In the world of superheroes, characters of colour are few. Even worse, the incorporation of their ethnic cultures, if identified, is subpar.
But Comic Republic, a Nigerian start-up based in Lagos, is creating a world of genuine and uniquely African superheroes.
Debuting in 2013, Comic Republic’s flagship character is Guardian Prime, the protector of the human race.
“He’s really just based on faith in self. Basically, we’re trying to say: ‘Look, if you believe that you can do anything, then you can,’” said Comic Republic chief executive Jide Martin.
“The only limit there is that which you set for yourself … which is the premise of his power. He’s like the fifth element. We call him the hand of God. And he’s only as strong, or as fast or as invulnerable, as he believes he is.”
All of Martin’s characters are rooted in morality, which he says is aimed at getting back to the basics of heroism. “We are starting to forget what it means to be human – or we don’t value being good, being just. And it’s because our orientation has changed,” says Martin.
“Even comics nowadays, from the main producers, are starting to lose that sense. In general, we try to make sure that all our heroes end up with a good moral ending that says: ‘Do good, be good and life will be good to you.’”
Unlike Marvel’s Black Panther, who hails from the fictional African country of Wakanda, Martin’s characters are truly African born and bred.
For example, Eric Kukoyi is a lecturer at the University of Lagos who also works part time as a psychiatrist and parapsychologist. At night he fights crime, becoming Eru, short for iberu, which means “fear” in Yoruba.
“[He is] the essence of fear trapped in a man,” says Martin.
Ireti, which means “hope” in Yoruba, is the product of a deal between a Yoruba king and a deity. She grows up to be a great warrior with superhuman powers, leading armies, conquering enemy kingdoms and serving as protector of her tribe.
Hoping to increase comic reading in Nigeria, Comic Republic has made its comics available for free download on its website, thecomicrepublic.com.
The company started with 100 downloads for its first issue and went up to 300 after the first month. A recent count showed 38 000 downloads for the last issue.
But Martin believes the number of people who have read the comics could be higher because they are widely shared.
“For the past one year, our fan base has been increasing steadily … This year we just suddenly hit the media and the world just loves us. It’s been amazing, actually,” says Martin.
Readership is about 40% from the United States, 30% from Nigeria and 20% from Europe, and the rest of the world shares the remaining 10%.
To make money, Comic Republic takes on side projects with various organisations. In 2015, it worked with the organisers of the African Future awards, drawing all 55 nominees as superheroes.
It is involved in an ongoing project with a nongovernmental organisation dealing with malaria education, creating a special booklet with superheroes battling malaria and teaching people how to combat it.
The start-up has done similar work for a pharmacy and a trading website.
Fans have dubbed Comic Republic’s cast of characters “Africa’s Avengers” and Martin hopes that one day they’ll be just as big as the Marvel team.
“I’m hoping that we become a household name like the ‘big two’. I mean, I’m hoping that when people want to talk about comics, they go: ‘Comic Republic, DC and Marvel,’” he says. “I’m hoping kids will be able to say: ‘What would Guardian Prime do?’” – globalvoices.org