5/30/2012

Zimbabwe: nation needs a comic hero

 
Every country has its own heroes. Zimbabwe even has a special shrine where they are buried. In Western cultures, some of the heroes are not real people, but mythical personalities created by artists to illustrate how good will always triumph over evil.
Most modern-day heroes came out of comic books whose origins can be traced back to as early as 1827 when Rudolph Topffer developed a long-running strip cartoon called “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck”.
The 40-page comic strip was republished in the United States five years later and the form of art spread across the country, resulting in the creation of “The Yellow Kid” by Richard Outcault in 1895.
Some historians consider “The Yellow Kid” as the first comic strip because it was the first to use speech bubbles within a composition instead of the captions-below-the-drawing style that came before it, but whatever the case the history of comics dates back to the 1800s.
Though the word “comic” would suggest that they are meant to be funny, few comic books or strips are created for comic relief.  Rather, comics normally tell a story using a dominant “hero” or main character as he/she solves a problem affecting a vulnerable society.  Because the powers of the main character are used for good, the moral value of a comic book cannot be underestimated.
The stories of Zimbabwe’s heroes and heroines are always either written in books or recreated as movies and there is in most instances influences from outsiders who hardly understand the cultures and way of life of Zimbabweans.
The country’s liberation struggle is sometimes negatively portrayed in books and movies as acts by of rape, torture and several other atrocities by the very same people that eventually freed Zimbabweans from bondage.
But when speaking to any Zimbabwean war veteran, one would hear interesting stories of courage, commitment and sacrifice.
Others have mythical stories to tell, most about how God or the country’s traditional spirits aided the nationalists to topple a colonial regime.
Those are the kind of stories that comic books are made of, yet no Zimbabwean artists have dared to recreate some of them. The hesitation is quite understandable, though.
Zimbabwe has very few professional cartoonists. There are less than 10 known professional cartoonists and most of them are full-time employees at various media houses and that is a problem. Most would get a standard salary and nothing more should their output increase.
That perhaps would explain why most of Zimbabwe’s strip cartoons, notably “Chikwama” and “Nyati” have disappeared from the mainstream media. In these trying times, cartoonists would use the spare time to work on other “income-generating projects”.
The comic book idea would certainly not be the most attractive for two reasons. It is uncharted territory and its impact on Zimbabweans is largely unknown.
Secondly, comics are very time-consuming because every frame is well detailed with action-packed movements in the foreground and well defined backgrounds behind them. One would have to be sure of the returns before investing loads of time in the venture.
But the Zimbabwean story still needs to be illustrated, particularly now that there is lots of interest in whatever is happening in the country and just as much unverifiable information on the web.
Comics have an advantage over data presentations because they employ both text and images and the combination is so powerful that they have the ability to capture the imagination of a reader more than anything else.
Marvel and DC comics creations such as Spiderman, Batman, X-men and Superman have created such vivid memories for their readers that motion pictures have been made, and some of them have been well received locally.
A lot of children can be seen walking around donning Spiderman t-shirts. It is possible that locally generated characters can attract the same appeal. The problem is that no one has presented the public with a comic hero that they identify with.
Recently, Jamaican musician Ziggy Marley collaborated with one artist to bring to life “Marijuanaman” — a Caribbean superhero that fights crime and educates the youths about the importance of education and self-reliance.
Spiderman would never do the same, because he was created in a Western culture that has different ethos and relates much less to ways of in third world countries.
It is not just the United States that has the comic culture. French comics, referred to as BDs as an abbreviation to “bande dessinees”, literary translating to “the drawn strips” have a long and rich history.
In Europe, Dutch, English, Belgian and Italian comics have proved to be popular. Japanese equivalent to American comics, called “Manga”, are more culturally inclined to the Asian country’s way of life and consequently get more respect both as an art form and a part of the popular culture.  A good number of “Manga” comics get adapted into television shows, movies or series, underlying their importance as cultural artifacts.

Comics in any country are seen as drivers of cultural messages that may be used to both educate and entertain.  They show the youth that if evil exists, there will always be an opposing force standing for the good that would always win. Recent media reports show how many youths have resorted to illegal activities, including murder to resolve differences.

A Zimbabwean comic hero would give them someone to look up to.
By Knowledge MushoweThe Herald (Zimbabwe)