Comics renaissance underway in Nigeria with Universal Studio Deal

Universal Studio Group’s UCP and Nigeria’s Comic Republic recently announced a partnership to create a film and TV series featuring characters from Comic Republic’s Vanguards Universe. We spoke with the team at Comic Republic to gain insight into their journey and future plans.

SPECIAL FEATURE | BIRD AGENCY | Growing up, Jide Martin consumed a lot of Western media and comics. Like young consumers across the continent, however, he grew increasingly frustrated with the way Africans were depicted.

As he grew older, he resolved to change that and in 2013, he founded Comic Republic.

“I started a comic book company when I could, mostly to create icons and the right narratives for the next generations. While I was growing up, most Western media I liked portrayed us negatively or as being primitive, but that isn’t how we are. So, I thought, ‘Why don’t we showcase our best qualities by crafting tales that people in and out of Nigeria and the diaspora will enjoy,” he said.

This led to his collaboration with a small group of like-minded and driven artists, which has since expanded to a hybrid team of more than 100 artists.

For the entirety of the business’s history, readers have had free access to the company’s comics. This created an audience and increased interest in Nigeria’s comic book industry.

“When I started, many people told me it was impossible to do comics here. But, I said, there are humans around the world who read comics. I took on the huge task of motivating people. We made reading comics a thing in Nigeria because before we started, people only knew Superman and Batman. To increase interest in our original stories, we made our digital comic books free,” Martin explained.

Their stories were intended to be adapted for TV and film from the start. Because of this, every plot and character in Comic Republic was developed to interact with earlier stories and be woven into the Vanguards Universe.

Initially, this made getting funding for the company tricky because Martin could only promise the possibility of turning a profit sometime in the distant future.

“We’re not going to make anything out of this until ten years,’ I said to everyone I went to meet ten years ago. I have no idea how I knew that, but I always stated it. Thankfully, we were profitable before ten years had passed. However, at first, I had to use funds from my other businesses to fund this one,” he said.

Fortunately for Comic Republic, its creative content was soon sought-after by the likes of Samsung, Meta, Al Jazeera, Stanbic IBTC, First Bank, and other companies.

The goal, though, was always to get their story seen on television.

Recently, Martin signed a contract with Universal Studios for the TV adaptation of the Vanguards Universe, one of Comic Republic’s most popular “story worlds”.

The Vanguards are uniquely African, according to Martin, making them original superheroes from the region, created by Nigerian creatives.

The Vanguards tell the story of members of the “first race,” who have superhuman powers. In the Vanguards Universe, heroes come together to protect the people of Lagos from members of the “first race” seeking to punish them.

Together with Universal Studios and Mad Massive Entertainment, Comic Republic hopes to create a franchise similar to the Avengers.

Martin said that Comic Republic is “creative led,” explaining that creators co-own the IP.

“They bring in a new concept and we see how it fits into our universe. We were upfront with them about our attempts to monetize the comics for TV and film. They were patient with us, and it has now been beneficial for all parties.”

Former comic book artist Michael Balogun, currently Head of Production at Comic Republic, thinks readers’ connections to the creators enhanced their comics’ acceptability in Nigeria.

“I remember when I started, I was a comic book artist at Comic Republic, and many people who I told about my job would make fun of it, saying it was for kids. Eventually, that ignorance lessened. Giving out our comics for free also helped expand our reach. We discovered that there was a larger audience than we had originally anticipated,” explained Balogun.

Wale Awelenje, Head of Writing at Comic Republic, describes what distinguishes the company’s stories and what to anticipate from the live-action of the Vanguards.

“Our stories are a blend of the superhero archetypes and African folklore, with African names, settings, and scenarios. Many of our stories are set in the post-colonial Africa that we currently live in.

You’d see characters like New Tech, a super technical genius manipulating electronics thanks to a kinetic mutation in his body. Characters like this will not be alien to a contemporary African situation based in a fantastical world,” Awelenje described.

According to Tobe Ezeogu, Creative Director of Comic Republic, African storytelling in the fantastical space goes beyond Marvel’s fictitious world of Wakanda. There are further characteristics that set Africa and Africans apart.

Because their stories are an accurate picture of who they are, everyone at Comic Republic is thrilled to be able to share them with the world.

“Wakanda is frequently brought up when people think about African stories, especially futuristic ones. However, that’s just one of the numerous stories that exist and one aspect of Africa,”

Ezeogu says, “Our partnership with Universal Studios and Mad Massive Entertainment guarantees that other stories that reflect more facets of Africa will be seen on screen. Through these stories, more people will feel heard and seen. It’s going to be a cultural exposure, a blend between two worlds.”


SOURCE; By Gabriella Opara, bird story agency

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