean-jacket backs, @ koke_x­avier ’s Yoruba-in­flu­enced body art, and all man­ner of comic book and dig­i­tal art. The cam­paign gave artists a chance to link to their own sales plat­forms, vis­i­bil­ity to co­op­er­a­tives like @arteasynig­e­ria and @chococ­i­ty­comics who pro­mote black artists’ work, and most of all en­cour­age­ment from the cho­rus of ‘likes’ and com­ments. Many of the con­trib­u­tors are not pro­fes­sional artists. One of them is Princess Karibo (or @princess_kay__ to her fol­low­ers), a 23-year-old il­lus­tra­tor from Nige­ria. “I’m still a long way from where I want to be,” she says. Karibo has re­fined her il­lus­tra­tive tal­ent by watch­ing Youtube tu­to­ri­als and en­gag­ing with other artists that in­spire her. Her dream is to even­tu­ally pub­lish her own art book, fea­tur­ing un­seen art­works and how-to guide­lines to help oth­ers im­prove their draw­ing. Cur­rently, she sells her art on her so­ci­ety6 store for pur­chase and ac­cepts com­mis­sions now and then. Young artist Den­zel Oduro, whose por­trait of the model An­gel John­son opens this ar­ti­cle, also uses Tum­blr as an on­line gallery for his work. “So­cial me­dia has been re­ally help­ful

in build­ing a fol­low­ing. The on­line en­gage­ment and in­ter­ac­tion, in terms of likes and fol­low­ers has been mas­sive,” he says. Another artist en­joy­ing thou­sands of fol­low­ers is IT stu­dent Benjamin Kwashie. When he is not pro­gram­ming, he works on cus­tom por­traits but says trust­ing cus­tomers on­line is tricky. “I usu­ally take at least 50% of the pay­ment up­front but many cus­tomers sug­gest I draw be­fore a pay­ment is made. I’ve ac­tu­ally had some bad ex­pe­ri­ences where they claim they don’t have money at the mo­ment or just do not re­ply to my mails.” De­spite this, the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia has helped. “[The in­ter­net] is a free space and has a greater au­di­ence. At gal­leries, or other phys­i­cal ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces, peo­ple have to be avail­able to see my works.”


The hash­tag lives on, and as The Africa Re­port went to press #draw­ing­while­black had 3,806 In­sta­gram posts. One thing that is strik­ing from the on­line gallery is that the work is not only by, but 99% of the time also de­picts black peo­ple. It re­flects a need to as­sert a multi-pronged black pres­ence in a world where di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion are still lack­ing in both com­mer­cial and fine art. Black and African char­ac­ters with Euro­pean fea­tures will not do. The pres­sure is twofold: big pub­lish­ing houses, an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­ers and ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies un­will­ing to put the money into what they see as a mi­nor­ity au­di­ence, and an older gen­er­a­tion of Africans not view­ing art as a vi­able pro­fes­sion. “There was a time in Ghana where artists were seen to be un­em­ployed, un­e­d­u­cated peo­ple who were just look­ing for an easy way to make money,” says Xane Asiamah (@xaneasiama­h), a 20-year-old self-taught re­al­ist artist. “[Now it’s been re­alised] that most of th­ese artists ac­tu­ally have a strong ed­u­ca­tional back­ground and pur­sue art out of their own in­ter­est and pas­sion.” Asiamah’s thoughts are echoed by Ay­o­dele Elegba, the 38-year-old CEO of Spoof An­i­ma­tion and founder of La­gos Comic Con, which brought to­gether comics, gam­ing, an­i­ma­tion and film fans in La­gos for its sixth edi­tion – co­in­ci­den­tally on the same week­end that #draw­ing­while­black hit so­cial me­dia. “Back then, some­one like me read­ing a comic book would make me look like a layabout with­out a job,” says Elegba. “In the first year of La­gos Comic Con only

300 peo­ple at­tended. This year we’ve grown to over 3,000 peo­ple.” Since child­hood, Elegba has en­joyed read­ing comics: “In sec­ondary school I used to make and sell comic books for fun. I use comics as an out­let to share my ideas and tell my sto­ries with­out any hin­drance. As an adult I re­alised Nol­ly­wood wasn’t ready, or re­sourced in terms of CGI, to de­pict the sto­ries I wanted to tell. In a comic book you can draw what­ever you imag­ine with just a pen­cil and a pen. It’s an al­ter­na­tive for me to share my sto­ries and ideas with the public,” he says. Jinx, one of Elegba’s cre­ations, cen­tres on an or­phan who is bul­lied. In the story there are ru­mours that she is cursed and no one adopts her but the curse turns out to be a spe­cial gift. The story fol­lows her as she grap­ples with her power, and learns to use it for good. “I didn’t have the joy of grow­ing up with both my par­ents,” says Elegba. “I also re­late to Jinx be­cause grow­ing up I had many tal­ents. I could draw, sing, write and play sport, but I had no one to guide me and show me who I was.” Through his African su­per­heroes, Elegba in­tends to in­stil aware­ness in African read­ers of their ca­pa­bil­i­ties and power. His only set­back, like many other artists, is fi­nan­cial: the profit mar­gin in mak­ing comics is still very slim. “Nige­ri­ans are still not com­fort­able with buy­ing things they can’t hold in their hands. Read­ers will pre­fer to pay for a hard copy and wait a week for de­liv­ery, than read­ing an e-copy,” he says. Zim­babwe, too, is go­ing crazy for home-grown comics, and cel­e­brated the third year of its own dig­i­tal arts con­ven­tion, Com­ex­posed, on 14 Oc­to­ber. One prom­i­nent par­tic­i­pant is Bill Ma­suku, the 24-year-old founder of in­de­pen­dent pub­lisher Enigma Comix Africa and au­thor of Ra­zor-man and Ar­ca­dia Knights. Though the former is his most pop­u­lar comic, it is Ar­ca­dia Knights, his new­est cre­ation, that Ma­suku con­fesses to be­ing most ex­cited about.


Ma­suku’s comics, based on the mod­ern lives of ev­ery­day African peo­ple, tell sto­ries that elicit a deep con­nec­tion to the gen­er­a­tions that came be­fore. He sees comics as con­tribut­ing to an al­ready rich cul­ture of oral sto­ry­telling, util­is­ing both image and text. “I of­ten draw a par­al­lel to how ad­vanced Ja­pan is. Their cul­ture of hon­our and her­itage of samu­rais and shoguns isn’t seen as back­ward. This is what I want to see for Africa,” he says. Ma­suku notes that a ma­jor chal­lenge faced by young artists, es­pe­cially those self-pub­lished, is a lack of spon­sors and lo­cal mar­ket­ing. “The African mar­ket is tied to its own so­ci­etal bias. Things made in Africa are still seen as not good enough. In con­trast, sales from over­seas have been more favourable,” he says. The in­ter­net has helped with the dis­tri­bu­tion of work, with out­lets like Ku­gali Me­dia, an on­line data­base of comics, gam­ing and an­i­ma­tion from Africa and the African di­as­pora. Their web­site in­cludes a Youtube chan­nel, pod­cast and a blog which as­sists artists with net­work­ing and en­gag­ing on in­dus­try-re­lated top­ics. Another on­line plat­form is Ac­cra-based Squid Mag, which pub­lishes the lat­est comic, an­i­ma­tion and gam­ing news, in­ter­views, re­views, jobs and op­por­tu­ni­ties from and for cre­ators and au­di­ences across the con­ti­nent. The rapid growth in en­thu­si­asm for African comics shown by the turnout at the two con­ven­tions sug­gests this is just the be­gin­ning. Nige­ria alone now has 10 ma­jor comic book pub­lish­ers. And Marvel has taken note, in­tro­duc­ing the Nige­rian comic book hero­ine Ngozi in Septem­ber, writ­ten by sci-fi nov­el­ist Nnedi Oko­rafor. The US comic be­he­moth is also busy mak­ing a big­bud­get film of its 1960s black comic su­per­hero Black Panther, which has been crit­i­cised by African comic cre­ators for “cherry-pick­ing” African mo­tifs and pre­sent­ing a West­ern view of the con­ti­nent. By delv­ing deep into pre-colo­nial his­tory, cre­at­ing char­ac­ters that res­onate with young Lagosians, Harareans or Jo’burg­ers, and con­fronting African prob­lem­at­ics through their soar­ing imag­i­na­tions, African comic au­thors are do­ing some­thing other than sim­ply colour­ing West­ern su­per­heroes brown. For Elegba his work should go be­yond the pages of his comics into com­mu­ni­ties and so­ci­ety. “Africa needs more he­roes with­out capes,” he says. “I hope my comics in­spire some­one to be a hero in their cir­cle of in­flu­ence.” And in his mind he hasn’t even scratched the sur­face of what he in­tends to ac­com­plish.

their only set­back: the profit mar­gin in mak­ing comics is still very slim

BALL­POINT VIR­TU­OSO Benjamin Kwashie (@benkwash) is a 20-year-old ball­point-pen artist from Ghana who says he can spend be­tween 25 and 50 hours com­plet­ing a por­trait. For Kwashie the devil is in the de­tail, so for ac­cu­racy he some­times draws a grid with...

LA­GOS’S GHETTO HERO Ay­o­dele Elegba’s comic char­ac­ters and their tribu­la­tions are based on his own ex­pe­ri­ences. Hav­ing to deal with poverty as a child, Elegba felt help­less in his sit­u­a­tion and pow­er­less in the hands of the gov­ern­ment. His char­ac­ter...

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