Even though they have existed in Africa since the beginning of the 20th century, comic strips have only recently been emancipated from the codes and oppressions of the publishing world.
This development in Sub-Saharan Africa is the focus of a major new exhibition entitled “Kubuni”, which recently opened in the south of France.
In France, two major African cultural events – Africa 2020 and BD 20-21, Year of the Comic Strip – were scheduled to take place in 2020 and 2021, before a nasty little virus thwarted the plans of cultural institutions.
Museum closures have led to numerous programme changes, so it is only now that the exhibition “Kubuni” is finally opening at the Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image in Angoulême (until September 26). At a meeting point between two major projects supported by the French government, “Kubuni” offers a didactic immersion in the teeming world of the comic strip in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Since we started working on this project in 2018, we have discovered a new artist on the Internet every day,” says exhibition co-curator Joëlle Épée Mandengue, the creator of the series La Vie d’Ebène Duta under the pseudonym Elyon.
To launch “Kubuni” (which means “imaginary creation” in Kiswahili), it was therefore necessary to be restrictive in the selection process, in particular, by leaving out North Africa – which has already received significant media attention.
The curators – Mandengue and Jean-Philippe Martin (adviser to the Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image) – thus opted for a chronological approach, highlighting the beginning of comics in Africa, their contemporary development and their future.
The first part of the exhibition provides a solid foundation for African comics by honouring pioneers. Although “narrative images” on the continent predate the 20th century (bas-reliefs, appliqués, etc), curators point to the pioneering work of Cameroonian Ibrahim Njoya (born around 1890), who was inspired by the tradition and history of the Bamoun royalty and worked on the “shu-mom” alphabet developed at that time.
His adaptation of the 1940s tale The Spleen and the Four Rat is considered by the historian Christophe Cassiau-Haurie to be the very first Cameroonian comic strip. A little earlier, around 1915/1916, the Livingstonia Mission Press published a few issues of a humorous magazine in Malawi, the Karonga Kronikal, to entertain the British troops.
In their statement of intent, the curators write: “Colonisation, which imposed a form of cultural oppression on the dominated countries, certainly explains the aesthetic influence of comics in certain regions of the continent and the similarities from one country to another.”
“Countries under French or Belgian domination were often inspired by the likes of Tintin, the stories read in the comic strip magazine Pif Gadget or those offered in the ‘petits formats’. English-speaking regions were influenced by a very clear Anglo-American tradition, particularly that of the superhero genre. In addition to these external models, there is also manga, which is the result of the globalisation of Japanese popular culture.”
It would be a mistake to think that young African artists would simply fit into these moulds without trying to express their own individuality.
Mulatako is not designed to be distributed on tablets or phones, but some artists are embracing digital distribution. Many other artists, like Gaspard Njock, remain fiercely attached to paper.
“I resist digitisation with all my might, even if it is an opportunity. I have a sensual relationship with paper that I don’t want to abandon. I like to get my hands dirty, feel the material, scratch the surface…”
Unfortunately, visitors to Kubuni will not really be able to experience this sensuality of the page: for economic reasons, the majority of the works exhibited are reproductions.
Saturated colours, an intentional use of inclusive writing, digital effects galore, bursting out of frames, lots of action and references to pre-colonial myths: Mulatako is a comic book that dares to be unbridled Afro-futuristic.
Dibussi, its author, has not found a publisher, but she has self-published. “It all starts with a story I wrote as a teenager,” she says in her foreword.
“It was a science fiction story about me and my friends. A bunch of girls fighting the bad guys and saving the world. Yes, black and/or African female characters were so rare in artistic productions that I knew I had to create them. But the strength of Mulatako lies – above all – in references to the myth of the Miengu, commonly known as ‘mami-wata’.”
Full article available at https://www.theafricareport.com/108274/celebrating-the-history-and-growing-influence-of-african-comics/