A Nigerian Comics Mystery: Ron Smith’s “Sister Mercy” (and more)

Nigeria is currently enjoying a growing comics industry of its own, with numerous publishers creating both print and digital titles, such as Comic Republic, Vortex Comics and YouNeek Studios– and Lagos Comic Con, taking place this weekend, is proving increasingly popular. But in the 1970s, conscious of US and British comic imports into Nigeria at that time, this might be why the owners of Pikin Press chose to work with Bardon Press Features to develop Powerman and other characters and all the strips they published, written and drawn by British and Europeans, rather than African creators.

Pikin Press - Powerman #11

Many downthetubes comic readers will already be aware of the Nigerian superhero Powerman, an initiative from Pikin Press (also known as Pican Publications), a Nigerian advertising agency with offices in Guildford… but the superhero, drawn by Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons, wasn’t the only strip created in Britain for an African audience in the 1970s.

downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf is doing a fantastic job documenting the strips produced by Pikin Press on his Boys Adventure Comics blog, as and when rare copies of the original Powerman appear on eBay.

The Powerman strips were re-published in the United Kingdom in 1988 by Acme Press in the four-issue series Power Comics, the character’s name changed to Powerbolt to avoid copyright challenges from “Luke Cage, Power Man” owners Marvel Comics. The series was later collected by US publisher Eclipse Comics.

But Pikin Press also published at least one more title, POP, “Nigeria’s Own Picture Paper for Children”, which included “Sister Mercy“, a beautifully drawn strip drawn by Ron Smith about a nurse at a hospital in Lagos. In 2000AD: The Creator Interviews, Michael Molcher notes the project led Oxford University Press to employ Ron to produce dictionaries and textbooks for the Nigerian market. But beyond that, it appears very little is known about it.

POP #37 - Sister Mercy by Ron Smith

POP #37 - Sister Mercy by Ron Smith

POP #37 - Sister Mercy by Ron Smith

What else did POP include? We do know that all the strips published by Pikin Press were written with an awareness that they needed to be picture led with strong yet visual storytelling, aware that many potential readers might be illiterate – but who ran the company and who came up with the idea?

And – despite the end of the Pikin Press project when, according to artist Ron Tiner, Nigeria sadly suffered a military coup, did any of the comics and their characters inspire the Nigerian comic creators of today?

If anyone has any more information on “Sister Mercy” and Pikin Press, do let us know!

The annual Lagos Comic Con takes place this coming weekend – more information here on Facebook -or follow the event on Twitter @lagos_comiccon

THE PIKIN PRESS STRIPS

Power Comics #1 - 1988Powerman was a superhero whose only weakness was snake bites – danger for children in Nigeria, too. Written by Donne Avenell and Norman Worker, the artists on the strip were Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons. Powerman promoted characteristics such as individualism, devotion to duty and modernisation.

When the strip was bought out by a South African company (to the dismay of Dave Gibbons),  a tea company to sponsored it, requiring Ron Smith to insert new panels of Powerman drinking cups of tea after his adventures!

Powerman #11 Black Star• “The Black Star” starred Jango, the story of a black sheriff, ran as a back up in Powerman. The Jango strip was drawn initially by Eric Bradbury, replaced on some episodes by Ron Tiner

• “War Story” was drawn by Carlos Ezquerra

WEB LINKS

Pikin Press strips and more on Richard Sheaf’s Boys Adventure Comics blog

• African Words: African superheroes in the 1970s and 1980s: a historical perspective by Tessa Pijnaker

African Words: African Superheroes in the 1970s and 1980s: A Postscript by Tade Thompson and Tessa Pijnaker

Power Comics (Acme Press) – GCD Entry

Tex Comic News; A Powerman/ Powerbolt Feature

Wikipedia: Powerman

Lagos Comic Con 2019SOME NIGERIAN COMIC CREATORS AND PUBLISHERS

The annual Lagos Comic Con takes place this coming weekend – more information here on Facebook -or follow the event on Twitter @lagos_comiccon

Comic Republic

Vortex Comics is online at www.vortex247.com | Issuu

YouNeek Studios – run by Roye Okupe

• The Independent: Nigeria’s comic book explosion: Why Lagos is the new Gotham
Move over New York, Gotham and Metropolis… Lagos is the new place to find superheroes. David Barnett finds out about the rise of the Nigerian comic book industry (2017 article)

With many thanks to Richard Sheaf for his continued research into this project

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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