Guardian Prime, Powerboy and Commander Jade are just a few of the African comic book characters defeating evil and saving the city. A Nigerian startup is bringing their stories to life.
Some of their fans are calling them the “Black Avengers,” but for the founders of Comic Republic in Lagos, Nigeria, these characters reflect the daily struggles and dreams of everyday Africans.
"When I looked around, I noticed that a lot of young people don't really have icons to look up to," said Jide Martin, one of the founders. "I thought, OK, what is it that is relatable to the young that we can use to teach them how to do things right?"
The company was started in 2013 with the goal of publishing comics for an African audience based on characters from a "galaxy not so far away."
One of the company's most popular characters is Guardian Prime. In real life he is a Nigerian named Tundi Jaiye but he is also the "fifth element," a perfect man created in God's image.
In his first comic, Guardian Prime must save the world from an invading alien force called the "Decauru." After an initial defeat, Guardian Prime rises again to defeat the Decauru and save the planet. The comic ends with the words "We are heroes."
Comic books are not that popular across Africa as the books tend to be expensive and difficult to find. But with new movies and TV shows, the presence and influence of superheroes in popular culture is increasing.
Joseph Blabo, a Nigerian who grew up reading comic books, noticed that the characters were always white.
"As a young child, I used to think all supernatural beings were only white like Superman, Batman and Spiderman," he said.
Blabo is excited that Nigerians are now being featured as superheroes. "I think it is a very creative idea and it gives one as a Nigerian a different mentality of how a Nigerian should always want to do things."
This was the reason Comic Republic wanted to continue creating Nigerian superheroes based on real Africans dealing with the daily challenges and hardships Africans and, more specifically, Nigerians can relate to.
So Martin, along with Comic Republic's content creation and direction officer, Akintoba Kalejaiye, set out to create characters who struggle through some of the same issues facing young Africans today. Like many of the most famous characters in Western comic books, the superheroes they created are often teenagers or young adults who have a super power thrust upon them and have to struggle with their powers and their daily life.
The comics are free to download online and are drawn in the same style as comics from DC or Marvel.
Comic Republic does not just produce stories about African men but also female superheroes. Kalejaiye said that the use of female characters is to highlight the positive contributions women make to African societies.
The company has three series that feature women heroines in different stages of development. Avonome, Ireti and Commander Jade N. Waziri are three women with special powers battling evil in the present day, in the recent past or in times and places beyond this world. Another series being developed features the character Aje, "a young heroine who will hunt for the strength to save the past, present and future."
The artists and writers behind these comics hope that they will inspire a new generation of girls and young women to be strong and fearless.
"We have three comics that feature females and female empowerment. These women are not just our mothers, our wives and our home makers but also human beings who deserve to be given respect," said Kalejaiye. "They have dreams, they have aspirations. These are some of the things that we explore as a publishing house."
Sam Olukoya contributed to this story from Lagos, Nigeria