Kugali: The African Anthology of Survival and Hope

Kugali’s African Comic Anthology has brought a renewed interest in comics for all ages. Read more to find out

1988. Calcutta.

30 years back, there were small book shops on many by-lanes and narrow streets of the city. I am talking about those single-floored simple shops that had no air-conditioning systems installed, nor did they have any large glass windows to showcase the shiny new releases. Uniform laden salespersons didn’t stand behind customers to help in the selection of their next read. There was no security camera anywhere. The person sitting at the cash-counter would only accept cash. Nobody had those card swiping machines. Only a few bright lights, a fan facing the owner sitting at the cash counter, the sweaty face of a parent waiting on the footpath and the freedom to take some comics books home at very affordable prices along with your story books – what could be a better start to summer vacations! It was during one such summer, at the age of ten, that I first read about the Masai people.

We didn’t even know about all the Marvel comics superheroes then – except Spiderman and Superman, others did not have any market of their own – not till then, not at this peaceful gadget-free semi-urban corner of the world. Stories of other continents, countries, remote unseen villages and cultures – their fetishes, practices and superstitions, fairy tales and folklores, colourful festivals, their heroes – all were part of those hot summer afternoons where the stillness of the wind was occasionally broken by the swinging of a falling Mango leaf. There was no other sound anywhere that could break the heaviness of that perfect, dense heat. 

Those thin comics books with superb stories created with sharp strokes, shades and colours were lost over the years, as the city expanded to a more comfort-oriented high-tech lifestyle. The sale of those roadside small shops and the hawkers earning livelihood by selling books on footpath steadily went down. Glossy foreign collections of graphic novels replaced their poor-looking counterpart comic books gradually. I have often found loads of thin comic books in mostly the rural and semi-urban libraries or in someone’s personal collection, and mostly, in the old books collections of the footpath hawkers – half-torn and dusty.

2018. Nigeria.

A good comic book always creates the thrilling suspence of what happens next. The creators at Kugali are doing something better. They have renewed this  eagerness and satisfaction for the medium amongst their readers with a voluminous work. More interestingly, their entrepreneurship in the book publication industry establishes a way to engage future readers in the publication process itself. ‘Kugali: An African Comics Anthology’ – the first edition of African stories for children and the Raki version for the adults – were both crowd-funded internationally. Kugali journal’s current local subscribers and the overseas readers who wanted a hard copy of African stories in their collection, all contributed. Crowd-funding is a common idea among today’s independent filmmakers. But, creating an international readership to publish a 160-page book through crowd-funding is an innovative and complex idea.

Why would someone invest in storytelling? Because, stories have unlimited scope to impact views without creating a counter-culture barrier. And also because, people need a parallel universe within themselves to get tuned to the rhythm which will set peace and justice in motion which in turn, makes every spark of hope count.  

Story is known as ‘itan’ in Yoruba – the language mostly spoken in Nigeria. Like many ancient traditions, the Africans also believe that a good story is actually a journey in itself – it is a form of life. Every life is a story, individually and collectively as the part of a community, society, race and ethnicity. And the talented Kugali team plans to bring more stories exploring the superstitions, faith, beliefs, taboos, traditions, rituals and practices expressed through words and illustrations; stories that take contemporary components to reconnoitre the probable future of mankind. Whether it is the issue of child labour or illegal cross-country intrusion or armed warfare – the stories written and illustrated by the Kugali team is creating a conscious and concerned readership among the adults, young and the young adults who are not limited being story readers, but are capable of making informed and sensible decisions for the goodness of the world they are currently living in and will be leaving behind.

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