I ask Bunmi Oloruntoba why he works in comics; his answer speaks volumes.
“In many ways, the medium is like the African continent itself: it’s misrepresented,” he says. “When it comes to the continent, you know, it’s the conflict, it’s war, it’s the famine. And in comics, it’s Spiderman, the Hulk, superheroes! One genre within the medium has grown so large that it eclipses the medium, and people can’t see the potential. Just like it’s hard to see the humanity, the complexity, the drive of all the things Africans are doing, because it’s been eclipsed.”
This eclipsing is what novelist Chimamanda Adichie has called the problem of the ‘single story.’ Oloruntoba, a Nigerian-born journalist and academic in Washington, D.C., is proposing a solution: collide Africa’s single-story problem against comics’ single-story problem, and see what interesting new particles appear. With literary editor Emmanuel Iduma, he runs 3Bute.com (pronounced tri-bute), adapting other writers’ stories about Africa into three-page comics — and then wrapping those comics in a ‘mashable’ layer that lets any reader dot the panels with their own public annotations. Mouse over a drawing of a laptop surrounded by partiers, and you can watch a Youtube music video of the Hausa hit they might be dancing to; mouse over a drawing of Charles Chikwanje boldly refusing to reveal the name of his gay lover on Malawi television, and get a recommendation for a biography of Bayard Rustin. It’s new-media innovation, historical context, Wikipedia rabbithole, and sometimes even loyal dissent, side by side. And all of it is a living antithesis to the single story.
FJP: What’s really neat is that 3Bute uses what they call a mash-up platform that lets writers and artists collaborate on the 3 page visualizations. Each works like a pinboard where readers can tag a story with relevant context. Visit the site and check it out.
Image: 3bute.com collaborated with the Caine Prize, Africa’s leading literary prize, to adapt all the stories shortlisted into comics. Above is a screenshot from Bombay’s Republic by Rotimi Babatunde.