We are honoured to be talking about comics for the first time. Comic books, though started decades ago in the US as a tool for political propaganda, have drastically moved from the political realm to a full-fledged body of art in its own rights. Comics have gained international recognition in the western world with top companies like Marvel and DC Comics through productions like Captain America, Spiderman, The Avengers, Batman, the Justice League etc. In Africa, the industry is still waking up timidly to follow the train, just like in many other domains. In the process of this wake, Nigeria is taking the lead with productions like Guardian Prime from Comic Republic, Strike Guard from Vortex Comics and E.X.O and Malika from YOUNEEK Studios. In the race for storytelling through comics, Cameroon is not left out. There have been a number of productions like “CATY,” “Laf dAfrik,” “Mulatako,” “Afro Shonen,” “Blacktrek Magazine” and the latest production, Zebra Comics.
Zebra Comics is a start-up company geared toward the mass production of Cameroonian and African stories through comics. Their first release was done in November 2017, and they have so far sold more than 400 copies. This is laudable, especially taking into consideration the fact that the Cameroonian public is not very much exposed to comics. It is usually said in Cameroon that “comics are for children” or “Tintin are for children.” This maiden production of Zebra Comics contains three titles: Aliya, Tumbu and Totem. On this month’s Art Interview Table, we have Franklin Agogho, the author of Totem and co-founder of Zebra Comics.
|ZEBRA COMICS, Issue1: Three Titles; Totem, Tumbu and Aliya.|
RP: We know this is archaic, but we will start with it anyway! Who is Franklin Agogho?
Hahaha! Yeah, it is truly archaic. Well, Agogho Franklin (as I like to put it) is a thirty year old Cameroonian who originates from Ngie, a village in Momo Division of the North West region of Cameroon. I studied English Modern Letters in the University of Yaounde 1 and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. I then moved to the International Relations Institute of Cameroon (IRIC) where I graduated with a Master’s Degree in International Relations, Specializing in International Marketing. Though professionally, I work in the domain of marketing, I have always been a story teller. I started writing stories way back in primary school and it became a true passion for me. I write short stories, poetry, movie scripts, comic book scripts and I am currently working on a Novel. Recently, in 2016, my work was recognized by the Ministry of Arts and Culture of the Republic of Cameroon when I won first prize in the National short story writing contest. Also, my short stories have won a few other prizes from international organizations. I am passionate about sports (football), books, tourism, movies, cartoons, video games and family. Agogho Franklin is not married, but hopes to be in the near future.
RP: Tell us something about Zebra Comics and its objectives.
Zebra Comics is the baby of a young artist and comic book illustrator called Ejob Nathanael Ejob who was so passionate about Comic books that he decided to create a company which will produce and sell comics in Cameroon and abroad. To make this happen, he brought together writers and artists who were going to create and illustrate stories which depict Africa in new and interesting ways. When Ejob called me and presented the project, I was immediately drawn into it as it represented something which animated my childhood and it was an opportunity to contribute significantly to the growing African comic book industry. The initiative started about one year ago and so far, Zebra Comics has published three comic book titles which are Aliya created by An Nina, Tumbu created by Ejob Nathanael and scripted by Jude Fonchenalla and Totem created by yours truly. Aliya tells the story of a young and beautiful African translator, chronicling her experiences and struggles in the African corporate world, which puts the concept of African feminism at the forefront. Tumbu on the other hand is a parody of a modern African family and its experiences vis-à-vis day to day struggles in modern day Cameroon. It could be likened to “The Simpsons,” a popular American animated series. Totem tells the story of an albino who lived in 14th Century Africa and shows his struggle for survival in a context which was unapologetic in its non-recognition of albinos as normal human beings. These titles, for a start, were published in one magazine called Zebra Comics Magazine and so far, four hundred copies have been sold.
Zebra Comics intends to continue publishing the aforementioned titles on a regular basis. But also, Zebra Comics will publish other comic book titles like “Njorku” created by Njoka Marvin Suyru, “The wrong Dial” created by Fensou Miles and “ManCraft” created by Ejob Gaius.” Graphic novels like “Eden,” “In the name of God” and “Lords of Thunder” created by Mbutoh Divine which will tell more elaborate and lengthy stories, will equally grace book shelves. At the same time, other projects like exercise books, t-shirts, toys, a literary café, video games and animated series will be launched. So, with all these taken into consideration, Zebra Comics has as objectives to tell African stories through comic books, build the reading culture in Cameroon, valorise Africa through our stories and provide employment for writers, artists and other professionals who work in the domain of the 9th art.
|Agogho Franklin, author of Totem and Co-founder of Zebra Comics.|
RP: How does the comic topography in Cameroon look like?
Encouraging! Some time ago, when I was a teenager in secondary school, the only comic books we found around were the imported Marvel comics, DC Comics, French Comics and Manga from Japan. The only African comic book around was “Kouakou” which disappeared after some time. But as time elapsed, the comic book landscape in Cameroon has witnessed a steady increase in publications from Cameroonian authors and artists. Recently, during the last Mboa BD Festival, the only Cameroonian Comic book festival which took place in Douala and Yaounde in November and December 2017, I saw dozens of high quality comic books on exposition. Comic books like “CATY” and “OUPS” by Georges Pondi, “La Vie D’Ebene Duta” by Elyons, “Mulatako” by Reine Dibussi, “Android Night” by Cedric Minlo and many others graced the shelves of the festival’s bookstore. This proliferation of publications find its raison d’etre in the rising interest in comic books and in the presence of serious publishers who are ready to accompany artists and authors in the struggle to put high quality comic books on the market. During this festival, there were at least three thousand visitors who visited exposition stands and actually bought copies of comic books on sale. In the same light, publishers like Les Editions Akoma Mba, L’Harmattan and Ifrikiya have published dozens of Cameroonian comic books which satisfy demand and encourage Cameroonians to produce more. It is true that there is still much to be done in terms of quantity and education as far as consumption of comic books is concerned. But I think, with what is happening now, the comic book landscape in contemporary Cameroon is quite encouraging.
RP: Tell us about the market and distribution channels.
The comic book market is relatively new in Cameroon and as such, it is not yet well developed. As earlier mentioned, there are a number of comic books already present on the market but for consumers to feel the seriousness of the industry, there is need for an increase in the quantity of comics on the Cameroonian market. One of the reasons why people do not know much about comic books produced in Cameroon is that they are hardly available. Distribution channels are few and not strategically placed and copies are usually limited. This, coupled with the fact that there isn’t enough marketing being done on these comic books, makes it difficult for the comics to really excel on the Cameroonian market. Out of Cameroon, especially in Europe, America and Japan, some of these Cameroonian comic books sell very well because the market is well structured and distribution channels are adequately designed and managed. But despite all these shortcomings, much is being done to ameliorate the situation. At Zebra Comics, we are doing everything to make sure readers have easy access to our books both physically and digitally.
RP: in the first edition of ZC, I see that you have three titles in one production/publication, what necessitated this? A mark of generosity?
Yes and No. Hahaha! Yes because our readers are close to our hearts and we have a responsibility to give them the best, and so the three in one magazine.
No because the three in one magazine wasn’t the initial plan of Zebra Comics. When we started off, we wanted to publish three comic book titles with three distinctive stories and adventures which were going to give readers three different facets of Africa. But since we didn’t have a publisher, coupled with the fact that a majority of staff at Zebra Comics are still students and unemployed youths, it became financially impossible for us to produce reasonable amounts of copies of the three independent stories. So, we had no choice but to put all three titles in one magazine and make it available to our readers who were already becoming impatient to read our comics which they knew about six months before release date. Interestingly, it has been very well received. Many are already waiting for the next issue. Talk of a disappointment becoming a blessing.
RP: You are the author of one of the three titles, Totem. I’ll like us to talk about Totem. Listen to this and make any comment: TOTEM!
Hahaha! Ok. Ehmm, an animal, plant, statue or any artefact which embodies the spiritual essence or incarnation of a person, group of persons or a family and serves as protection for the incarnated individual. Totemic cultures exist in different parts of the world and are usually used as spiritual connections between man and nature. It is religious practice in some parts of the world and I found it to be an interesting place from where to draw inspiration to create the Comic book title “Totem.” By the way, the totemic liaison in the comic book is quite peculiar. I encourage readers to grab a copy and discover more.
|Totem, written by Agogho Franklin, designed by E. Nathaniel Ejob|
RP: Who is (are) your ideal audience(s)?
I know that I can’t say everybody, but I wish everyone could read the comic book because it digs deep into themes which relate to everyone; identity, class struggles, war, survival, power etc. But since, to be ‘reasonable’ I need to choose an audience, I will say teenagers, adults and even middle aged individuals.
RP: what were you thinking when you came up with this story, in other words, what were your motivations?
Identity and the place of the African man in this world vis-à-vis the plan of God. Recently there has been a proliferation of wars, political unrest, underdevelopment, corruption and poverty in our African countries and I was wondering why Africa was witnessing all these despite the fact that we are greatly blessed in resources. And the answer was ‘Identity.’ Africa is going through a very deep identity crisis. Most of our countries keep turning to the west for a way out when most of our solutions are right in front of us. People still see America and Europe and even Asia as the Promised Land, as home, when home is right in front of us. So I decided to create something which could reunite us with our roots. And which better way than to do so through comic books? Comic books have the power of images which stick in our minds and spirits longer than words can, and targeting youths ensures that the future of Africa finally grasps the reality of who they are and propel Africa to the grandeur which it deserves.
RP: Would you agree that Totem suffers a lot from identity crisis?
I guess you mean Akam, the protagonist in the story. Yes, Akam obviously suffers a lot from identity crisis. As an albino who lives with his supposed mother in a mountain cave, he has no idea that the existence of his kind is a taboo to the outside world. When he comes face to face with that reality, it becomes a shock to him as his life changes from normal to scary. I really do not want to go very deep into how and why he suffers from identity crisis, because I will spoil the story. But it is clear that Akam suffers from identity crisis in “Totem.”
RP: I love the narrative language in the story, it is moving and has a lush sombre effect on the setting… can you tell me about the choice and time of the setting?
Thank you! The story begins in a small village in central Africa, in today’s North West region of Cameroon. But “Totem” will explore other settings across Africa. Readers will see the protagonist move to different places across the continent and come face to face with different cultures.
As far as time is concerned, Totem is set around the 14th century, before trans-Atlantic slave trade came into play. This time was chosen because it is the closest to our time, when the African culture hadn’t yet been subjected to foreign influence. This takes us closest to our roots by depicting African culture in its purest forms.
RP: Can you say something about the costume vis-à-vis identity fluidity that we have in Totem?
The costumes of the characters reveal how Africans dressed at that time. Commoners dressed differently from the middle class, and the middle class dressed differently from royalty. All these are depicted in Totem and helps readers identify different classes of people and even people of different professions. So, readers will easily identify a soldier when they see one, and so forth.
RP: What is your plan for Totem?
Totem is going to take readers on an unforgettable adventure. They will experience the struggles of Akam and see him go from one trial to another in different parts of Africa. At the same time they will come face to face with African traditions, rites, politics, love and religion. I think the scope and depth of Totem will make it go for well over fifty issues or publications before the story is exhausted. It is a story which can also do well as an animated series, so there are many directions in which Totem can go. Readers should therefore expect a lot of exciting stuff from Totem.
RP: When is the next release and what should the readers of Totem expect in the next sequel?
The next release of Zebra Comics Magazine will be in January 2018. Readers should expect a longer story where much more will be revealed to them. Unlike the first issue where they had just a few pages of story, the next release will give them much more. They will discover new characters, settings and plot twists.
RP: Your last words about Cameroonian comics?
First of all, let’s believe in our comic book industry. I am talking to both creators and readers. Creators should invest more time in the creation process and offer more quality works that can truly entertain and educate Cameroonian readers, and which can compete on the international market. Readers should read more of our comics and get involved in the growth of the industry because it is currently witnessing a steady growth. And I must mention that comic books can play a great role in promoting Cameroon’s country brand internationally through memorable and popular characters and stories, so it should be taken seriously. I would have called on the government to help comic book authors to excel but I think the encouragement should be geared towards creators. If we do great work, we will be recognized, one way or another.
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Rhythm Pulse © January 2018