The massive success of Marvel’s Black Panther in 2018 opened a lot of eyes to the creative and commercial potential of Afrofuturism – science fiction rooted in Black cultural experience and Black storytelling styles. That influence didn’t end at the water’s edge: it echoed back its ancestral homelands, inspiring new efforts to bring homegrown African visions to a global audience primed for exciting new content.
Several interesting new digital comics efforts spring from Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, entertainment hub (“Nollywood” is the world’s third largest film industry) and a hotbed of scrappy entrepreneurship. Because Nigeria can be a difficult market to penetrate for outsiders, much of the energy is coming from local startups who leapfrog legacy production and distribution methods, creating digital content for mobile phones favored by the young population.
Ayudeji Makinde is founder/CEO of ComicsDI, a startup digital comics company producing several episodic webcomics in various genres including a thriller, Lagelu: The Kingdom on Four Hills, Duro, featuring a mythical hero, and a pair of science fiction stories, The Futurology and Njeri. He says the industry has grown tremendously in the past 20 years, with publishers springing up as the global footprint of comics culture has expanded into Africa through events like the annual Lagos Comic Convention.
“I go to Lagos Comic Con every year,” says Makinde. “There are so many comic brands, it’s excellent.”
He believes the increasing global popularity of Afrofuturism is giving a boost to indigenous creators steeped in the cultures of the continent. “African Afrofuturism has the same attitudes and principles [as diaspora styles],” he says. “It’s a combination of fantasy and culture, looking to the future of African people. Coming from here, our understanding of the culture differs. We can craft it from our angle, in our unique voice.”
“We believe African comics and fiction stands as the future of global storytelling in mainstream media,” says Somto Ajuluchukwu, Founder and CEO of Vortex247, another Nigerian digital comics publisher and marketplace specializing in mythic fantasy (Land of the Gods), horror/mystery (Folk Tales), and superhero comics (Captain South Africa) from around the continent.
“We hope to be a propelling force and platform for this new age of entertainment content and create not just opportunity for individual creators with exceptional comics but a market place which would build an industry for young creators to monetize their stories and grow a fan base using our comics as a tool to export African culture and globalize our Afro lifestyle,” says Ajuluchukwu.
Like their counterparts in the US and around the world, Nigerian comic publishers have one eye on advancing their own medium with gorgeously-drawn, well-told stories and memorable characters, and one eye on the wider media potential of comics. The proximity to one of Africa’s biggest film production hubs helps, although many Nollywood feature films lean heavily on drama, action and practical effects without the big budgets that propel Hollywood blockbusters.
“We are currently in conversation with a few Nollywood and South African producers towards some adaptations, however most are still in the development stage for TV,” said Ajuluchukwu. “We also recently made a successful pitch to a mobile game studio based in Italy which would be adapting one of our VX Originals for an IOS mobile game.”
With animation becoming a growth industry around the continent, some properties are getting picked up for development as series or features. A highlight of the 2019 Lagos Comic Convention was an animated trailer for Malika: Warrior Queen - a popular graphic novel by Roye Okupe - from Lagos-based Anthill Studios.
For now, the biggest issues have to do with finance and infrastructure. Nigeria remains a rugged place to do business, although increased access to global online finance and distribution platforms is starting to help local creators and companies reach a broader audience.
“We have the skill, we have the creativity,” says Makinde. “Things are dragging because of financial issues, but creativity? The creativity is there.”
By Rob Salkowitz
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