Ethiopia’s First Comic Book Superhero
An interview with Beserat Debebe, the creator of Jember and publisher of Etan Comics
Ever since the blockbuster film Black Panther captured global attention last year, there has been growing interest and demand for African themes within the popular superhero genre of entertainment. Although African characters have featured prominently in major comic book series, such as The X-Men, for decades, it is only in recent years that these kinds of stories have begun to be crafted by Africans themselves. A few pioneering African publishers like Nigeria’s Vortex Comics and YouNeek Studios have been successfully publishing African sci-fi and fantasy comics for years and some are now expanding into animation. Inspired by these examples, Beserat Debebe set out to create an original Ethiopian superhero with his comic book series, Jember, which was released last year in both English and Amharic editions. We spoke to Beserat about his passion for comics and how he hopes to further expand this literary genre in the Ethiopian community.
What is your personal history with comic books?
I’ve always loved comics, animation and video games as a kid. When I came to the United States as a teenager, reading comics was one of my favorite hobbies. I was attracted to its ability to communicate complex emotions and tell fantasy stories through images and art.
What motivated you to start Etan Comics?
I was inspired by my desire to make a positive impact in my community and to tell stories that I think are important and exciting. I wanted to draw inspiration from East African history and mythologies to create fresh and entertaining stories that everyone can relate to.
What messages do you seek to communicate through your comics?
In addition to entertaining, our mission is to empower, and educate. There are a lot of Ethiopians and Africans who may not feel like they are important or capable of making a difference in society. Seeing someone like them as a superhero, someone who has lived through their experience and conquered its challenges to become a symbol of inspiration and good, empowers and encourages them to unleash their full potential. Our stories will also help non-Africans see Africans in a new way. There is an overwhelming bias in mainstream media to paint Africans as people who need help rather than people who offer help. This one-sided story is not all there is about Africans. In every African country, there are people performing amazing acts of bravery, innovation, responsibility etc. We just want to do our part to highlight these traits through our stories. At the end of the day, African stories are human stories.
What are your ambitions for the future?
In the future, we plan to expand the ETAN COMICS Universe one character at a time. In fact, we just introduced our first female Ethiopian superhero title, HAWI, through a crowdfunding campaign. The response to HAWI has been amazing. Fans from all over the world supported our campaign and got us over 300% funded on Kickstarter. It just goes to show how much people believe in what we are doing so we can’t wait until everyone reads HAWI and all our future stories. In the long term, we plan to introduce more stories through other mediums such as animation, video games, TV and feature films.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ETAN COMICS ONLINE
JEMBER books are sold in Ethiopia at Emana Book Center, 1st Floor of Getu Commercial Building, Addis Ababa. Both English and Amharic editions are available.