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Tuesday, September 01, 2020 

The history of an African superhero created in the late 80s

The Tor sci-fi books and news site gives some history of Captain Africa, a creation from a Ghanian writer in 1987, that until now had been all but obscure in USA knowledge:
In September of 1988, the New York Times published an article by James Brooke, an American journalist and then bureau chief at Abidjan, Ivory Coast. “Goodbye to Tarzan,” the headline read. “Meet Captain Africa.” For many Americans—and in essence, many readers the world over—Captain Africa was the first contact with a comic and superhero written, illustrated and published by Africans domiciled on the continent. The first African #ownvoices superhero comic to go global, if you will. At the time of the New York Times article, Captain Africa had already been in publication for close to a year, but no matter. It was new, fresh, pan-African, and worthy of attention.

A few years into the 1990s, Captain Africa slowly waned, before vanishing completely. Along with its creator, Ghanaian Andy Akman, and its Nigerian publisher, African Comics Limited, almost every facet of its existence is now lost. Yet its influence on more recent superheroes from the continent lingers, and continues to shape work written and produced by its own people today. [...]

Dressed in a green suit with a map of Africa emblazoned Superman-style on his chest, Captain Africa was arguably the most popular African-created superhero in anglo West Africa during his time. A solar-powered cape enabled him superspeed flight, and his mission was simple and noble: “To fight all evil and dark forces that threaten Africa and the whole world.” Usually, these threats involved issues that affected contemporary Africans of the time—violent crimes (especially against children), and organized crime with or without government backing. On his off days, he was a successful businessman. When asked about this in the New York Times article, Akman’s response was that Africans did not trust dissent that came from those who owned little, because their protests might simply be a way to enrich themselves after deposing current oppressors. This was likely based on the still-fresh colonial handover experience, where many African countries were taken over by former dissidents who saw the new, fledgling nations as avenues for self-enrichment.

In speaking to James Brooke, the president of African Comics Limited and publisher of Captain Africa, Mbadiwe Emelumba, doubled down on the comic’s anti-colonial stance. “We have our own culture, our own heritage,” he said. “It’s important to defend against cultural colonialism.” This ethos was echoed across the board. Brooke noted how Akman focused the superhero’s exploits on urban Africa, eschewing its more recognized and globally touted rurality, to which Akman replied, “Gone are the days of Africans wearing raffia skirts. We are living in modern houses. He must be a Superman, not a Tarzan.”

Sadly, it was these same systemic issues the stories tackled that brought about the comic’s downfall. In speaking with University of Birmingham scholar Tessa Pijnaker, science fiction author Tade Thompson noted that the political turmoil and military coups in 1980s Nigeria affected the country’s relationship with the rest of the world, which together with rising corruption in the customs agency, caused import-export to dwindle. This meant comics became less accessible, and Captain Africa lost its international role and had to pivot into something more local. Vanguard Newspaper, a then avant-garde fresher in the national news market, took up the Captain Africa mantle around 1983/4 and began to publish 3-panel excerpts serially on its back page. They retitled it Kaptain Afrika to divest from the earlier comic. The Captain’s exploits remained the same, and the themes stood their ground. Somewhere within this time, the writing and illustration moved on from Akman, and by the time I read them as a child in the 90s, freelance artists hired by Vanguard Newspaper had taken over. Soon after, the serial was dropped completely, and Captain Africa was lost for good.
Well that's a shame something bearing significance as the product of a foreign country was obscured by war, to say nothing of political corruption. The topics they tackled in this comic are valid ones, something that today's mainstream fare in the US may only focus on selectively, as the leftists in charge prefer to scapegoat conservatives for all that goes wrong, yet won't hold anyone on the left accountable. Even the deeper sci-fi themes were affected in some way or other.

If there's any archives of the Capt. Africa comics, let's hope they make their way to museums so we can learn more about what literature like this was written and illustrated on the African continent. Even that's important stuff.

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Good post. Thanks for sharing.

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