West African Superheroes Gain Popularity

 

Various comic book studios have emerged, bringing West African storytelling to the forefront of the industry. Based in Lagos (Nigeria), Vortex Comics create comics and cartoons connected to African culture. Somto Ajuluchukwu founded the company in 2013.

In an interview with OkayAfrica, he said, “(I) felt like African stories needed to be told. It was important that we expose our culture.”

Since its inception, the company has released five individual titles and 15 comic books. The franchise superhero comic book “Strike Guard” merges Yoruba tradition with a contemporary setting.

The Nigerian publishing house Comic Republic has followed a similar path, diversifying superhero standards. Comic Republic has a catalogue of characters and titles that don’t comply with standard ideas of how a superhero should look. The Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Comic Republic, Jide Martin, said, “I don’t think Africa and Africans are well represented in mainstream Western comics. That is why we are here…to give us a place in this genre and to show the world what Africans are capable of.” Fans have dubbed the company’s cast of superheroes the “African Avengers”. Some of the characters include Guardian Prime, a fashion designer with extraordinary strength and Hilda Avonomemi Moses, a woman from a rural village in Edo State with the ability to see spirits.

Both companies give young and older readers an opportunity to see characters who look like them and experience their culture in a fictional world.

Africa’s comic book industry is moving with full force as more companies embrace this medium of storytelling. Comic Republic and Vortex Comics are just two examples of the continent’s illustrative ingenuity. Leti Arts is the company behind the comic book series, “The True Ananse”. Based on the folklore legend Kweku Ananse from Ghana, the comic recreates this story, depicting Ananse as a superhero in contemporary Africa. Leti Arts have also made a significant impact on Africa’s gaming industry. Taking a more futuristic approach, YouNeek Studios made E.X.O., a comic set in 2025. Published in 2015, this science fiction tale is about redemption. Wale Williams, the protagonist, inherits a suit with powers and embarks on a mission to find his missing father.

The presence of black heroes and superheroes has developed over the years. The first hero of African descent appeared in newspaper stripes during the 1930s. Lothar was Prince of the Seven Nations, a superpower involved in global politics. He was equipped with superpowers and now appears in The Secret of Mandrake, a comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment Comics. During the 1960s, Dell Comics created Lobo, the first African American hero with his own series in the West. King T’Challa from “The Black Panther” was Marvel’s first African superhero, making his debut in “The Fantastic Four” in 1966.

Originating from the technologically-advanced country Wakanda, the eponymous king protects his country, which is fuelled by a powerful metal called vibranium. “The Black Panther” is still relevant today and its recent explosion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has stirred-up a greater desire for African superheroes. Earlier on in the year, Marvel commissioned award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor to write a three-part comic book series called “Wakanda Forever” based on the all-female guards, the Dora Milaje. Other characters such as Storm (Marvel), Vixen (DC), Cyborg (DC) and Blade (Marvel) gave readers superheroes far-removed from the typical Western characterisation of a superhero.

It has taken decades for black superheroes to find a place in the mainstream superhero universe, but more writers and illustrators are now dedicating their talents to Africa’s comic book landscape. Searching high and low to find a black character in a comic book is nowadays less of an issue.