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When Joëlle Epée M., alias Eylon’s, launched the Bilili comic book festival in Brazzaville, Congo in 2016, she was already dreaming of ” a meeting hub between the public, authors and publishers “. But, cautious, she gives herself the time. With nearly 5,000 visitors in 2019, against 300 the first year, the young Cameroonian author is holding her bet.
On the occasion of the fifth edition which starts on Tuesday 1er December, the famous Belgian publishing house Dupuis will unveil the names of the fifteen African authors it had recruited in 2019 on Bilili (“Images” in Lingala) for the launch of its new Webtoon Africa. And Joëlle Epée M. to hope that this precedent gives hope to African authors, “ that they say to themselves that they can make a living from their profession, be credible in their country and that the exodus is not the outcome ”.
The Congolese editor Dan Bomboko hammers it elsewhere: “Comics are part of our general culture. “ Generations of toddlers from forty African countries have been bottle-fed in the magazine Kouakou which, for thirty years, has reconciled entertainment and pedagogy ” without Manichaeism or miserabilism », Specifies comic strip historian Christophe Cassiau-Haurie.
All also devoured the adventures of Tintin and lucky Luke, Japanese manga such as Marvel editions imported to the continent. Some authors have managed to chart their course in Europe, such as Barly Baruti, mentor of the Congolese scene published by Glénat, or the Franco-Ivorian Marguerite Abouet, whose saga in six volumes ofAya from Yopougon, produced with the designer Clément Oubrerie, has sold 710,000 copies by Gallimard.
In their wake, a new generation of African talent has started to take its marks for ten years. Their style? ” Syncretic “, abstract Pierre Lungheretti, director of the International City of Comics and Images of Angoulême, which will organize in January 2021 an exhibition on the 9e art in Africa. ” VSThe authors have digested the clear Franco-Belgian line, manga and comics, in bringing their own singularity, in particular an exuberance in the treatment of situations or colors », Adds the specialist.
They are as much freed from awareness-raising stories financed by NGOs and governments as from the cartoonish vein in vogue in the 1990s. When, in 2005, Marguerite Abouet tackled the first volume ofAya from Yopougon, it has a goal: “Getting out of the images spread by the media of an Africa that is dying or going badly. “
Same aspiration for Joëlle Epée M. who, in 2013, humorously sketched the Ebony Duta Life, young Cameroonian uprooted in Belgium, escaping the clichés of ” the african woman who has breasts and buttocks Or illegal migrants.
Varied, the registers today extend from the documentary, like Lucha, chronicle of an unarmed revolution in Congo from Cameroonian Annick Kamgang, with revisited tales and Afrofuturism. A host of new super heroes and anti-heroes have thus emerged, with Scarf, at war against child trafficking in Togo, or the tasty Delestron, a hooded character who cuts the current in the districts of Abidjan.
With the means at hand
However, several pitfalls thwart this momentum. Starting with the circulation difficulties of both artists and books. ” With the post, we have three months of waiting before receiving the books. As for customs fees, they are different depending on the country and sometimes very high as in Congo ”, Details Dan Bomboko, who founded the publishing house Elondja in 2004. Also, he regrets, that“ a book that comes out in Dakar, takes time to be known in Kinshasa ”.
The possibilities for meetings are also limited. There are only around ten long-term festivals in Africa, such as Fibda in Algiers or Coco Bulles in Abidjan. If publishing is experiencing a real boom in Nigeria, barely a dozen publishers are active in French-speaking Africa, like Elondja or Ago in Togo. In Madagascar, only one publishing house, Ngah, is maintained, “ but its editorial line has not changed a bit in twenty years “, regrets the Malagasy designer Dwa.
In the absence of publishers, the majority of authors do so with the means at hand. ” Many are self-editing and are not doing so badly ”, notes Christophe Cassiau-Haurie. And to specify that ” what is alternative in Europe is the norm in Africa ”. To publish the first volume of the Ebony Duta Life, Joëlle Epée thus had recourse to crowdfunding, which enabled her to raise 15,000 euros.
“Winning the parents”
Last pitfall: the complex equation between quality, necessary to obey international standards, and the low price of broadcasting, essential to adjust to purchasing power in Africa. ” My books are too expensive for the Malagasy market, regrets Dwa. I don’t sell a lot here, especially since many associate comics with a free product. »So to ensure all the same a diffusion on the continent, the saga Aya from Yopougon is distributed there in a flexible version less expensive than the cardboard format.
For a long time, Paulin Assem, founder of the Ago house, offered his magazines in black and white at low prices, around one euro. But when he increased the quality of his publications, he had to raise his prices, not without fear of losing his readers along the way.
” The kids couldn’t buy anymore, but I won their parents », Smiles the young entrepreneur, who adds that “The quality won over a large part of the Togolese middle class who saw that comics could be stored next to other books in libraries “. Although sold at 15 euros, the Ebony Duta Life 40% of it now flows on the continent.
For Dan Bomboko, of which 20% of turnover comes from digital platforms and e-readers, a new horizon is also emerging with digital. ” Nothing is simple, you have to be motivated and be full of ideas, recognizes the veteran. But it’s worth it when I see the amount of talent around me. “
Bilili BD Festival, from December 1 to 5, in Brazzaville.
Kubini, African comics, from January 27 to September 26, 2021, International City of Comics and Images, www.citebd.org