An inventory of the comic strip in Africa

By Hilaire Mbiye Lumbala

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One might be tempted to believe from comic strip reference books that Africa has no locally produced comic strips as no mention is made of them. This is the case, for example, in Histoire mondiale de la BD (World History of Comic Strips) and the Dictionnaire de la BD (Dictionary of Comic Strips). And yet, authentically African comic strips have existed in certain countries for thirty years.

There is no longer any doubt about it. African comic books are a reality today. They exists, are sold, are read. They have become the object of several organizations and events (associations, congresses, prizes, fairs, festivals, exhibitions, research work…). They, just as elsewhere else, have their heroes. Yrmoaga in Burkina Faso; Zoba Moke in Congo; Mata Mata and Pili Pili, Apolosa, Mohuta and Mapeka in DRC; Dago and Monsieur Zézé in Côte d’Ivoire; Bibeng and Tita Abessolo in Gabon; Tekoué in the Central African Republic; Boy Melakh and Goorgoolou in Senegal can all be cited as examples.
The world of the African comic strip will be briefly presented here by highlighting the apportioning of the work on the one hand (publishers, authors, and associations), and the production machine on the other (magazines, fairs, exhibitions, festivals).
The publishers
We are all aware of the role publishers play in institutionalizing comic books or literature in general. Publishing difficulties face everyone in Africa: financial difficulties and poor distribution make African comic books even more over-dependent on abroad. These are the main hurdles for publishing’s development in Africa.
In spite of these difficulties, several publishing houses have launched into the adventure of publishing African comic books. In Europe: L’Harmattan, Segedo in France; Eur-Af Editions in Belgium. In Africa: Ed. CLE (Yaoundé), Nouvelles Editions Africaines (Dakar and Lomé), Nouvelles Editions Ivoiriennes (Abidjan), Medias Pau, ex- Ed. St. Paul (Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Kisangani), Afrique Editions (Kinshasa), Achka (Libreville), Inter Afrique Presse (Abidjan), Horaka (Antananarivo), Sogedit (Dakar), Archevêché de Bangui et Mission de coopération française (Bangui), etc. This list is not exhaustive as, due to poor distribution, it is impossible for us to gather data on the comic book situation in all the French-speaking countries.
The authors
The term author is applied without distinction to artists and writers who have published or continue to publish works destined for Africa. We can distinguish between three categories of author who correspond to three types of comic book found in Africa: comic books produced by Europeans, mixed (hybrid) comic books co-produced by Europeans and Africans, and comic books produced by Africans.
European authors for an African public
These are generally European authors whose works do not feature in the European comic book catalogue, and which are distributed exclusively in Africa to an African public. Examples include writer and artist Serge Saint-Michel and B. Duffossé who ran the now defunct Calao and Kouakou magazines for a number of years.
The co-signatories
Co-produced works destined specifically for Africans, combining the work of a European and an African, give mixed comic books characterized by the fusion of « northern thought » and « southern artwork ». Several examples include: in Côte d’Ivoire, Maïga (the Frenchman Labo) joint-wrote Les aventures de Dago with Apolos; the French Bréal and Karul (writers) published Quand les flamboyants fleurissent and Les Blancs dépérissent together with the Ivoirian artist Salia (L’Harmattan). In the Central African Republic, Ph. Garbal and B. Nambana co-signed La chaîne et l’anneau. The Congolese Barly Baruti published two series in France with the French writer Franck Giroud: Eva K. and Mandrill.
Co-production is not a bad thing in itself, because it allows African artists to express themselves and, as a result, to be recognized by certain authorities interested in comic strips. The danger is the risk of letting old cliches and stereotypes of Africa and the African slip by.
African talents
They are authors who work in an autonomous manner, and who publish highly original works: comic books by Africans, at times with African means, for Africans, and which can be catalogued as an African form of expression!
Several figures have emerged thanks to the quality of their work. Examples include: in Burkina Faso: Raya Sawadogo (Yirmoaga) and A. Kiba (Maître Kanon). In Congo-Brazzaville, associated with the newspaper Ngouvou (J. Bhain, Bob Salco, J. Bindika, G. Bamba, Y. Kandza, C. Mambou and Ken), and T. Lokok who publishes Zoba Moke in La Semaine africaine. In Côte d’Ivoire: Salia (Folbay), Lacombe (Monsieur Zézé), Mïgas and Apolos (Dago). In Gabon: Hans Kwaaitaal (Bibeng), Laurent Levigot, alias Richard Amvame-Memiaghes (Tita Abessolo). In the Central African Republic: O. Bakouta-Batakpa (Tatara, with his famous character Tekoué). In the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Boyau (Apolosa), Mongo Sissé (Mata Mata et Pili Pili), Barly Baruti (Mohuta and Mapeka), Tchibemaba Ngandou (Cap sur la capitale), Assimba Bathy, Lepa Mabila Saye, and all the upcoming young garde, namely Thembo, Makonga, Pat Masioni, Fifi Mukuna, Luva, Badika, etc. In Madagascar, R. Rabesondranata, Aimé Razafy, Anselme Ramiandrisoa Ratsavalka, Lawrence Ralimihanta, Christian Bazafindrakoto. In Senegal: Sambal Fall (L’ombre de Boy Melach et Sangomar), Salioune Sene (Keur Bougouma and Le Marabout de Bari Xam-Xam), T. T. Fons (Pour la dépense quotidienne, Goorgoorlou et Séringe Maramokho Guissane, and L’année Goorgoorlou), Ibrahim Mbengue (Maxureja Gey, chauffeur de taxi), S.-P. Kiba (Les aventures de Lieutenant Hann).
This list is far from being exhaustive as poor distribution clearly does not enable us to gain access to all the information on African comic books.
The associations
To promote comic books, certain comic strip artists, fans or experts have joined together in associations whose main objective is to promote the comic strip in all its forms in an effort to assure young people’s cultural, social and intellectual fulfillment. They also aim to set up workshops in order to teach young people the techniques and language of the comic strip.
In Madagascar, the following associations have thus been set up: A MI or Artista Mioray (associated artists), run by R. Rabesandratana in collaboration with graphic narration specialists such as R. Max, Roddy, Barry; ABEDEMA (Association of Madagascan comic strip artists), set up in 1985 under the direction of Razafy and A. Ramiandrisoa after the Nairobi festival (it was ABEDEMA who published Sarigasy and Le Cri du margouillat); SOIMANGA (the little Madagascan passerine bird whose male has blue-tinted feathers), an association set up in 1987 by A. Ramiandrisoa and whose objective is to promote the comic strip and the image.
In DRC, the Création recherche initiation à l’art (CRIA), the only and recent association, which has actually become a comic strip school, was set up in Kinshasa in 1990 around Barly Baruti, and is now renamed the Atelier de la création, recherche et initiation à l’art (ACRIA).
The production machine
Comic books
In Europe, Segedo published Calao and Kouakou (Paris), in which certain African artists published several strips, usually on the back cover. In Africa, several magazines exist (or existed):
Cocotier: a bimonthly magazine created in 1985 by Hans Kwaaaitaal, only five issues of which were published. Cocotier has now become a publishing house, Achka, which publishes the « Collection équateur ». In 1977, BDBoom, Magazine explosif des bandes dessinés was born.
Côte d’Ivoire
It was newspapers such as Ivoire Dimanche and Fraternité Matin which started publishing comic strips. The magazines came later, for example Zazou, created in 1979, and which only lasted ten issues.
Central African Republic
Three magazines worth noting: Tatara, Balao, and Dounia. Tatara (‘mirror’ in Sango), Journal de la lutte contre les mauvaises moeurs de la société (Magazine for the fight against society’s low morals), has been published by the Archbishop of Bangui since 1985. There have been twelve issues. Balao, created in 1985 with the backing of the French Cultural Centre in Bangui; and Dounia, Le journal des Jeunes, written by youngsters from the Notre Dame d’Afrique and published with the backing of the Archbishop of Bangui.
Fararano-Gazety, set up in 1981, is published by the Madagascan Book Bureau. BD Madagasikara, distributed by Editions Alpha since 1986. Sarigasy, renamed Sarigasmes, run by the artists Anselme Ramiandrisoa and Aimé Razafy. Also worth noting is the existence of a magazine born out of an international event, produced with the collaboration of a group of artists from the Indian Ocean whose headquarters are based in the Reunion Island: Cri du margouillat, created in 1986, which has just stopped being produced, but which is being replaced with a new formula.
You have to go back to 1959, the year the paper Antilope (Sambole) was set up by Editions St Paul, in which A. Mongita published « Mukwapamba », illustrated by Lorofi. In 1968, Jeunes pour jeunes was created, renamed Kake in 1971, published by Achille-Flor Ngoie and Freddy Mulongo. In 1985, Mongo Sissé launched Bédé Afrique, Magazine panafricaine de la BD, which folded after just a few issues. In 1990, under the direction of Baruti, ACRIA published Afro BD. Four issues were published, featuring artists such as Pat Masioni, Kash, Makonga, N. Baruti and R. Kasuku (a Belgian whose real name is R. Henrard). It has now been replaced by Africanissimo, produced by a new generation of authors such as Kaddy, Hallain Paluku, or Daddy. Bleu-Blanc also exists, featuring young artists such as E. Sala. Other magazines such as Yaya, Disco-magazine, Bilenge or Mfumu’eto also exist.
In addition to the comic strip magazines, Zaïre-Hebdo publishes episodes of Mongo Sissé’s Les aventures de Mata Mata et Pili Pili in its « Notre feuilleton » column. From September 1972 to December 1975, three titles were published: Le Chèque, La Médaille d’or and La poudre de chasse.
The ex-Zaïrian Kizito and Tshilommbo Muzee published Nyota du firmament and Les aventures de Mwifi et Odzaza in Ngouvou (cf. Africultures nº 22 for an article on the history of Ngouvou).
The children’s general-interest monthly magazine, Gringrin, publishes comic strips.
Sahibi, idem.
Fairs and exhibitions
Here we are referring to both national and international events where African comic books’ presence has been both real and noticeable. Without claiming to be exhaustive, here are some of them:
– 1983: the first comic book seminar organized by Fararano-Gazezy in Antananarivo (Madagascar).
– 1984: operation comic strip launched by the Albert Camus Cultural Centre in Antananarivo, followed by a comic strip competition on the theme of « Adventures in the Indian Ocean ». Thirty-six works were entered, and the best were published by SEGEDO (Paris) in an album in 1985, which was exhibited at the Angoulême fair (France) in 1986.
– 1985: The African comic strip festival in Nairobi (Kenya). French-speaking artists (Madagascan) participated, one of whom won the first prize: the cartoonist Anselme Ramiandrisoa.
– 1986: a) African participation at the Angoulême international comic book fair. Presence of an « Africa and Indian Ocean » stand: three Madagascan cartoon artists exhibited their work, the album produced after the 1984 competition, and the work of other absent artists.
b) Comic strip exhibition at the Technical and Economic Information Centre, under the auspices of the French Cooperation and Cultural Action Mission in Antananarivo during the 2nd Visual Arts Festival.
c) Comic strip competition joint-organized in Kinshasa by the OZRT (Zaïrian radio and television company) and the French Cultural Centre on the theme of « Kinshasa my town ».
– 1988: a) Barly Baruti, the Zaïrian cartoon artist participates in the Angoulême festival thanks to a prize awarded by Editions Casterman during a comic strip exhibition held in Kinshasa.
b) The newspaper Balao‘s big comic strip competition, and the Bangui French Cultural Centre’s comic strip workshop on the theme of « How would you like to live in the year 2000? ». This competition gave rise to a local publication.
– 1989: Comic strip exhibition in Antananarivo held by the Germano-Madagascan Centre.
– 1990: a) Mini caricature festival in Antananarivo.
b) Comic strip and illustrated tales exhibition at the Kinshasa French Cultural Centre and a comic strip competition held by Création, recherche et initiation à l’art (CRIA), in the same place, on the theme of « Transport ».
c) Barly Baruti participates at the Grenoble comic strip fair in France.
– 1991: The 1st African Comic Strip and Children’s Reading Fair held in Kinshasa, organized by the CRIA with the backing of the French Cultural Centre, the Wallonie-Bruxelles Centre, the Belgian French community, and the Zaïrian Ministry of Culture.
– 1992: a) « Cases africaines » exhibition held in Brussels, organized by the Centre belge de la bande dessiné (Belgian comic strip centre), with works exhibited from the 1st Kinshasa fair.
b) Zaïrian comic strip exhibition and activities on the « Africa » stand at the 6th Durbuy International Comic Strip Festival (Belgium). Participation in this festival each time it is held.
– 1996: a) The « a dinner in Kinshasa » competition is organized by ASBL Ti suka (Brussels) and the Belgian comic strip centre, with two juries, one in Kinshasa, the other in Brussels.
b) A competition for Congolese comic strip artists is held on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Wallonie-Bruxelles centre (Kinshasa) and the centenary of the comic strip (1896-1996).
– 1997: Comic strip exhibition at the Wallonie-Bruxelles centre in Kinshasa, organized by ACRIA in collaboration with the Wallonie-Bruxelles centre and with the backing of ABSL Ti suka (Brussels). 33 artists exhibit their strips, notably Thembo Kash, Pat Masioni, Mfumu’eto, Badika, Kozele, Fifi Mukuna, Poyimba Masolo, etc.
– 1998: a) The magazine BDBoom holds a competition open to all hitherto unpublished comic strip artists living in Gabon.
b) 1st African comic strip festival (JABD) held at the Saint-Exupéry French Cultural Centre in Libreville, from 20 to 24 October.
– 1999: a) ACRIA organizes the 2nd African Comic Strip and Children’s Reading Fair in Kinshasa, from 19 to 26 August. On the fringe of this fair, ACRIA holds a competition open to amateur or semi-professional comic strip artists and writers, both Congolese nationals and foreigners living in the DRC, on the themes of « Objective 2000 ».
b) 2nd African Comic Strip Fair (JABD) at the Saint-Exupéry French Cultural Centre in Libreville, from 23 to 27 November.
– 2000: a) International symposium on the African comic strip, on the theme of « The African Comic Book, its discourse and its problems », from 20 to 23 September in Kinshasa. This symposium comes just before the 3rd African Comic Strip and Children’s Reading Fair, from 23 to 8 October.
b) 3rd African Comic Strip Festival (JABD) in Libreville, from 6 to 9 December.
The African comic strip was born and has developed in a context marked by questions of African cultural identity and by the shock caused by the meeting of African and Western cultures. And, as V. Defourny testifies, « mid-way between oral and written, representative and symbolic forms of expression, the comic strip, with its own language, is situated at a crossroads ». It of course comes in different formats: illustrations in daily papers, strips in magazines, complete albums or compilations, is published in French or in the local languages, covers different genres: tales and oral narratives, the biographical, didactic, funny, historic, religious (biblical, biographical and hagiograpical) comic strip, etc. But it exists!

///Article N° : 5470


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