Here’s a great opportunity to discover some new and great-looking African Comics thanks to publisher Kugali, who have been making a deserved name for their work recently, and who have a Kickstarter running for their main title, Nani, right now.
downthetubes caught up with Kugali’s Chief Marketing Officer Matthew Corry and writer Ziki Nelson to ask them about the work Kugali are doing, and the Nani project.
Kugali Media showcases the best African stories by Africans, via a digital platform that offers a range of anthologies to thousands of readers across 20 different countries – some free to read. Using art, animation and augmented reality, the publisher offers stories that respect the history of Africa, embrace the present and imagine a future.
The project is the brainchild of friends from Nigeria and Uganda – Fikayo Adeola, Matthew Corry, Hamid Ibrahim and Tolu Olowofayeku – who became fed up of non-Africans telling African stories. In response, they created their own anthology, Kugali, showcasing artists and writers from across Africa.
The aim was to bring African comics to the mainstream, and its success – buoyed by a huge response to their crowdfunder for the Kugali Anthology last year – has enabled the project to grow, adding a number of other titles to their catalogue.
The company is financed through a combination of subsidies from the Nigerian government, crowdfunding campaigns, a presence on Patreon and book sales.
Kugali’s flagship comic is Nani, written by ZK Nelson, bringing West African mythology to life through the world of Samma.
There, two sisters must learn to adapt to the dangers, people and powers of the world around them, all while trying to find their way home.
Nani centres on Mina, a young martial artist struggling to recover from a childhood trauma. One day, a group of kidnappers attempt to abduct her and her sister Lamin.
The girls flee into the forest but soon find themselves transported to the magical world of Dama, a parallel world rife with magic, mythical creatures and beings inspired by African myths and legends.
A Kickstarter for Nani Volume Two is currently up and running and attracting massive support, a project again written by Ziki Nelson with art by Jasonas Lamy, the chief designer and illustrator at Kugali, inked by Zimbabwean Nommo Award-Nominated comic book artist and author Bill Masuku, coloured by Cristina Alvarez, and edited by Nyasha Mugavazi, who grew up in Zimbabwe and England.
Matthew, Ziki, thanks for the chance to talk to you about your company and your many projects.
Matthew, Can I start by asking how Kugali came about, and what are your hopes for the year ahead?
Matthew Corry: Kugali began as a passion project between myself and some friends. We’d always been into comics, and when I started writing my own I ended up looking into what other African comics were available.
I realised pretty quickly that there were some incredible artists beginning to emerge into the industry, but also that for a lot of them there were limited resources and exposure. This was how we came up with the idea of doing an anthology, which was the first major project we undertook as Kugali. When we launched, the support was so great that we realised it could be more than just a passion project, and the rest is history.
For the year ahead, we’re really hoping to expand our team and begin commissioning more comics. We’ve built an in-house story trust over the last few years to ensure that everything we do remains authentically African, and stays true to the parts of Africa that its writers come from or that its characters are based in, and we’re all really looking forward to seeing this begin to shape our upcoming works in a meaningful way.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Matthew Corry: Right now, the biggest thing we’re working on is Nani; it’s our flagship comic, and it’s on Kickstarter right now – we funded in just over ten hours, which has been a very surreal experience!
We’re aiming to begin fulfilment and distribution by the end of the year, but with everything going on it can be a little tricky to time things exactly these days. Production is well underway!
Is there a comic project you’ve published you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Matthew Corry: This is a very difficult question. It’s not just a case of there being so many things in the Kugali line-up that I’m proud of, but so many different kinds of pride to take in them. We’ve got Ndaw and Monkey Meat by Juni Ba, which are visually just incredible. Africa is still new to the medium of graphic novels and comics despite us having such a visually rich history, so seeing artists like him really beginning to define the ‘African style’, if you will, is really rewarding.
At the same time, we’ve got writers like Bill Masuku, and his Razor-Man series. Just seeing his personal growth as an artist over the time we’ve worked together has been brilliant, he’s ridiculously good now.
Oh, then there’s Lake of Tears! It’s a Nommo Award winner, and it’s one of our most socially rooted comics, since it’s a fantasy take on the child labour trade in Ghana’s fishing industry. There’s too much to pick just one thing.
If you had to try to sell “Nani” as if you were making a quick “elevator pitch” (a film industry concept), how would you pitch it in just one line to grab readers’ attention?
Matthew Corry: “Sisterhood in the face of adversity, seen through a kaleidoscope of African culture, rather than the traditional lenses we’re all used to.”
Ziki, as a creator, how do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Ziki Nelson: In addition to being a creative I also wear the hat of being an entrepreneur, heading up Kugali as a whole, so I need to plan meticulously if I want to excel both as a business man and a creative. Generally my days will have four blocks – deep creative work which I like to do first thing in the morning, then all my administrative work comes next. After that, either creative or strategic development, where I basically look at ways to either evolve as a creative, or ways to take Kugali to the next level.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Ziki Nelson: It’s hard to say. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, so on a very basic level just getting to make them is really a dream come true. Outside of this, I just love seeing my ideas come to life… It’s so fulfilling to have the idea for a character in your head and see them visually represented in front of you. Also, the opportunity to collaborate with other people working together to bring forth a labour of love is really special.
And the worst?
Ziki Nelson: Dealing with impostor syndrome is up there. Especially in the early days, I really questioned my ability and whether I was really any good at making comics – those moments of self-doubt were really hard to overcome. I’m sure that’s influenced the characterisation in Nani.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Ziki Nelson: Mostly my hobbies. I’m an amateur kickboxer, and I also make music for fun. Sometimes I spend a little more time than I should on these hobbies.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Ziki Nelson: Yes and no. On the one hand, we live in an age where readers are over saturated with content, so the landscape has never been more competitive.
However, at the same time there have never been more opportunities for up and coming artists. Today we live in an age where people don’t have to rely on gate keepers and can take their work directly to the fans, which is the one thing I think young creators should keep in mind.
How has the Pandemic affected you, work wise – good or bad?
Ziki Nelson: A little good, a little bad. As a creative discipline is key and personally I find it challenging to maintain that discipline whilst working from home. However, at the same time I’ve saved so much time not having to commute, and it’s presented an opportunity to spend more time with close friends and family.
What do you think might be its most significant impact on the comics industry in general, long term?
ZIki Nelson: It’s very easy to think that the situation has been very negative for small comics producers, and it’s true that in a lot of ways it is. A lot of publishers, Kugali included, used to rely on conventions to sell books and develop our audience, and that’s gone now.
Because of all this, it’s going to be more important than ever for people to support the artists they believe in, but it’s also going to be harder to reach those people, so we’re really having to innovate around how we spread the word.
Looking at the other side of this, though, from a purely storytelling perspective, I think there might be some positives! Having a dedicated period of time without being able to focus on sales might lead to artists and even publishers trying out new things, developing their styles and writing their stories in a less immediately-pressured environment. Limitation breeds innovation.
I think we’re going to see a lot of focus on micro-stories in the next year, much more inter-personal characterisations rather than big, sweeping, world-ending superhero conflicts.
Everyone’s going through a time of essentially enforced introspection, so I think – and hope – that we’ll see that come out in the next wave of independent comics.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Ziki Nelson: Such a tough question. I think it would have to be Kentaro Miura. Berserk is maybe my favourite manga of all time. He seems to do everything so well from the world building, art and character development. Getting to pick his brains would be a dream come true.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics?
Ziki Nelson: Find your audience of one. It’s better to have one person that loves your work than ten people that think it decent or above average. Find that first fan that truly appreciates your creative vision and build out from there.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Ziki Nelson: These days I’m reading more manga than comics. Right now I’ve really gotten into Chainsaw Man, which is a dark fantasy coming of age story. The story is published by Shonen Jump, but I think you can find it almost everywhere – Amazon, Comixology etc. I’ve been spending so much time with Nani lately that it’s been good to take some influence outside of traditional comics.
Matthew, Ziki, thank you very much for your time, the very best of luck with all your many projects. It sounds like you have a lot planned out for us to enjoy in the coming months!