Emergency Webcomic

by zunguzungu

Why I’m Writing This Web-Comic:

“As a young undergraduate,  I was always unnerved by the inaccessible format in which knowledge was delivered. Important though it was, and however exciting I personally found it, history wasn’t and isn’t good conversation material at your local kinyozi. So I adopted this very unoriginal idea of drawing a webcomic that would bridge the gap between the intellectual and the 16 year old with pierced ears. That’s why I’m doing this. But all platitudes aside, I just want you to enjoy reading EW first and foremost!”Since I created EW, many have asked me whether my efforts are informed by some ideological hard-on. I shall let my readers be the judge. But just for the record, I am a solo artist working alone in a dirty studio/bedroom, funded by no external entities.”

I just came across Chief Nyamweya’s webcomic, Emergency, from Ndesanjo Macho, over at Global Voices. You can read here; there are four issues so far (all available online) telling the story of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya from the perspective of Dedan Kimathi:

Like Che Guevara, everybody recognizes the name and images of Dedan Kimathi. But just like with Che, not as many know much detail. In the case of Kimathi, this is largely because popular fiction hasn’t responded to this interest the way scholars have. (interview)

On his influences:

I am a Ngugi WaThiong’o fan. I bought his autobiography Dreams in a Time of War the same day it was released last month. His writings are a great resource for context. Carol Elkin’s Britain’s Gulag is remarkably well researched, but it is a very tearful read. There is little redemption to be found in her book, and that is notwhat I want to be said of Emergency years from now.

Ian Henderson’s book, The Hunt for Dedan Kimathi should be put in a museum as one of mankind’s greatest examples of unrivaled horseshit. It is fascinating to listen to this murderous lunatic lie through his teeth. He seems to expect the reader to believe that hardened forest fighters would simply volunteer information to him without the slightest bit of coercion. Torture is the elephant in the room.

On “writing” about Mau Mau:

Emergency perhaps marks the first time I have worked without colour. I was always more of a painter than a drawer. However, the subject matter of Emergency was so grim and pensive that I thought black and white images effectively remove any cheerfulness from the art.

On publishing:

I imagined that finding a publisher, especially given the irreverent nature of Emergency, would be our biggest problem. Not so. Publishers, it turns out are a lot more pragmatic and a lot less prudish than we give them credit for. Positive feedback from the publishing world took about a month of card-trading, phone calls and emails.

What we didn’t expect was that publishing the comic (printing, distribution and marketing) would take 7 months!! This 7 months by the way, is a best case scenario. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a friggin’ long wait for Issue #4. Knowing what we now now, the blogpost we made here in mid-October (right before we went on a production break) makes us look like a bunch of wise-asses :) .  In the statement our shared desire, and indeed that of many EW fans, was to have a print comic before christmas. Well, given the 7+ month publishing period, Emergency would have to have existed in early 2010 for that to have been possible (Issue #1 was released on 1st September 2010).

In the interest of not making you queasy with dates and timelines, here’s the bottom line: the world of traditional publishing is light-years behind the online world!

Which nicely segues into the interesting way he deals with his audience; in a post on “Your Feedback,” he writes

…to all those whose eyes aged a bit while straining to read yesterday’s instalment, you have my heartfelt apology.

The horrible font being referred to was the ‘Old English’ which appears where speakers use English e.g. Henderson talking to Anthony (because English was of course not the lingua franca of Kenya’s Africans in the 1950s.) Old English I thought, represented a certain inaccessibility and snobbery of the characters who used it. I have now replaced this with a far simpler ‘Arial‘ in what is a radical turn in favour of readability over aesthetics. Who knows what Englishlooks like anyway?

I chose to represent a language-shift with a different font because anything else would be impractical. I don’t much like the jagged word-bubble idea. Nor could I directly use any indigenous language, including Swahili which was suggested to me, without alienating a majority of readers.