As amazing and engaging as reality is, we have always looked for an escape in one form or another; be it through music, books or other forms of escapism. We look for outside stories that resemble our struggles but in a much-nuanced form. Through the decades of the last century and into the current, comic books have influenced culture as well as reflected it in its rawest form. African culture was overwhelmingly underrepresented in this specific form of storytelling, which was why the emergence and rise of etancomics was a breath of fresh air for the underrepresented group.
Bisrat Debebe, the creator of the comic series, was once a comic book lover himself, noticing the lack of representation of authentic African superheroes despite the continent bearing actual heroes whose super powers took humanity ahead. Noticing the lack of African superheroes by African creators, he set out to assemble an African super team that can tell the mundane untold stories of Africans in an imaginative way. Illustrated by Stanley Obende, Brian Ibeh and Akanni Akorede, Jember is a cross-continental effort. Bisrat says the process has led the team to learn from each other and that “having different perspectives always leads to better decisions. We get to learn about each other’s background and culture so it continues to be an enriching experience.” Although scenes in the comic book are set in Addis Ababa and the names are Ethiopian, the characters are an amalgamation of African features.
The story draws from actual struggles faced by young Ethiopians with the main protagonist of the first issue being a fresh graduate looking for his place in the city, the second superhero to be featured being an Ethiopian woman looking to rescue her mother while navigating being a young woman in Ethiopia. It is a coming of age at the core of it but told in a glamorized way. ‘We live in a day and age where a lot of people around the world, especially Africans, use entertainment media as a source of education. Unfortunately, the overwhelming message that Africans currently see and hear about themselves in today’s media is negative. This can, consciously or subconsciously, limit their aspirations. By portraying them as superheroes, we shape their expectations for themselves and inspire them to be better citizens of the world’.
The comic has paved the way for the first female Ethiopian superhero to have her own issue. Her hero’s journey conveyed through the eyes of a loving daughter persevering to rescue her mother from the villains while navigating the course of her own life. The portrayal of such strong women that most little girls can see themselves in is an achievement on its own, but on top of that Bisrat and the etancomics team snagged a nomination by NOMMO Awards in 2020 for the Best Graphic Novel category.
Bisrat and the team hopes to highlight the history, folklore and mythology found within the continent but have not been given the spotlight they deserve. He was inspired by a desire to make a positive impact in his community and tell stories that are important and exciting. Bisrat Debebe set out to create fresh stories readers can relate to and use to expand their imagination and expectations for themselves. The company aims to showcase these historical events by retelling them with a hue of sci-fi and fantasy, with the hopes of encouraging readers to learn more about the actual events and history that would inspire the youth into a better future.
Etancomics graphic novels have opened up an untapped outlet for the new age of creatives with access to digital tools that allow them to push the boundaries even further. The company leaves an open door for these creatives in more ways than one, giving them support where needed and making the platform available for talented individuals with interest.
Comic books aren’t just about superheroes and villains. And they’re certainly not just for boys. Comic books and graphic novels are spread across many different genres, including comedy, drama, sci-fi and fantasy; and there is bound to be something to suit all tastes, ages and reading levels. There may even be something that you might like to get into yourself, or enjoy together with your child, snuggled up before bedtime. The possibilities of comics are endless and a good comic book would serve young readers better since it is image aided.
Contributed by Yosthena Aynalem