Africa and the World of Comics: Past and Present
Comics as a modern genre and modern European colonization emerged simultaneously in the late nineteenth century. It is no wonder that Africa has been the setting for numberless popular comics made in the ‘West’ ever since. On the other hand, African societies have integrated comics and caricatures into their visual cultures very easily and creatively. The panel attempts to investigate both, Africa and Africans in past and present non-African comics as well as Africa as the place of comic production and reception.
As a rule, comics use hyperboles and simplification so that they have had the power to generate and vulgarize stereotypes. In this regard, colonialist – or anti-colonialist – propaganda has been spread in cartoon strips. However, comic as a ‘global genre’ has also been used as a subversive instrument of critique and self-expression in and about Africa. Moreover, comics have always connected artists with colleagues and readerships from other cultures, because of the limited faculty of language required and due to the self-reflecting and self-referring nature of that genre.
In our panel, history will meet fine arts and Africanists from various disciplines in order to discuss Africa’s role in the past and present ‘World of Comics’. In this way, we will study the connectedness of Africa with the global sphere by processes of making, distributing, reading, and interpreting comics.
Time: Thursday, 28/06/2018, 2 - 4 pm, 4.30 - 6.30 pm (double session)
Venue: Seminargebäude, S 203
Stephanie Zehnle (University of Duisburg-Essen)
Felix Schürmann (University of Kassel)
Rui Lopes (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal)
Silvana Palma (University of Naples "L'Orientale", Italy)
Bettina Brockmeyer (University of Bielefeld)
Sandra Federici (University of Lorraine, France / University of Milan, Italy)
Duncan Omanga (Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya)
William H. Worger (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
Naomi A. Yusuf (University of Maiduguri, Nigeria)
Theo Aalders (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)
Superpowers and Superheroes in Africa as Imagined by DC Comics in the ‘80s
In the late 1980s, the largest mainstream publisher of comic books in the United States of America, DC Comics, published a string of series imbuing traditional superhero adventures with politically charged themes, including hundreds of stories explicitly informed by the Cold War. Notably, some of these series – ‘Batman, Firestorm: The Nuclear Man, Suicide Squad and The Outsiders’, as well as the benefit book ‘Heroes Against Hunger’ – sought to engage with key issues affecting sub-Saharan Africa, such as famine, civil war, authoritarian rule, and Cold War-driven foreign intervention. They did so not only by setting stories against the background of the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, but also by imagining fictitious, composite nations (‘Mozambia’ and ‘Ogaden’, both largely inspired by Mozambique). These comics drew on genre conventions as well as on broad stereotypes from popular culture and public discourse about Africa, often with contradictory results. In particular, DC superheroes and villains – much like the real-world geopolitical super-powers – tended to be confronted with their helplessness in face of the continent’s problems and with the impact of their violent confrontations on the local population. My presentation will both compare the discourse of different creators and discuss how each story simultaneously combined, on the one hand, problematic depictions of Africa and, on the other hand, a critical perspective on the role of outside forces in the challenges faced by African nations (especially Ethiopia and Mozambique) at the time.
GrAphrica Novel: The Construction of the Image of Italian Colonial Africa in Comics and Graphic Novels
Italy lost its colonies following defeat in World War II, rather than through a negotiated process of decolonization or armed conflict, and for a long time its colonial past was a missing topic in historical studies. It was only in the 1980s that a new generation of scholars took steps to overcome the delay and address the gaps in Italy’s collective memory, eventually leading to a remarkable renewal in the scope and content of research fields. Today, there is no longer room in Italian historiography for the myths and misconceptions that fed the construction of the country’s collective identity. However, very few studies have investigated whether and how the Italian colonial past was addressed during and after the colonial era in popular literature, normally intended for much broader audiences than academic papers. This paper aims to explore how Italy’s colonial past was represented and what kind of colonial memory was popularized beyond the confines of academia. It will focus on Italian comics and graphic novels, a genre that initially appealed to children and ‘reluctant readers’ only, but over time also to a well-read audience, providing an uncensored outlet for public opinion. This paper will offer a glimpse into what kind of public memory it has helped to build or perpetuate.
Parody of Cruelty? ‘Africa’ and the Skull of Chief Mkwawa in Contemporary Comics
Comics parody the ‘claim to truth beyond signs’, as Ole Frahm alleges by referring to Judith Butler’s thoughts on travesty in ‘Gender Trouble’. He argues that comics are self-referential and repeatedly simulate reality because they consist of a combination of images and characters. Hence, how do comics tell histories of Africa and colonialism? In my paper, I will concentrate on two comics from the Dutch series ‘January Jones’, created by Martin Lodewijk und Eric Heuvel. January Jones, a young American pilot, is the adventurous and courageous female hero of the series, which take place in the 1930s.The two comics are called: ‘De Schedel van Sultan Mkwawa’ (1990, in German 1991) and ‘De Schatten van Koning Salomo’ (1993, same year in German). They tell the story of the chase after an African skull from Europe to Africa. This human remain is the skull of Chief Mkwawa, a historical person, who lived in the second half of the 19th century. He was chief of the Hehe people in the then German colony East Africa (Tanzania) and fought against German occupation. In 1898, Mkwawa killed himself in order to avoid being captured by German soldiers. After his death, the Germans beheaded Mkwawa’s body and took the skull which after that had a still not clearly reconstructed trajectory. The skull, thus, can be seen as a symbol of colonial cruelty. How do the comics refer to this history, how do they combine facts and fiction? The chase after the skull is a classical treasure hunt, including a map which leads to the treasure of the legendary King Salomon. At first appearance, the comics stereotype African people and landscape and mix Northern and sub-Saharan African clichés; simultaneously, they stereotype European history and people. In my paper, I want to ask for the second appearance that is for the parody of ‘truth beyond signs’ and discuss how the comics tackle questions of the power of history.
Independent Comic Magazines in French-Speaking Sub-Saharan Africa as Vehicle for Professional Recognition: The Case of “Waka Waka”
An examination of the comic field in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa by the concepts of ‘institution’ (Jacques Dubois, Pascal Durand) and ‘literary field’ (Pierre Bourdieu) shows that, since the 1980s, local authors have been forced to realize their artistic vocation and their professional projects in poorly organized and unfavourable environments. Scarce possibility of publication and exposure in the press have required agents to exercise their greater or lesser skill in adapting and has prompted, and continues to prompt, a number of authors to start comic magazines or auto-published fanzine. Spaces for emersion and recognition are supplied through a variety of local magazines with major or lesser success and duration, uncertain periodicity, and sometimes mediocre narrative or graphic quality. In this way, the authors have appropriated Western popular cultural products largely circulating in Africa such as Spirou, Tintin magazine, Strange, Akim, and Kouakou. In comparison to the prevalent national approach, the Cameroon-based fanzine ‘Waka Waka. Images et récits du Kamer et d’ailleurs’, started in 2012 in Cameroon by Stéphane Akoa, is auto-realized by emergent and recognized authors from the Cameroon and other African, Asian, and European countries. Despite the small format and the poor quality of paper and printing, ‘Waka Waka’ offers examples of innovative graphical research and interesting reports of African social conditions.
Akokhan Lives: Transnationalism, Comics, and the Making of an African Superhero
‘Where grass has grown, grass will grow’ was a common phrase capturing the invincibility of Akokhan, a naturalized Kenyan superhero created by Ghanaian-Kenyan cartoonist Frank Odoi. Described as ‘Africa’s Hergé’ or ‘Urdezo’ by his colleagues, Frank migrated to Kenya from his native Ghana in the early 1970 and was largely credited with the ability of drawing from local folklore to retell African legends in the template of marvel comic superheroes such as Spiderman and Superman. This paper sheds light on his most celebrated work, Akokhan, a comic strip that at different times ran in all the three major Kenyan Dailies (Daily Nation, The Standard, and The Star). The Akokhan comic series structures in an oppositional pairing Tonkazan, the ultimate embodiment of evil and destructive power against Akokhan, the series’ superhero and the embodiment of the good. Thanks to Franks’ past, the comic is largely, if not wholly, drawn from Ghanaian folklore, complete with references to cultural artefacts, labels, and social contexts that are obviously West African but still uniquely able to transcend both time and space. As a result, Akokhan, though a West African historical legend, becomes a latter day East African superhero by the mere fact of being immortalized in a Kenyan newspaper. Taking Akokhan as an example, this paper discusses how temporal and spatial syncretisms conflate to remediate and imagine both the present and the future of Africa.
William H. Worger
Superheroes for and Against Apartheid
In the year before the 1976 students uprising at Soweto, the South African government began surreptitious publication of comics aimed at young Africans, modelled on comics that the CIA had previously targeted at young people in the Middle East, and which aimed to convince their readers to support ‘law and order’ (and by extension apartheid). The superhero comics were sophisticated publications, combining high quality illustrations contracted out to American artists, and complex stories that also incorporated cultural references to sport (boxing in particular, both South African and American), and to South African folklore. The aim was to make the texts seem as culturally ‘authentic’ as possible. The project failed, with most of the comics burned during the 1976 student uprising and publication ceasing. But the ANC also produced its own comic intervention, a hand drawn cyclostyled title about ‘The Spear’ (of the Nation) battling ‘Tiger Ingwe’ (the apartheid creation). In this paper I intend to discuss the origins, authorship, and content of these attempts to support and contest apartheid through cultural appropriation and imperialism.
Naomi A. Yusuf
Comics and Social Intervention in Post-Colonial Africa: Case of Nigeria
Comics constitute a broad range of visual communications. These devices, narratives, diagrams, info-graphics, and sketches are used extensively by people in their everyday lives to explain concepts and pass across information to target audiences. Over the years they have served as a corrective tool in societies especially in the political sphere by shaping public opinion on the political climate as well as societal, economic, and development issues leading to attitude change. At present the Nigerian visual media, especially newspapers, use these forms of art to advance democratization and certain political ideologies by visually depicting the ills in society like electoral fraud, corruption, and political instability. Modern comics cover a wider scope than the old versions, especially with the inclusion of the social and political arenas. This article examines the role played by two newspaper houses during the 2016 general presidential election through editorial comics. A number of published comics have been analysed to establish certain patterns of positive or negative characteristics that might have influenced public opinion on the two major contending political parties. The paper is grounded on the referential theory of semantics, where codes are used in analysing meanings in signs, language, and design. The analysis carried out revealed that these comic visuals played vital roles in criticizing, reflecting, and documenting political and social issues.
Collaborative Comic Books as a Research Method in a Study on Environmental Justice in Kenya
The paper I am proposing explores the possibilities of using the creation of collaborative comic books as a research method. The study takes on the case of the Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor. My fieldwork focusses on how LAPSSET is discussed controversially in terms of its impact on environmental justice by people living in its vicinity. One of the main research methods is the utilization of comic book creation in a collaborative process. I will invite people to sit down together with a Kenyan comic book artist and, in collaboration with the storytellers, the artist would create a ‘story-board’. After post-production, I will return with the finished comic books and discuss their form and content with the narrators and other interlocutors. In the spirit of ‘African Connections’, this method is imagined as an inherently relational process in both form and content: I hope to be able to facilitate an interactive process, in which interlocutors, the artists, and me walk around relevant places together, talk about the landscape, share sketches, and discuss the characters in the comic, their relations to each other, and their environment. Negotiating not only the content of the stories but also the way interlocutors engage in the drawing of people, the environment, and non-humans widens the scope of relations that can be considered, while simultaneously manifesting an account of them.