Celebrate the history and growing influence of African comics
In France, two major African cultural events – ‘Africa 2020’ and ‘BD 20-21, year of comics’ – were due to take place in 2020 and 2021, before a nasty little virus thwarted the plans of cultural institutions.
Museum closures have resulted in many program changes, so it is only now that the exhibition ‘Kubuni, the African Comics.‘finally opens to International City of Comics and Images in Angoulême (until September 26). Encountering two major projects supported by the French government, ‘Kubuni’ offers a didactic immersion in the teeming universe of comics in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Since we started working on this project in 2018, every day we discover a new artist on the Internet”, explains the co-curator of the exhibition Joëlle Épée Mandengue, the creator of the series. The Life of Ebony 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 aside North Africa – which has already been the subject of an important media coverage.
The commissioners – Mandengue and Jean-Philippe Martin (advisor to the International City of Comics and Images) – has thus opted for a chronological approach, highlighting the beginnings of comics in Africa, their contemporary evolution and their future.
The first part of the exhibition gives a solid foundation to African comics by honoring the pioneers. Although the “narrative images” on the continent predate the 20th century (bas-reliefs, appliqués, etc.), curators highlight pioneering work Cameroonian Ibrahim Njoya (born circa 1890), who was inspired by the tradition and history of the Bamoun royalty and worked on the ‘shu-mom’ alphabet developed at that time.
Cameroonian adults are won over by the words and references I use. They are amazed to discover that I have access to this anthropological knowledge.
His adaptation of the 1940s tale “The Spleen and the Four Rats” is considered by historian Christophe Cassiau-Haurie as the very first Cameroonian comic strip. 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.
At the crossroads of influences
From the start, African comics have been at the crossroads of influences between African traditions and Western domination. The curators make this clear by bringing together – in the “pioneers” room – the work of the Congolese artist Barly Baruti (born in 1959), the Nigerian Tayo Fatunla (born in 1961 in England) and the French Bernard Dufossé (1936-2016) ). From 1972, this international trio collaborated with magazines Kouakou and Hornbill created by Pierre Rostini for French-speaking African countries.
For Gaspard Njock (born in 1985 in Douala), author of Maria Callas, Childhood of a Diva (2020), Western comics contributed the most to the emergence of African designers. “When I was a child,” he says, “I read the same authors as French children, I had the same dreams. I did not even know the African authors, their books were not available in French cultural centers.
In their declaration of intent, the commissioners write: “Colonization, 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 of a country. to the other.
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“The countries under French or Belgian domination have often been inspired by Tintin, the stories read in the comic magazine Gadget Pif or those offered in “small formats”. The English-speaking regions are influenced by a very clear Anglo-American tradition, especially that of the superhero genre. In addition to these external models, there is also the manga, which is the result of the globalization of Japanese popular culture.
It would be a mistake to think that young African artists would simply fit into these molds without seeking to express their own individuality. The second part of the exhibition, which presents works as diverse as those of Annick Kamgang (‘Lucha‘, 2018), Didier Kassaï (‘Storm over Bangui‘, 2015), Koffi Roger N’Guessan (‘The Fine Bloodhounds‘, 2016) and Loyiso Mkize (the’Kwezi‘), confirms that African artists work with all techniques and subjects and treat them in their own way. Their freedom in cartoons seems almost greater than in other cultural or media fields.
Space of freedom
For Mandengue, “creativity has no more borders, the authors are free to tackle any theme. If I want, I can travel other paths, explore other worlds.
This is a point of view shared by Njock. “From the start, comics have always been able to tackle all subjects. Flexible, skilful, not necessarily requiring a lot of resources, he can explore very wide areas. For example, there are subjects that are controversial on the screen, such as homosexuality or migration, which are better treated by this medium.
Social networks and new means of communication make it possible to make oneself known, virtually, everywhere in the world.
The third part of the exhibition focuses on another space of freedom: the Internet. It is no longer necessary to be published by a large European publishing house to exist. Social networks and new means of communication make it possible to make oneself known, virtually, everywhere in the world.
This is what Reine Dibussi, author of the Afrofuturist series’Mulatako‘, did. “When I left school, I wanted to write a sci-fi story for kids, with bright colors,” she says. “I had no response from French editors, so I published the first six pages on my blog and chose to self-publish. Then, for volume 2, in association with the screenwriter, we created a small company, Afiri Editions, to publish volume 2 in early 2021.
‘Mulatako’, unbridled afro-futurism
Mulatako is not designed to be distributed to tablets or phones, but some artists are embracing digital distribution. Many other artists, like Njock, remain fiercely attached to paper.
“I resist digitization with all my might, even if it’s an opportunity. I have a sensual relationship with paper that I don’t want to give up. I like getting my hands dirty, smelling the material, scratching the surface… ”Unfortunately, visitors to ‘Kubunihe will not be able to really feel this sensuality of the page: for economic reasons, the majority of the works exhibited are reproductions.
Saturated colors, an intentional use of inclusive writing, galore digital effects, bursts of frames, lots of action and references to pre-colonial myths: Mulatako is a comic strip that dares to be unbridled afro-futurist. Dibussi, its author, could not find a publisher, but it has self-published. “It all starts with a story I wrote when I was a teenager,” she says in her preface.
It is a didactic investigation on the question, a hot topic since the speech of President Emmanuel Macron in Ouagadougou, on the restitution of works of art looted in Africa during the colonial period.
“It was a science fiction story about me and my friends. A group 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 resides – above all – in references to the myth of the Miengu, commonly called “mami-wata”.
“Children are fascinated by this universe,” says Dibussi. “As for Cameroonian adults, they are seduced by the words and references that I use. They are amazed to discover that I have access to this anthropological knowledge.
Return of property in ‘La Revue Dessinée’
‘The Comic Book‘, created in 2013, is a quarterly offer that opens its pages to creators from all walks of life on current topics. The offset, the distance and the perspective that the drawing allows are exploited to give a pictorial, synthetic and constructed rendering. In the June 2021 issue, he offers a long report written by Hélène Ferrarini and drawn by Damien Cuvillier entitled ‘Private Return‘.
It is a didactic investigation on the question, a hot topic since the speech of President Emmanuel Macron in Ouagadougou, on the restitution of works of art looted in Africa during the colonial period. The authors skilfully condense and invest the major questions and contemporary developments around this issue. African demands, militant acts, French reluctance, legal advances, blind spots… everything is explored with precision and color.
Queenie, the godmother of Martinique
The life of Stéphanie Saint-Clair reads like a novel. In Madame St-Clair, Queen of Harlem, published in 2015, the novelist Raphaël Confiant tells the true story of this Martinican woman. Saint Clair – ‘Queenie’ – landed in New York in 1912 and succeeded in establishing his own criminal enterprise there, first independently, then by obtaining the protection of Lucky Luciano.
Elizabeth Colomba (drawing and screenplay) and Aurélie Lévy (screenplay) are now teaming up to tell the violent and astonishing life of Queenie in comics, while she imposed herself in “hell”, in the heart of an ultra man. -violent. world. In a pure black and white style, ‘Queenie’ explores all the facets of her character, her childhood in Martinique, her pugnacity, her compromises, while offering many details on a dark period which also saw the movement grow and develop. civil rights. .