Refereed articles

Information articles

Notes on contributors

Print friendly version

Out of Africa: The Saga of Exiled Cartoonists in Europe

John A. Lent

Cartoonists have been a peripatetic community, moving about to escape threatening political or religious authorities in their homelands; to find more lucrative work opportunities elsewhere; to advance their skills through study or tutorship under foreign masters; to collaborate with other artists or on specific projects, or simply to satisfy their curiosity.

Migration of many cartoonists on every continent makes it almost impossible to categorise them consistently and accurately by country. In the United States, for example, there have been the so-called "invasions" of Canadian, British, Filipino, Latino, and more recently, East Asian cartoonists, while in Asia, Japan has attracted cartoonists from the region, desirous of some of the riches and fame to be found in drawing manga, and Thailand has been the settling place of Myanmar comic artists, forced to leave their native country's oppressive regime.  In some instances, cartoonists make decisions to leave because the cartooning profession/business is not very developed in their countries of origin (e.g., most parts of Africa, New Zealand).  Whatever their reasons for migrating, they usually follow colonial routes wherever they exist, as they are familiar with the language and culture of their former mother countries.

Certainly, Africa has had its share of cartoonist migrants.  Some have settled in neighboring countries because of cultural and geographic proximity.  A case in point is Kenya, where at least five of the top cartoonists were not native born – Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) and Philip Ndunguru hailed from Tanzania, Frank Odoi from Ghana, and James Tumusiime and J. Kityo from Uganda.

More likely, however, is for departing cartoonists to head to Europe, and specifically countries that were once their colonial overlords.  Thus, Tayo Fatunla of Nigeria works in England, Pat Mombili of Congo in Belgium, and many others from Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Benin, Gabon, Algeria, and Chad live and work in France.

This essay describes the situation of mainly West and North African cartoonists who sought exile in Europe, usually in France and primarily for political reasons.  It discusses the unfavorable climate for cartooning in parts of Africa, the cartoonists' personal stories of torture, threats, and poor working conditions, their escapes to Europe and ensuing adjustments, and their comics and what they say about their old and new habitats.

Earthquake-Prone African Cartooning

Italian researcher of African cartooning, Massimo Repetti, captured the essence of West and North African cartoonists' careers when he wrote:

Even when the author obtains popular success, his working situation is more characteristic of work without pay, unsteadiness, low and irregular production, cash and publication problems, low returns on invested capital, and uncertain gains.  The labor market of these artists is unstable and subject to earthquakes; it is characterized by improvised eruption of new talent and equally rapid abandonment of the profession (2006: 243).

Many of these artists publish their works in countries where the cost of paper, inks, and other materials is exceedingly high, thus, limiting their professional advancement.  Federici (2006: 27) told of African cartoonists who could not procure proper paper on which to draw works for submission to an Africa e Mediterraneo exhibition; they used recycled cardboard or drew their cartoons on both sides of a single sheet of paper.  She said that every competition represented heavy investments for the cartoonists so that, "When these packages [of cartoons] arrive, they are much more than envelopes – they are messages in bottles tossed out to sea, compact concentrations of hope and best efforts at furthering careers and passions" (27).

Necessity being the mother of invention, some budding cartoonists developed their skills with makeshift techniques and very basic materials that were innovative.  Cameroonian exile Issa Nyaphaga, now living in Paris and the U.S., has gained fame in Europe and North America expanding on what he had learned as a child in the small village where he grew up.  From watching his mother, who painted walls, he learned which soils yielded different colors, explaining, "She used volcanic ash for her black, white clay for white, and red, yellow, and orange came from ground soil.  We had no green as there was no green soil" (Nyaphaga 2008).  At age six, Nyaphaga was drawing pictures using mud as paint and his finger as a brush, much to the chagrin of his Muslim father, himself a calligrapher.  Nyaphaga explained:

My father did not approve of my cartooning because he was Muslim.  I read and drew cartoons and hid them.  When he found the cartoons, he'd punish me.  For each book I read or drawing I did, I had to support myself on the floor on my left foot and one finger of my right hand or vice versa.  Five minutes for each book and drawing.  If hundreds [of books, drawings], I would be punished for hours.  If I made a mistake in supporting myself, I had to do it for another hour.  My father drew signs, letters on paper professionally.  He used burned corn which he mashed and added water to, making it like charcoal.  I did that with my drawings too.  I love my father because he made me combative and strong, so I endured prison later on (2008).

Later in his youth, Nyaphaga was introduced to "modern" painting techniques by Kangangang Viking, a painter who "showed me this stick with hair on it is a brush; this is a wall that moves, which was actually a canvas board" (Nyaphaga 2007).  The painter also exposed Nyaphaga to the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, and others, which he imitated until later, he found his own style, one part of which was dubbed "capillarism" and he, the "ragman of painting."  Nyaphaga (2007) said that he tried different materials with which to work – sand, sugar, corn, and rice – but they had all been used.  Then, one day, brush hair fell on his canvas, and he decided to let it become part of the art.  "I was going to remove it but I didn't," he said, adding, "Then I cut my dreadlocks and pasted that hair on the painting."  Thus was born capillarism, a procedure where Nyaphaga covers the canvas with hair, paints over it until the paint is absorbed, and then varnishes the entire work.

Another aspect of his contemporary art practices that emanates from his African village days is his working primarily with salvaged objects, which Nyaphaga (2007) describes as turning "disused objects away from their first use and giving them a new birth."  Many of his caricaturesque sculptures were made with objects he found while rummaging through garbage cans – a car bumper, empty toothpaste tube, half-eaten sandwich, and so forth.  Nyaphaga is unique among cartoonists who left Africa in part because of the paucity of artists' materials there; he brought with him knowledge of traditional processes learned out of necessity in the village and forged them into new artistic styles.

Adverse Political Environments

The main reason cartoonists such as Nyaphaga left Africa relates to the dangers and threats to their lives that came from repressive government and religious figures.  Most of West and North Africa has endured years of exploitative and authoritative colonialism, replaced in mid-20th Century by post-independence governments mired in corruption, greed, and brutal handling of their peoples.  The freedom to express was limited or non-existent under those conditions.  "The fear of repercussions limited creativity," according to Al'Mata (Alain Mata Mamengi), a cartoonist who avoided further arrest and detention in his native Democratic Republic of Congo by escaping to Paris (Repetti 2006: 246).

Al'Mata said his cartoons were burned in Congo and he was persecuted, thrown into prison twice by President Mobutu Sese Seko's police.  Starting his career young, Al'Mata was thrilled to see his political cartoons printed in the two main newspapers, L'Observateur and Le Palmares, even though the editors told him what to draw.  "I did not know the political situation; what the editor told me to draw, I drew," he related (Al'Mata 2007).  His political naiveté was taken advantage of by the editor of Le Palmares, who, Al'Mata said, "would ask politicians what caricature they liked and I was asked to draw that way without knowing the arrangement the editor had made.  I was paid peanuts, but the editor was paid well by the politicians for favorable caricatures of them" (2007).

The cartoon that got Al'Mata into trouble with the government showed "Mobutu crying rivers of tears" when the king of Belgium, with whom Congo was having difficulties, died.  A consular Al'Mata drew into the cartoon advises Mobutu to cry even more and "maybe the Belgians would forgive him" (2007).  Al'Mata soon realised his life would never be the same, as related in a 2007 interview:

After that I wore a cap and grew a beard for a while.  I'd see a politician and think he recognised me.  I did not want to leave Congo but I'd been in prison twice already – once for a week, another time for five days – and I saw journalists being killed off.  The threats were too big, too obvious.  But to leave was dangerous for my family left in Congo.  My mom said I should draw other things, not politics (2007).

He knew it was time to leave, especially after a harrowing encounter he had with the son of Mobutu:

I used to be asked to do caricatures at various events by the day.  I always used my penname.  Once Mobutu's son asked me to draw caricatures.  He did not know who I was… and while I was with him, he was telling me he hated that Al'Mata.  Oh, my God!  That's me!" (2007).

Perhaps this was a ploy on the part of the president's son to frighten Al'Mata, for Willy Zekid, another cartoonist who exiled to France from Congo – Brazzaville, had a similar, though more violent, experience, when armed police came to him, asking the whereabouts of Willy Zekid.  "I could see they did not wish him well," Zekid said, referring to himself in the third person, so he told the police the man they were looking for was not there.  After a violent outburst where they broke and scattered everything from Zekid's desk and then smashed the desk itself, the police told Zekid, "When he comes, tell him we will smash him like the desk."  The "threatening aspect was enough proof for me that we were not really safe here," Zekid said, after which he fled to France (Fagiolo Resistance dans le 9e Art: nd).

Perhaps the most chilling account of retribution meted out to cartoonists was given by Slim (Menouar Merabtene), who left Algeria in 1993 to live in Morocco, where he found he was also at risk, and the following year moved to France. Slim is one of Algeria's most famous cartoonists, partly for his strip "Zie Ya Bouzid," which he started in 1969, and for his political cartoons; he also has authored 10 graphic novels and numerous albums and produced several short animated films.

Slim had received threatening telephone calls at home in Algeria, which he blamed on Muslim fundamentalists.  He said,

With the fundamentalists, we could see the risks.  In the street, men looked at me like they could kill me.  At the time, I was not known as an enemy of the fundamentalists, but I was an enemy once I took a position when the fundamentalists were not depicted as being in power in my drawings (Slim 1998; Lent 2008: 86).

When Slim left for Morocco, his plan was to stay until the political situation cooled in Algeria.  But, in August 1994, Morocco and Algeria "had problems and the border was closed," at which time, Slim went to France.  He said that for "about two years around this time, I did not work; I had lost my taste for laughter, for satire, for everything.  Then, I decided to get into the fray" (Slim 1998; Lent 2008: 86).

What he was hearing coming out of Algeria assured him he had made the right decision by leaving.  He told about the brutal killings of two cartoonists, one of whom was his friend Brahim Guerroui:

He was executed [in 1995].  The fundamentalists took him from his home, to the streets.  They told his family they just wanted to talk to him.  Later, they took his body, his severed head with his drawings stuffed in his mouth, back to his family.  The second cartoonist killed was Mohamed Dhorben, a very good drawer….  A car bomb killed him, three other journalists, and maybe 20 people in the street (Slim 1998; Lent 2008: 85).

Slim's indignation rises when he thinks about the lack of concern in the "outside world" where "the Algerian problem is like a dog killed in the street; there are only a few lines in the world's press about these killings" (Slim 1998; Lent 2008: 85; see also Douglas and Malti-Douglas 2008).

Nyaphaga said he was arrested, beaten, and tortured many times by police before he was able to flee Cameroon on February 18, 1996.  The beatings did not bother him as much as being among killers, rapists, and other hardened criminals.  While in prison, Nyaphaga said he heard "horrible things, terrible things," fellow prisoners telling how they killed and raped.  When they asked why he was there, Nyaphaga told them because he drew cartoons, at which point, he said, "they lowered their eyes" (Nyaphaga 2007; Fagiolo Resistance dans le 9e Art: nd).

The first newspaper Nyaphaga drew for was the satirical Moustique Dechainé (The Freed Mosquito), in 1990, and then Galaxie and Sentinelle before joining Le Messager Popoli.  The latter had run-ins with the Paul Biya government, partly because of the biting cartoons of another cartoonist, Nyemb Popoli, who himself had fled for his life to Chad where he stayed a short time before returning home.  As a result, the government kept Le Messager Popoli under close scrutiny, requiring that it be pre-censored by three officials.  Nyaphaga said writers and cartoonists for the twice weekly newspaper used pseudonyms although this strategy did not work for him, as he explained:

One day [in 1995]…, a cop stopped me and demanded to see my ID.  He took me to the police station.  He said, "We know who you are" and insisted I give him names of others under pseudonyms.  I felt I could not give names.  I said, "If I do that, it means I work for you.  You don't pay me or anything."  I could hear people screaming, being tortured.  I was in jail two weeks.  Usually, you are delayed for two days, 48 hours, but me, two weeks, and no one knew where I was.  They beat me, shocked me.  They said they were going to send me to New Bell Prison for three years; they said a lot of diseased people are there, with TB, etc., and "you'll die there."

In Cameroon, you can go to prison without a lawyer.  I spent 4-5 months at New Bell.  I was being taken to a trial when Maître Elise Coupier, a lawyer, recognised me….  She asked me what I was doing there….  I said I insulted the government, made fun of prison.  She said to give her the number of my file.  It was 52.  She looked in the file and said there was nothing in it.  No charges.  She defended me saying I had a kid and if I stay in prison, my kid would be wronged in society (Nyaphaga 2008).

Nyaphaga was given a provisional release but had to return to the tribunal in a month and to pay 50,000 CFR (two persons' salaries for a month).  He was not permitted to draw any cartoons for three years.  Because he had no job, he decided to resume doing his own page in Le Messager Popoli, rationalising, "the people needed me, " and tempting his fate.

Shortly after, an anonymous policeman, who said he and his wife admired Nyaphaga's cartoons, called him, warning, "They are going to get you back."  Nyaphaga, who had a show coming up in France, hid out until he could obtain a tourist visa.  He said he was able to leave because he bribed the chief of police, knowing that his name was in the computer [at immigration] and many police were at the airport who could prevent him from boarding his flight to Paris (2008).

Other cartoonists and comics writers moved to Europe, because they no longer could endure the climate of fear, repression, and censorship in parts of West and North Africa.  Eyoum Nganguè of Cameroon immigrated to France after a year in prison for "political defamation"; Christophe N'Galle Edimo, born in France but raised in Cameroon, resettled in Paris because of political reasons, stating, "In Africa, it always happens, you are in the wrong time" (Edimo 2007); Tayo Fatunla of Nigeria went into exile in London because "Editors were censoring my works many times in the past" (Repetti 2006: 248), and Michel Ongoudou Loundah of Gabon ironically fled to Cameroon in February 2002.  Editor of La Griffe (The Claw), an "irreverent" satirical newspaper in Libreville, Loundah, the previous year, had survived a kidnapping and murder attempt and watched La Griffe be censored and seized regularly before it was banned indefinitely, accused of publishing articles and cartoons "bordering on provocation against the head of state" (Eko 2007: 2). Ultimately, Loundah was granted political asylum in France.  Adjim also left his country, Chad, partly because of the authorities' "intimidation with words" and warnings to cartoonists (Danngar 2007).  One of the few women cartoonists among the exiles is Fifi Mukuna, who left Democratic Republic of Congo because her bande dessinées upset tribal leaders.  Her husband "died in Kinshasa because of her work on BD," Edimo said (2007).

Adjustment to Diaspora

Life in Europe presented its own set of frustrations and anxieties for African cartoonists, the main ones being the thought that they would not be able to return home for a long time and that the families they left behind might be victimised by retaliatory government officials.  Nyaphaga, who expected to be abroad only a few months, said because the French "do not open up," he wanted to return home soon after he arrived in Paris.  He was dissuaded by one of his brothers,

who told me I should not come home because it would defeat everything they had done to help me out of Cameroon.  He asked me, "Don't you think the other exiles feel like you?  And, also, the police are still looking for you" (Nyaphaga 2007).

Although he has been abroad for about 12 years, Nyaphaga still has strong feelings about not being in Cameroon, stating, "Going into exile makes one feel defeated, like not finishing something one started" (Fagiolo A Pen in Exile: nd).  He had a strong yearning to go home in 2007 when he turned 40 years old, because that birthday is important in Cameroonian society and he felt he should have celebrated it with his mother (Nyaphaga 2007).

Slim had a different reason for wanting to go back to Algeria, one that was practical at the same time philosophical.  He wanted to sell all his original artwork stored in Algeria, because "when you have many friends who have died, you think life itself is very important; all other things not important… only life matters" (Slim 1998).

Other African cartoonists in France felt they were being exploited and that they had reason to distrust some Europeans with whom they worked.  Both Al'Mata and Simon P. Mbumbo, formerly of Cameroon, complained they had been treated "badly" by the Italian-based Africa e Mediterraneo, which has held exhibitions of African cartoonists and published their books.  Al'Mata said he sought legal action against the group because he had been underpaid for his work: "They took away many zeroes from what I expected" (Al'Mata 2007), Mbumbo went to Paris in 1999 on a two-year academic course and stayed because he thought France had more opportunities for cartoonists.  By 2007, he was disillusioned and did not hold much hope for French publishing houses, which he said refused to publish comics on controversial subjects (e.g. a bande dessinée he and others proposed on the French petrol conglomerate ELF and its exploitative relationship with Africa), preferred titles that negatively stereotyped Africa, and "did not take this work done by African cartoonists seriously" (Mbumbo 2007).  Mbumbo elaborated:

I feel I am losing time in the Francophone world.  I almost work for free here.  I feel I've been used a lot.  I am disillusioned with the BD ambience in France.  A lot of groups here are taking money from the European Union, but they are not doing what they are supposed to with it.  Cartoonists are being used and we'd like to change that.  One can work for free but not always (2007).

He said he felt like he was "going in circles" when he submitted project ideas to French comics editors:

They never say yes or no if they want the project.  I've done four years like this and I'm tired….  Very often, we are forced to do sci fi and other stories that have nothing to do with Africa.  I would not refuse to do other things, but having so many stories and proverbs from Africa to tell, why do the same themes – usually stereotypical stories about Africa.  Editors want stories on AIDS, war, poverty…. usually they want stories on war.  There are a lot of beautiful things in Africa that are not seen.  Stereotyping of Africa is a part of colonialism that has stayed on (Mbumbo 2007).

Marguerite Abouet, originally from Ivory Coast and now living in a Paris suburb, has also spoken out against stereotypical stories about Africa.  Her successful graphic novel, Aya de Yopugon (2005, with Clément Oubrerie), was the first African work to capture a prize at Angoulême, Europe's most important comics festival. In Aya, Abouet recollects her youth in Ivory Coast, "the silliness I got into, the unbelievable stories about the quartier, the families, the neighbors."  The author said she had "felt a little guilty for being content in another country, far away from my family" (Ajayi 2007).

Another motivation for doing Aya had to do with Abouet's annoyance with the way the media "systematically showed the bad side of the African continent, habitual litanies of wars, famine, of the 'sida' and other disasters" (2007). She added,

It is interesting to confirm that the easygoing and careless impression of Africa that is found in Aya fortunately still exists, even today….  I can assure you that the Ivory Coast remains a beautiful country…, despite its disasters….  African women finally share the same dreams of other women on the planet, and I wish only to show their daily lives filled with hopes and desires to perform as modern women in Africa (2007).

The African cartoonists-in-exile themselves came in for criticism, by Edimo, a key comics writer among them, who said many African cartoonists "sell out" when they go to the West in short-sighted attempts at marketability.  "Some choose to copy the style the Europeans use when they draw Africans," he said, "and settle for rosy topics that avoid political or tribal issues" (Repetti 2006: 249).  Repetti disagreed with Edimo, stating that "hybrid style, métissage, cultural exchange and mixing are the modalities that currently define art as something global and universal" (2007: 249).

A number of comics titles created by African cartoonists living abroad do broach the sensitive issues Edimo mentioned, as well as relate to African cultures more generally.  The meticulously-drawn Ô mon pays (c. 2002), created by Pat Masioni of Democratic Republic of Congo and now living in France, deals with a man and woman from different ethnic backgrounds caught in the midst of tribal warfare, and an untitled work by Jean Claude Ngumire of Rwanda (now in Rotterdam) captures the tragedy of the Tutsi and Hutu War.  Masioni covers a country's history of genocide in Rwanda 1994: Descente en enfer (2005).

Ivorian Faustin Titi (now lives in France) highlights police corruption and brutality in Le flic de Gnasville (c. 2003), the story of a police officer on the verge of retirement reflecting on his career of brutalising prisoners, while Chrisany (Francis Taptue Fogue), a Cameroonian working in France, reveals terrible prison conditions and corruption in the legal system in Article 5 et 9, extrait de la déclaration universelle des Droites d'Homme (2002).  Described as a "kind of African Kafka" the story is of a man who is falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned where he is tortured (Repetti 2006: 248). A court-appointed lawyer gives him a copy of the declaration of human rights, saying while it is illegal to treat prisoners cruelly, he will not take the man's case because others will pay higher fees for his services.  The prisoner uses the declaration for toilet paper (Federici 2006: 28).

Still other stories coming out of the diaspora concentrate on the plight of children in Africa's urban centers, and "speak to the hopes for reclaiming a generation of children from the streets of Africa and the destruction of war" (Oliver 2006: 36).  Among them are Enfants (2002), by Mukuna and Edimo, and Enfant de Rue (c. 2003), by Didier Mada BD (Didier Randriamanantena) of Madagascar now residing and working in Paris.  Enfants portrays a boy in a "typical African town trying to help his family, and his delight in a flying bird.  Through no fault of his own, he meets a tragic end by fire; his reincarnation as a bird is portrayed at the end of the story" (Schroth 2006: 258).

Also about African children are Al'Mata and Sapi Gampez's Tout ce qui Tombe (2002) and Abouet's AyaTout ce qui Tombe tells about two children who find an abandoned piano that was dumped from an overloaded plane.  With the help of an old villager, they learn music and become prodigies.  While they perform in concert, two audience members debate the appropriateness of developing an appreciation for classical music in a nation with serious economic problems (see Reid 2006: 238).  Aya follows the antics of three girls (Abouet one of them) in Yop City, Ivory Coast, in the 1970s – how they "adhere to traditional values…, in spite of the freedoms they have" (Abouet in Ajayi 2007).

Mbumbo is also juxtaposing modernity and tradition in Africa into stories he is developing.  One he is doing with Edimo takes on the issue of forced marriage – between a beautiful girl and the tribal chief who wants her to be his 29th wife.  When she declines, saying she lives in the modern world, the chief pressures her family, emphasising they should respect tradition.  The chief eventually asks a voodoo practitioner to cast a curse on the girl's boyfriend, at which point, the girl, in order to save her boyfriend, marries the chief (Mbumbo 2007).  Mbumbo's other stories-in-progress treat soccer player's dependence on voodoo and an imaginary effort to create musical exchange among all Africans (Mbumbo 2007).

Finally, some African cartoonists in exile show that a better life awaits those who migrate; among them are Farid Boudjellal, of Algeria now living/working in France, with his Le Beurgeois (1997) and Petit Polio (2002), and Faustin Titi with Une eternité à Tanger (2005).

Cartoonists Cooperatives

Organisations of African cartoonists living in Europe exist in at least Belgium and France, designed to help the artists acclimate to their surroundings, engage in collaborative projects, and participate in "networks and survival strategies in the face of difficult working conditions" (Repetti 2006: 244).  In Belgium, there is an association with these aims, Afro Bulles, run by Alix Fuilu; in France, there are two such supportive groups, JAFE (African Cartoonists in Exile) and L'Afrique Dessinée, both in Paris.

Nyaphaga, along with fellow Cameroonian Eyoum Nganguè, started JAFE, because,

We had to struggle with the administration in France.  We felt we had to provide resources for cartoonists and journalists in exile.  We start with little things – like always having a couch available for an exile to sleep on, transportation, etc. (Nyaphaga 2007).

In 2003, JAFE published the book Comment la France traite l'asile.

The most active group is L'Afrique Dessinée, started in 2001, by Christophe Edimo who described its origins:

L'Afrique Dessinée grew from a project of an association concerning the health of African children in Africa whereby artists were asked to draw about education and children's health.  [After that,] I got in touch with some of the African artists here and we formed L'Afrique Dessinée (Edimo 2007).

In the organisation's Dossier Afrique Dessinée (2007) the countries from which these drawers and scenarists hailed were Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Chad, France, and Colombia.  All of the artists had lived parts of their lives in Africa.

The dossier lists purposes as, describing Africa by illustrations and comic books, and considering the meaning of democracy and being a citizen with young people during workshops in Africa and France.  Edimo (2007) elaborated on and expanded these aims:

L'Afrique Dessinée aims to show French people pictures [in bande dessinées] of an Africa they cannot imagine, of the common life.  Also, we try to make BD more popular in Africa. We sell our books in Africa where there is a big potential market.  And, we try to educate the public about the difference between bande dessinée and caricature [political cartoon].

Publishing bande dessinée and other comics-related materials is an important function of the group, which maintains its own atelier and is structured to accomplish that task.  In L'Afrique Dessinée, three artists (Mbumbo, Adjim, and Mukuna) collaborate with Edimo as the writer; others with Zekid, and still others alone.  Edimo said, "If an artist had the same interest as I do, I work with him [or her].  We have the same feelings, etc.  For the moment, I show common people's lives in my writing" (2007).

Edimo does not seek outside money because "it is boring to apply for grants and it takes time"; instead, L'Afrique Dessinée survives on revenues derived from its projects, as Edimo explained:

We are lucky men.  If one of our projects succeeds, it gets us to the next project.  That is enough; it is sufficient for us.  We like what we are doing; after that, we can survive.

We started and maintained the atelier out of our own money.  Ten percent of the money earned from book sales, festivals, and projects is put back for atelier rent, travel expenses, etc.  If any one of us is successful with a project, we give 10 percent back to L'Afrique Dessinée.  So far, only two people ran away [reneged on this arrangement] (Edimo 2007).

The organisation's list of activities as of mid-2007 included participation in 15 cartoon exhibitions in Europe (France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Netherlands) and five in Africa (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Mali); cooperation with French associations involved in social welfare, such as publishing a comic book on criminalisation of prostitution in Africa and a set of postcards "10 Crimes in a Nation," each highlighting a crime of society against the poor, invalids, etc.; representation of cartoonists at exhibitions in France dedicated to African culture, such as food, clothing, art craft, music, cinema, theatre, etc., and arranging of comics workshops in schools of Parisian suburbs and on various topics for groups dealing with immigration in South France, health, and education.

Of course, publication is a large part of L'Afrique Dessinée's mandate, either jointly or independently.  The group's artists/scenarists worked on five bande dessinées in the "Common Values" series, organised in 2005 by Africa e Mediterraneo (Bologna) and financed by the European Union.  Each book dealt with a different value (honesty, friendship, etc.), explained in different ways through the perspectives of the most important religions in Europe.  The books' target audience was 12-15 year old school children.  In 2007-2008, L'Afrique Dessinée published a comic book with Atelier BDB de Bamako of Mali entitled Yana, femme de Bamako, on the changing elevated role of women in economics, politics, and social areas.  The first of the group's own comic books was Une journée dans la vie d'un Africain d Afrique (A Day in the Life of an African living in Africa).

Cartoonists such as Adjim and Al'Mata acknowledged that L'Afrique Dessinée helped them in their adjustments when they came to Paris.  Adjim had a particularly hard time; he was about to be expelled form France, when, after 1 ½ years, he was finally accepted as a political refugee.  "During that time, I lived poorly, did not know where I was going to sleep many days," he said.  Maison des journalistes, a group dedicated to aiding journalists waiting for refugee status, gave him shelter for eight months in exchange for his drawings to be used on their Website (Danngar 2007).

Despite mutual criticisms, the Italian agency and periodical Africa e Mediterraneo and African cartoonists in Europe have worked together publishing series such as Valeurs communes and Africa Comics Collection (nine comics albums) and coordinating exhibitions, a prime one being Africa Comics, the first exhibition in the United States (New York 2007) dedicated exclusively to the continent's comic art.  Diaspora cartoonists featured both in the publications and exhibitions (Federici 2006: 30).


African cartoonists living in Europe are unique among comic art diasporas in that they have united in associations/studios that have helped them break into/assimilate to their new environs, as well as to serve broader goals.  Working within their own organisations, such as L'Afrique Dessinée, JAFE, and Afro Bulles, and in collaboration with Africa e Mediterraneo and others, the cartoonist-exiles have brought recognition to the rich comics tradition of Africa that heretofore was thought not to exist.  This they have accomplished by participating in festivals, staging their own shows such as Issa Nyaphaga does, and publishing their artwork in bande dessinées distributed in Africa, Europe, and slowly, the United States.

In the process, the cartoonist-exiles have brought international attention to the difficulties of working at their profession in most parts of Africa because of severe political restraints, inadequate comics industry infrastructures, and economic difficulties.  Their stories and artwork expose negative aspects of African societies, such as poverty, police brutality, and political corruption, all of which the outside world has incessantly heard about.  But, some of their bande dessinées serve to counter the stereotypical view of a dark, blighted continent, dwelling instead on diverse cultural heritages and common people's daily lives, which may, in the long run, help African people to be viewed as something besides the Other.


Ajayi, A. (2007) "Drawing on the Universal in Africa: An Interview with Marguerite Abouet" in The Wild River Review, May 11.

Al'Mata (Alain Mata Mamengi) (2007) Interview with John A. Lent, Paris, France, July 23.

Danngar, Adjim (2007) Interview with John A. Lent, Paris, France, July 23.

Dossier Afrique Dessinée (ca 2007) Paris: L'Afrique Dessinée.

Douglas, A. and F. Malti-Douglas (2008) "Vignette: 'A' Is for Algeria (or Afghanistan)" in Cartooning in Africa, ed. J.A. Lent, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 90-95.

Edimo, Christophe N'Galle (2007) Interview with John A. Lent, Paris, France, July 24.

Eko, L. (2007) "It's a Political Jungle Out There: How Four African Newspaper Cartoons Dehumanized and 'Deterritorialized' African Political Leaders in the Post-Cold War Era" in The International Communication Gazette, vol. 69 no. 3, pp. 219-238.

Fagiolo, N. (nd.) A Pen in Exile, Documentary film, Paris.

Fagiolo, N. (nd.) Resistance dans le 9e Art, Documentary film, Paris.

Federici, S. and A. Marchesini Reggiani. (2006) "Working with the African Comics Artists" in Africacomics, New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, pp. 24-31.

Lent, J. A. (2008). "Vignette: The Horrors of Cartooning in Slim's Algeria" in Cartooning in Africa, ed. J.A. Lent, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 84-89.

Mbumbo, Simon (2007) Interview with John A. Lent, Paris, France, July 25.

Nganguè, Eyoum (2007) Interview with John A. Lent, Paris, France, July 25.

Nyaphaga, Issa (2007, 2008) Interviews with John A. Lent, Drexel Hill, PA., April 28; Jan. 28-30.

Oliver, V. C. (2006) "Africa Comics: The Supersonic Soul Boom!" in Africacomics, New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, pp. 33-39.

Reid, C. (2006) "The Education of a Comics Nut" in Africacomics, New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, pp. 231-239.

Repetti, M. (2006). "New Comics from Africa" in Africacomics, New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, pp. 241-250.

Schroth, M. (2006) "Another Way of Looking: African Artists and Comics" in Africacomics, New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, pp. 253-261.

Slim (Menouar Merabtene) (1998) Interview with John A. Lent, Bethesda, MD., Sept. 26.