While I visited Nigeria this past Christmas, I was awed by how much the local arts and entertainment industry had grown. Nollywood keeps soaring to the second biggest movie industry in the world, and likewise the growth of the comics industry in Nigeria is remarkable.
As a Nigerian secondary school student, the only Nigerian comics I knew about were the political cartoons in the newspapers, and Supa Strikas, a football (soccer) themed comic that soon lost its unique Nigerian identity after being purchased by a South African company and receiving mass corporate sponsorship (Nigerian protagonist, Segun “Shegs” Okoro became the South African Vusi “Shakes” Mokena, or Shakes North in the animated series).
Today, we have a wide range of Nigerian comic book creators telling the stories of Nigerians to a global audience in comic book format. Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor, has created works about Nigerians with Marvel’s Venomverse anthology, LaGuardia, and is currently co-creating Antar: the Black Knight with illustrator Eric Battle (out in 2019). Meanwhile, there are many publishers like YouNeek Studios, Mad! Comics Nigeria, Epoch Comics, WildFire, Taniart Conceptz, ShadowBlack Comics and more, who tell the stories of Nigerian superheroes, often in afrofuturistic worlds, internationally. There are also numerous Nigerian webcomics, such as Awonda, Awele Emili, Crasher Comics, Vortex247, Obaranda and St. Wosh whose subjects range from everyday narratives to mythological worlds to surreal satire— and much more, often using social media as a platform for their work. Even Wale Adenuga, one of Nigeria’s comic pioneers, has not been left out of this movement. After years of his iconic characters from Ikebe Super and Superstory like Papa Ajasco and Binta finding success on the television screen, he has decided to revive them in comic form with the Nnenna and Friends Cartoon Magazine. However, one of the major catalysts of the growth of the Nigerian comic book culture has been the Comic Republic, which is why I had to visit the company before returning to Canada.
Established six years ago, Comic Republic is the brainchild of Jide Martin, who serves as the CEO of the publishing company. When I spoke with Martin during my visit, he mentioned growing up with superheroes and comic book icons, often asking himself, “What will Superman, Batman or Spiderman do?”, when making decisions. He explained some of his motivations for producing comics narratives; noticing what seemed to be a “just be yourself” attitude as a substitute for moral conviction amongst today’s youth, Martin decided to use comics as a medium to share some of the values that he grew up with. With the mainstream recognition of superhero movies and television adaptations of once obscure comic-book heroes, the timing could not be more perfect.
“This is the time for superheroes,” Martin stated, during our talk. Beginning with Guardian Prime, Martin and the staff at Comic Republic have created a roster of Nigerian heroes encompassing the genres of superhero, horror, science fiction, fantasy and folklore. In addition to creating a Nigerian answer to the DCU, or Marvel Universe, CR has also worked to increase Nigeria’s geek and fandom culture by participating in the Lagos Comic Con, and even creating and hosting the two-year old, Comics Connect Africa convention. They also collaborate with international comic book publishers and are working on animated Guardian Prime project. In doing so, they not only share the moral and entertainment values of superheroes with Nigerian youth today, but also portray a different and more authentic representation of Nigerians for the world to see.
As much as I would have preferred to bring more to Canada with me, these (pictured below) were the seven single issues I chose for CCOL’s collection
Reading these comics as a Nigerian, I enjoyed seeing the distinct Nigerian identity with use of Nigerian expressions and languages (Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Pidgin). The writers’ explanations at the bottom of the panel go a long way to stop readers from getting lost. In addition, it was a pleasure seeing Nigerian folklore, mythology and history being celebrated and weaved together organically. While I have mentioned a few above, Eru impressed me with the inclusion of historical figures like Amina of Zaria, and the depictions of urban legends like the Ojuju Kalaba, Paleman and Lady Koi Koi. The rise of the Nigerian comics industry is more than merely capitalizing on the mainstream acceptance of superheroes, it is a way to expand upon and correct what has been a limited representation of black and African characters, and celebrate the rich African culture in creative form. For this reason, Comic Republic and other Nigerian comics creators should be celebrated as current makers of black history.
Guardian Prime: Genesis #3 (Wale Awelenje and Jeffrey Oyem) and Might of Guardian Prime #9 (Wale Awelenje and Stanley Obende): From my understanding of Comic Republic, Guardian Prime is the publisher’s answer to Superman, being both the first character and the greatest hero in the comic universe. The hero, Tunde Jaiye is described as the embodiment of the fifth element (water, fire, earth, air, and the perfect man “as God intended him to be”) born to the human race every 2000 years. Another thing Guardian Prime has in common with Superman, at least the New 52 version is the fact that he has one comic primarily centered in the present day (Might), and another dealing with his past origins as a superhero (Genesis, through parallel storytelling between the present day and two years ago). Martin explained to me that the aim of Guardian Prime as the fifth element was to promote the idea of faith in yourself, and that is a common theme that I saw in Genesis’ parallel stories which depicted Guardian Prime using faith to save characters from vehicular disasters. While the issue was more of a rescue mission story, the impression I got from the ending, without giving much away, is the set up to a character introduction that might expand more on the hero’s origins. The issue of Might, which is set in present-day U.S, sees our hero team up with The Extremes to save another hero, Union Guard, from Eevruwih, avatar of aggression. When the avatar attempts to take the blood of Orlando citizens, our hero risks a war with the United States and other avatars by fighting Eevruwih. While an entertaining and action packed read, one thing that really caught my attention was the way Obende uses his art to convey action and battle scenes in a way neither words nor onomatopoeia can do. This is definitely something I would recommend for fans of Superman or Wonder Woman.
CCOL Catalogue: Ireti: Bidemi #3
Ireti: Bidemi #3 (Michael Balogun and Adeleye Yussuf): This comic tells the story of Bidemi Ogunde, an archeology student by day, and Ibadan’s crime-fighting superhero by night. She seems to possess similar powers to the legendary Ireti Moremi, a warrior of the Ife Kingdom in Yorubaland. This issue is new-reader friendly, as it introduces her first villain Ake, who, with his gang kidnaps her mother. For anyone who has read or watched a hero’s first encounter with the “big bad”, you cannot help but feel for our heroine as she struggles to take him down. Although Balogun describes her as “Deadpool-ish”, I would recommend this to Spider-Man fans.
CCOL Catalogue: Eru #6
Eru #6 (Tobe Max Ezeogu and Ozo Ezeogu): This horror comic tells the tale of Eric Kukoyi, the vessel of the entity of fear, a centuries old entity with a thousand names and forms, now known as Eru. This issue drew parallels between Eric, and Count Dracula himself. Ezeogu’s art and coloring contributes to the horror atmosphere. While reading this, I got the impression that people who like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, urban fantasy, or horror comics, would like this too.
CCOL Catalogue: Amadioha #1
Amadioha #1 (Tobe Max Ezeogu and Kelechi Isaac Nwaogwugwu): This comic follows Kalu Akanu, a single father living with his daughter, and familiar in Port Harcourt. Akanu is actually Kamalu Ofufe A.K.A Amadioha, an Igbo god (alusi) of thunder and lightning, who chose to live as a human. The debut issue seemingly portrays a mundane morning in the home of a father, his young daughter and talking stuffed animal, Akanu’s inner monologues and the talking animal lets the reader know that this is anything but a mundane family. As the reader leaves the Akanu home, we and our protagonist discover that while he has been away, his realm, Eluigwe has been endangered, threatening the fates of his reality and the worlds beyond. While I would compare Amadioha to Thor in terms of power, I would argue that the single fatherhood adds a unique dimension to the character, and cannot help but think of Digimon and Magical Girls series because of the little girl and the familiar. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of the aforementioned works.
CCOL Catalogue: Itan #2
Itan #2 (Ayo Jaiyesimi and Stanley Obende): This collaborative work between Comic Republic and Thespian Family Theatre Productions, tells an ancient story handed down from generation to generation about the heroes and heroines of Ajule and how they intervened with Agbaye. Rooted in Yoruba folklore, this issue presents the realm of Agbaye as one characterized by beauty and peace. However, such perfection cannot last long, and we begin to see the onset of anarchy and chaos, as caused by two characters. Itan is the type of comic I would recommend for those who like secondary worlds, folklore, and stories about gods or anthropomorphic personification. Just like with Guardian Prime, Obende’s art does a good job of depicting the action-filled/battle scenes.
CCOL Catalogue: Galactic Core #1
Galactic Core #1 (Emmanuel Ozor): This sci-fi/space opera takes place in the aftermath of a Great Galactic War where thousands of human and alien civilizations were left in a state of chaos. This debut issue depicts such chaos as a Natalite alien princess lands on the planet Q’bi 4 while on the run from Commander Tariks and his Watu-Mutilon Raptors. Tariks attacks the planet to catch his prey, only to be foiled by a superteam known as the Galactic Corps. While this issue was mostly action-packed, it does a good job of introducing readers to the Galactic Corps team and their powers, the planet Q’bi 4 and the city of Ch’yuli. While the characters are not necessarily Nigerian, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes space opera, science fiction or afro futurist works.