Review: ‘Bayajidda: An African Legend’ by Claude Opara and Ibrahim Yakubu
Our reviewer describes ‘Bayajidda: An African Legend’ by Claude Opara and Ibrahim Yakubu as ‘a fantastic, thought-provoking read’. Read more for his insightful views on a retelling of a Hausa legend.
By Farid Obineche
A fantastic, thought-provoking read for this Nigerian comic fan at a time when Northern Nigeria is perhaps as firmly established in the global consciousness as it ever has been. Predating Netflix’s well-received Queen Amina film by four years, Bayajidda tells the fascinating story of the legendary founder of the Hausa kingdom.
Linking the Hausa foundation story back to the Royal House of Baghdad, and beyond to ancient Persia is a common thread in the etymology of many Northern African cultures and an interesting one to see examined, and illustrated in this way.
Though rich with historical facts and cultural anchors the story remains very accessible and is a valuable addition to both comic lore and popular historical entertainment on a few levels. First the purely historical, where it illuminates a little-known progenitor story of an important African tribal nation.
“Linking the Hausa foundation story back to the Royal House of Baghdad, and beyond to ancient Persia is a common thread in the etymology of many Northern African cultures and an interesting one to see examined, and illustrated in this way.”_____________________________________________________________________________________________
It also provides a delightful religio-cultural context to many areas of contemporary Hausa culture. Dan Iska, a term that literally translates to ‘Son of the Wind’ which in contemporary Hausa is widely – and lightly – used to mean ‘rascal’ is personified as a mischievous but well-intentioned imp-like dust devil that aids our protagonist on his adventure in the funniest of ways.
Both tales possess strikingly similar motifs of a righteous prince proving his mettle to his father by traveling through strange desert lands, a monstrous serpent, and sandstorms that confound pursuers. Both heroes are gifted a magical blade by a mysterious group of hooded guardians who have long prophesied the hero’s arrival. In both stories, the dagger is key to their eventual triumph.
Throw in another classic Herbert reference of a swarm of attacking rats and one wonders how much modern Western fiction takes our cultural histories as inspiration, even as we neglect those histories – and in Nigeria even the very idea of history – ourselves.
The parallels between an ancient Borno Empire whose citizens cower in hiding from marauders and the contemporary privations of bandit-run Borno State are unmissable and thought-provoking. Political and military machinations through ancient and modern times have meant the denizens of these states still live in conditions that have not improved in centuries.
Also, the poignant and fascinating inclusion of the water well and sword from the legend is as amazing as it is depressing. How many young Nigerians will ever be able to see these sites and objects imbued with legend and history?
Opara’s excellent comic – the first in his African Legend series – did a great job of introducing an important, entertaining story to the general public and sets the scene for foundation legends of the myriad Nigerian and African pre-colonial nations.
Obineche is the Creative Director of Shoreditch Townhouse, London
‘Bayajidda: An African Legend’, written by Claude Opara and illustrated by Ibrahim Yakubu, is published by African Legends Series, is available on Amazon (Kindle and paperback) in both English, and French.
Why Nigerian comics are taking the world by storm
Over the past few years, Nigerian comic books have been making waves in the global comic book industry. From their unique storytelling style to their stunning artwork, are being celebrated for their authenticity. What’s the reason for this tour de force?
By Mariam Abdullahi
Nigerian comic books are breaking new ground in terms of representation. For years, the comic books available to readers have been dominated by Western superheroes, with little room for diversity. Nigerian comic books, on the other hand, showcase a wide range of characters, from traditional folklore heroes to contemporary superheroes. These characters are not only diverse in terms of race and ethnicity but also in terms of gender.
This diversity is refreshing and exciting, as it provides a space for underrepresented voices to be heard. One very good example is the YouNeek Universe’s array of titles, like ‘Malika’, ‘E.X.O’, and ‘Iyanu: Child of Wonder’ (currently being developed as an animated series for Cartoon Network). Most recently, Comic Republic was announced to have inked a deal with a major Hollywood production company to produce TV shows based on their line of comics.
There will be more international deals announced as they year goes on. After all, Nigerian comic books are celebrated for their unique storytelling style, known for their use of local languages, dialects, and colloquialisms. This approach not only adds authenticity to the stories but also creates a sense of familiarity for local audiences. Moreover, the use of folklore, mythology, and history provide a fresh perspective on African history and mythology.
They are also praised for their stunning artwork, with work by artists like Etubi Onucheyo, Jide Okonkwo, Mustapha Bulama, Kro Onimole, Chigozie Amadi, Bolaji Olaloye, Godwin Akpan, and many more. They are known for vibrant, colourful, and dynamic art styles, with visually stunning and unique styles that stand out.
For years, they have struggled to get their work recognized on a global scale, but thanks to tech and especially the internet, Nigerian creators now have an ever-widening platform to showcase their talents, and providing a space for them to tell their stories. These stunning comic books also play a vital role in promoting literacy and education. In a country where illiteracy rates are high, comic books provide an accessible and engaging way for people to learn.
Nigerian comic books and their creators often address social and political issues, making them an excellent tool for educating people on important issues. A couple of years ago, the works of writer/illustrator/cartoonist/editor Abdulkareem Baba Aminu were included in the award-winning anthology ‘The Most Important Comic Book On Earth’ alongside that of Alan Moore, John Wagner, Cara Delevingne, Charlie Adlard, and 300 other leading environmentalists, artists, authors, actors, filmmakers, and musicians.
Some Nigerian comic books are even available in local languages, making them accessible to a wider audience. There is also a number of publishers making giant strides, like Spoof!, Vortex, Epoch Comics, Comic Republic, and others. It’s safe to conclude that Nigerian comic books are changing the narrative of African storytelling, as attested to by the high quality of writers and creators, bringing out fresh and compelling stories, characters and concepts.
For too long, African stories have been told by outsiders. That is changing fast, with the rise in showcasing the richness and diversity of African cultures, challenging stereotypes, and promoting a more nuanced understanding of Africa. Overall, they are taking the world by storm for good reason, providing a space for underrepresented voices to be heard, promoting diversity, and showcasing Nigerian talent. As the global comic book industry continues to evolve, Nigerian comics are sure to play an increasingly important role in shaping its future.
Chris Ryall creating ‘Megalopolis’ graphic novel with Francis Ford Coppola
It caught many by surprise when it was announced at WonderCon that Image Comics imprint Syzygy will publish a graphic novel for director Francis Ford Coppola’s long-gestating science fiction film ‘Megalopolis’. Chris Ryall, co-founder of Syzygy, will create the book with artist Jacob Phillips.
Ryall describes the project as being “very much its own thing” from the film.
The movie, which finished filming earlier this month, follows a woman who becomes torn between her father, the Mayor of New York, and her lover, an architect with visionary plans for the city.
Ryall, via Popverse, said Coppola pitched the project. “The exciting thing is that I’ve only worked directly with him on this,” he says. “This isn’t the kind of thing where he licensed out the material — the movie and the book are solely his. We spent a few hours in Atlanta last month talking about not only this graphic novel but the childhood comics he loved, and all the way along, he’s been permissive and encouraging in telling us to make the book very much its own thing. So it’s been a kind of stunning arrangement, to get to work directly with someone of his stature on something like this.”
Ryall added: “As a huge fan of not only Jacob’s color work on the Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips graphic novels but certainly also the amazing art and colors on his ‘That Texas Blood’ series, getting to work with Jacob while he’s on such a creative roll is also a thrill. Gonna be fun to build this particular corner of Francis’s new city.”
The book, like the movie, does not have a release date yet.
GeekAfrique’s Best Comic Book of 2022: ‘New Masters’
‘New Masters’, by the Coker brothers, takes the reader into a future Nigeria which while dark, is filled with hope, powered by writing that’s masterful and art that’s gorgeously atmospheric, weaving one of the most compelling stories in graphic fiction this year.
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
As soon as the story opens with the following lines: ‘1124 Post Adventu, a few miles East of the Kainji Mines, deep into the Eko Exclusion Zone’, we meet Ola. The spunky tech-enhanced teen, accompanied by a droid called Àṣẹ, has slid down a cable to scavenge, but instead finds what could be a large deposit of raw Obsidium, a crucial mineral that has all kinds of individuals in hot pursuit. I immediately fell in love with the characters, a love which becomes absolute when the droid asks our heroine if she would like it to “Initiate the pick-race protocol”. How much more Nigerian could a comic book get? (Note for non-Nigerians: To ‘pick-race’ means to run away, or to flee a situation or an individual out of one’s league)
Ola soon tries to offload her precious find, and in the process, we meet some of the most colourful characters I’ve come across since the original Star Wars trilogy or Nnedi Okorafor’s spectacular ‘LaGuardia’ graphic novel. A shifty suya seller-cum-black market dealer, a high-powered committee consisting of humans and aliens, or a couple made up of a Yemi Alade-esque fashionista and a lover from literally another world. It has such a varied cast of characters that a traditional comic book reader might feel overwhelmed. To me though, it was a perfectly-built world, populated by the most realistic characters I’ve come across in science fiction in a long time.
It has such a varied cast of characters that a traditional comic book reader might feel overwhelmed. To me though, it was a perfectly-built world, populated by the most realistic characters I’ve come across in science fiction in a long time.
Also, what’s a futuristic yarn set in Nigeria without Lagos, the city we all love and hate in equal measure, or Tejuosho for that matter? That’s not to mention cameos by Hausa words like ‘Tozo’ when Ola barters for a bit of Suya at Yaba Market, or an earlier-mentioned exclamation of ‘Shaege’ (a corruption of the Hausa word for ‘bastard’, weirdly also used to denote chronic badassery). Then the cherry – or cherries – on this layered cake: Views of Eko City itself, as well as the slums of Makoko, still sinking even in this far-flung future.
This, the first story arc, is called ‘The Eye of Orunmila’ in reference to a massive status quo-changing trove of knowledge that will change the universe. It also appears to be the chief McGuffin of the story, driving the story forward so well that the following chapters almost have no choice but to follow suit. The writing by Shobo Coker, one half of the duo of Nigerian brothers who created this masterpiece, is deft in its delivery of character beats, and in its layering of fantastical sci-fi backdrops. The dialogue flows in such an organic way that one could easily forget he is reading a comic book. One word: Bravo.
The art is the work of an accomplished illustrator. One minute it looks stark and glisteningly computer-generated, the next it’s as organic and unsettling as some of the most masterful watercolour work currently being done in the medium.
The art, by Shof Coker, is the work of an accomplished illustrator. One minute it looks stark and glisteningly computer-generated a la ‘Blade Runner’, the next it’s as organic and unsettling as some of the most masterful watercolour work currently being done in the medium, a la the production design of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ film. Even the lettering is kinetically charged, and is part of the artistry which graces the pages of this beautiful comic book. There also are locales that are as many as they are far-flung from each other and a distinct and deliberately-done combination of the familiar and the futuristic. One word: Bravo, also.
PR material says it is ‘A vision of West Africa under the thumb of alien colonizers’, wherein ‘A motley crew of outcasts find themselves caught up in a power struggle for control of an ancient artefact with immense power’. The comic book is also described as ‘A ground-breaking blend of science fiction, adventure, drama, and vibrant Afrofuturism’. I totally agree, even if the correct term is ‘Africanfuturism’, but that’s a fight for another day. With a handsome trade paperback edition out now, it is safe to declare this the most energetic debut of this year so far, and by far.
‘New Masters’ Vol. 1 trade paperback, published by Image Comics, is on sale now.