Etan Comics Brings Africa Together in Long Distance: African Folklore Anthology

October 8, 20235 min read

Originally published on OkayAfrica and written by Nadia Neophytou.

Beserat Debebe is no stranger to taking his biggest dreams and making them come true. He founded Etan Comics in 2018, and in January next year will celebrate 6 years in the business of bringing African fantasy and superhero stories to audiences around the world. Debebe, who was born in Addis Ababa and came to the U.S. in 2004, has achieved feats like creating the first range of Ethiopian comics through Jember, which was short-listed for Best Graphic Novel at the Nommo Awards, and Hawi, which gave life to Ethiopia’s first female comic superhero. His latest venture is something, he tells OkayAfrica, he’s been wanting to do ever since founding Etan.

“My goal with the company has always been to make it a center of Black excellence and the best place to find empowering stories that celebrate African history and culture,” he says. His latest project that embodies this ethos? A Pan-African comic book anthology – “a perfect way to do just that.”

Titled Long Distance, the anthology features the work of more than 24 trailblazing African creators from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and more, across ten stories. It’s in keeping with everything Debebe’s comic book company stands for. “Etan Comics is all about making sure Black kids can dive into awesome stories that make them feel amazing about themselves. We want to make that the new normal. We are tired of stories that make Africans seem helpless, violent or uneducated,” he says. He believes stepping up and filling this void is a vital part of the work they do. “In this era of book bans, we want to play our part in empowering Black kids by curating fun and educational anthologies like Long Distance.”

In the past, Debebe has had great success using the platform of Kickstarter to get his projects off the ground, and so he turned to it once again for Long Distance, setting up a Kickstarter that was fully-funded within a day by over 300 Day One backers. “Kickstarter continues to be the lifeblood of independent comic book publishers,” he says. “Even mainstream brands are publishing their books through there nowadays.”

Authentic African comic books

The platform continues to be a useful tool for Debebe because it connects Etan Comics directly with its “most passionate fans.” And, he adds, allows Etan to give them the best version of their product. The way he sees it, it’s mutually beneficial. “Independent creators don’t have to sacrifice their vision or give up their creative freedom or deal with industry gatekeepers when they publish through Kickstarter,” he adds. “We will certainly continue to use it. All comic creators should.”

But there’s a big reason why the Kickstarter did so well. Etan Comics is tapping into the growing desire for authentic African comic book stories. “This anthology features incredible talent,” says Debebe. “Just to mention a few, this book features the debut comic book story by Booker-Prize shortlisted author Maaza Mengiste. It features a story by the great-grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie, Prince Joel Makonnen. It features a foreword by New York Times bestselling author and Head of Disney’s new imprint, Freedom Fire, Kwame Mbalia. And a cover by the artist of Black Panther and Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse, Sanford Greene.”

Continue reading on OkayAfrica.

Check out the Kickstarter here.

Hear the creators speak about the project below:

Once published, Long Distance will join a growing list of African Comics Anthology such as Kalabash, ComicUp and Kugali’s anthologies.

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