If there was ever a time a superhero was needed to solve the world’s problems it would be now. Unfortunately, a “bat signal” cascading from the sky won’t resolve the mounting social problems African nations face. However, it’s comic books that are giving a voice to these issues, by turning these “narrative artwork” magazines into educational tools for those living in the Diaspora. Unlike traditional comic books where superheroes are decked out in shiny body suits with a big “S” on their chest, chasing villains that are trying to destroy the world, the characters portrayed in these illuminating comics are looking for ways to cope with the reality of theirs.
Cartoons Display Black Achievement
“Most times, it is through cartoons that many know what’s going on in the world. Take for instance the Muhammad cartoon that caused protests, riots and killings a few years back all around the world, including in Nigeria,” says, Tayo Fatunla, cartoonist and designer whose cartoons have been published in Nigeria’s Daily Times Concord and BBC Hausa educational booklet on AIDS. “How else do you want to communicate to the masses about AIDS, immunization, drugs, vaccination, drought, famine, food aid and the achievement of Africans and much more? Cartoons can educate as well as inform.”
Fatunla has been informing international readers about the contributions of Blacks in the Diaspora since the 1980s with his educational feature, “OUR ROOTS,” which appeared in the weekly magazine West Africa and became serialized in the UK and US.
“I created the educational cartoon strip on Black History, Black achievers called OUR ROOTS...[to] educate about the contribution of Black History to the world.” said Fatunla.
Introducing…. Ani-merts (Animated commercials)
In recent years, educative cartoons have literally jumped off the page and onto television screens, radio airwaves or computer monitors to reach their intended audience. Such as “Scrutinize,” a US-funded AIDS awareness campaign airing on TV in South Africa, that features captivating graphics, punchy South African slang to promote safe sex (“Flip HIV to HI victory,”), and the voices of prominent comedians in the country. The seven cartoon ads were released this spring, and funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The ads target audiences aged 18 to 32, which are looking for a new spin on an important topic.
Mandla Ndlovu, program manager of the Scrutinize campaign, told Digital Journal that this project was intended to be “something different from what people had seen before, to overcome AIDS fatigue.”
Another unique form of cartooning comes in a package that consists of a TV show and a cartoon. The popular weekly drama series Makutano Junction is about a Kenyan town and the 17 people who dwell in it. While the series reflects on the obstacles each character faces, the major focus is on the social changes that are happening in Kenya, which is illustrated in a free leaflet on the show’s Web site. The comic strip topics range from pyramid schemes to women in government and each strip provides a gray box that features facts, tips and definitions related to the theme of interest.
These Superheroes Don’t Preach
Even traditional cartoon artists are making a dynamic leap towards developmental comics that illustrate a profound message to readers. That hurdle towards social awareness and HIV/AIDS prevention was made by Robert Walker, former Marvel cartoonist and founder of “O+Men.” The New York based comic book is centered on nine superheroes that have contracted HIV through rape, drug use, unsafe sex and birth. Their mission is to seek vengeance on researchers that claimed to have an antidote, but only made the disease worse. Unlike the traditional format for educational comics—readers are presented with a scenario and the writer preaches about prevention—Walker’s comic, aimed towards audiences aged 13 and up, puts the characters in the center of conflict and readers can learn how it affects their lifestyle.
“If I had an encyclopedia about [HIV/AIDS] people wouldn’t have an interest in it. A lot of people aren’t going to a doctor’s manual or a Mister Rogers [type show], it’s not going to happen,” said Walker on the effectiveness of his comic. “People follow examples inspired by witnessing things, instead of don’t do this or don’t do that.”
Joshua Dysart, writer of “the Unknown Soldier” comic book has a similar theme. Dysart’s comic, released in the US this past spring, is about a Ugandan doctor that returns to the country that has been plagued with civil war for 15 years. The character tackles child soldiers and the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.
Collaborations with a Cause
The didactive comics in the Diaspora are a recent trend (compared to traces of comic art’s existence in Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa in 1880s according to John A. Lent, editor of Cartooning in Africa (2008, Hampton Press)) that has popped up around the Continent in the early 1990s. There is no statistical information on the number of educational comics in Africa or its impact on the continent. However, African nations have teamed up with non-governmental agencies, non-profit organizations and independent cartoonists to produce comic books that deliver social conscious messages. Lent said educational cartoons ultimate goal is gaining public responsiveness.
“The first link is making Africans aware of the problem,” said Lent. A great effort has been put forth by Africans, especially on nutrition and sanitation.” And more issues continue to be illustrated through comic books, a few are listed below.
Earlier this year, Senegalese organization Association Sénégalaise de Coopération décentralisée (ASECOD) has collaborated with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) to create “Afrique Citoyenne” a comic about the adventures of four friends tackling arranged marriages, migration and the electoral process, to ignite discussion between the Senegalese youth.
In 2006, the Johannesburg-based Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action organization, which documents the lives and history of gays and lesbians in South Africa, created the comic book entitled “Are your rights respected” about the deaf community tackling human rights and sexuality.
In 2005, SchoolNet Nambia worked with Direq International, Strika Entertainment and The Namibian Youth Paper to publish and distribute Hai Ti (Listen Up) comic book. Hai Ti focuses on computers and how teachers can use this form of technology to teach and in their personal lives.