Defragmenting the African Creative Industry. African Superheroes Series.

AiW Guest Abena Addai Boakye

The fourth post in the African Superheroes series is written by Abena Addai Boakye, Communications Manager and project lead for Afrocomix at Leti Arts. She handles the daily communicative aspects of Leti and runs point on Afrocomix to make sure that the app runs smoothly. As project lead, she oversees content sourcing, review, content provider satisfaction and general content management.

In this post, Abena will discuss Afrocomix, Leti Arts’ recently released app that has curated Afrocentric content from all over Africa. The aim of this app is to have a one stop shop for all African content and create an avenue for African content creators to make some money. Abena will also give us some insight in the general reception of the app by the target audience and the creatives in general.

Leti Arts is an interactive digital studio with offices in Ghana and Kenya, founded in 2009. It is our mission to preserve African history and culture through our Africa’s Legends superhero franchise. This franchise consists of games and comics based on African historical and folklore characters as well as fictional ones sourced from all over the continent. Leti Arts believes that the current generation is losing touch with their African heritage, as contemporary Africa has not kept up with modern formats of storytelling. Since this is gradually making our traditions and cultures obsolete, digitizing these stories is the best bet for preservation. The game and comic industry is nascent and we are in the position to shape it. By inculcating characters based on our African heroes, we hope that people who engage with our content will be motivated to find out more about our rich history and heritage. In this blog, we will talk about Afrocomix, one of our recently launched projects that seeks to show African creative talent to the world.

Shango, one of Leti Arts’ Africa’s Legends, is inspired by the similarly named Yoruba god of thunder © Leti Arts, reproduced with permission.

Our motivation

As a pioneer in the game development industry in sub-Saharan Africa, we have inspired a lot of people to start up their own studios. However, we noticed that some of the major challenges content creators faced on the continent were the issues of monetization and distribution. After going through the trouble of getting the right tools and software to create quality artworks that could rival those in the West, they had no avenue to make money other than to put them on social media for a couple of likes. The most some of them got was a commission. A few lucky ones would also get contacted for jobs outside Ghana. There was no sure way for our content creators to generate revenue. For those that got to put their content on platforms like Comixology, people from Africa couldn’t make purchases due to the fact that they were not conversant with online payment systems or simply didn’t have access to it.

We therefore had this idea early on in 2017 to update our already existing Africa’s Legends content distribution platform. The existing app had only Leti Arts’ content on there, but this time we would enable third party content upload and focus strongly on analytics and monetization. Content providers would earn 70% of all revenue generated. That was how Afrocomix was born. We wanted to create a platform where content creators from all over Africa could distribute their work to people who loved Afrocentric content and make some money in the process. The idea is to have a one-stop shop for all Afrocentric content (comics, illustrations, short animations, literary works and games).

The Afrocomix app on a smartphone. The wallpaper on the phone and the two in the background can be downloaded from Afrocomix. © Leti Arts, reproduced with permission.

As we touched on before, our culture and history is slowly fading out. In its bid to preserve this, Leti Arts is trying to digitize our stories. For the past eight years, we have been trying to change the African narrative. Africa is almost always portrayed as a war-torn continent, but it is more than that. Through the illustrations, animations and comics, content providers get to tell their version of the African story or what they envision Africa can be. The success of the Black Panther movie has proven that the world is ready for authentic Afrocentric content that showcases the beauty, talent and rich culture of Africa. Even though a lot of studios have sprung up, we realized that the industry is fragmented with each one doing their own small stuff in their corner. Coming together will forge collaborative work relationships which will go a long way to validate the industry.

Screen shot of a variety of African superhero comics on Afrocomix. Ananse is one of Leti Arts Africa’s Legends and was also featured in the Africa’s Legends app. The other comics are produced by a variety of African content creators. © Leti Arts, reproduced with permission.

Getting creatives on board

Overall, working on the development of Afrocomix has been an exciting experience, as the success of this app will validate the comics, animation and game industries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thus far, content creators have been very cooperative, but not without a bit of skepticism. Since many of them have had negative experiences in the past, having them trust us with their content means a lot. Because this kind of content sharing platform is a fairly new concept in Africa, some of them say they want to see how the app works out first before getting on board. However, we have managed to get some industry bigwigs on board, such as Epoch Studios, Milome Studios, Peda Comics, Quaphryma Creative Studio, and Jay Illustrates . Along with our reputation as a trusted industry leader, this has really boosted confidence in the app.

Our process for content sourcing is a bit tedious at the moment, as we have to reach out to content creators, but it is very rewarding as well. We get to establish a relationship with them, creating possibilities for future collaborations. Usually we start with an initial conversation in which we introduce Afrocomix. Once both parties agree on the mutual benefits, we request some content from the creative, for our review team to check, especially on grammar.  We have also had some content creators reaching out to us about getting their content on Afrocomix and they undergo the same process.

 

 

The Afrocentric content

We use some selection criteria for the work we want to feature on Afrocomix. The content creator must be living in Africa and his or her content must be non-sexual, as we want Afrocomix to be a kid-friendly app. While currently we feature only creators in Africa, in due time we will open the app up to the Diaspora as well. We are currently putting in more measures to make the process more automated. Most importantly, we want all the content to be Afrocentric. By this we mean that the art should depict something African. We basically want to see Africa through the eyes of the content creator. For instance, Genii GamesThe Gluttonous Kid tells the story of a kid whose love for food gets him into trouble. It gives off the oral storytelling vibe associated with African folklores.

Why African superheroes?

Most of our works feature superheroes because while a lot of African kids are used to Thor, Batman, and Superman, they have no idea who Shango or Ananse is. They are not aware of the kind of heroes that exist in their own cultures, and therefore look up to these foreign heroes. As I write this, I’m at the Africa Mobile and ICT Expo where we are exhibiting some of our illustrations and apps. A young man just walked up to us a few minutes ago and after seeing Shango said: “This is the African Thor, they copied the Nordic god of thunder”. These are the kinds of perceptions that we are trying to change. We want people to know that good things can come out of Africa. Why couldn’t it be that they copied from us instead? This was a teaching moment for me: I explained to him who Shango was and why we should rally behind our own. We do have our own superheroes in our folklores and history who teach us a lot of lessons, but we have abandoned them completely for the Western culture.

Some members of the Leti Arts team at Africa Mobile and ICT Expo 2018. On the right in the background one can see Shango and several other Africa’s Legends. © Leti Arts, reproduced with permission.

Afrocomix’s reception

We recently finished with the soft launch of Afrocomix and so far feedback has been good. People are excited about the app and keep pointing us to the kind of content they would like to see. Of course there is some constructive criticism as well, but we take that in our stride to make the app even better. We want people all over Africa and in the Diaspora to know that they do not have to spend hours online looking for the Afrocentric content that they so love. They just have to download Afrocomix to engage with the best creative work that Africa has to offer.

Afrocomix is currently available on the Google Play Store with an iOS version in the works. All users have to do is download the app for free and access tons of Afrocentric content for as low as $0.15.

Abena Addai Boakye, Communications Lead for Leti ArtsAbena Addai Boakye is the Communications Lead for Leti Arts, an interactive game development studio with offices in Ghana and Kenya.  She joined Leti as a social media community manager but her role has expanded into handling the whole communications aspect of the company. She believes in the power of storytelling and Leti’s efforts to change the African narrative through games and comics. She is also a social media enthusiast and is excited about how start-ups are utilizing it to upscale their businesses.



Categories: Academic Research, AiW Series, Visual Art and Artists

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