For wall adornments, some go for family portraits others prefer captivating artworks and in this very religious country, imagery alongside motivational scriptures is very common.
I have curated a unique collection blending Kenyan mythology with a comic book aesthetic, sourced from the renowned Avandu Studio.
For those unfamiliar, Avandu Studio stands out as a distinct and prolific art studio based in Nairobi, dedicated to disseminating African-inspired narratives worldwide through its comics and illustrations.
Shifting our focus from wall decor, last Saturday marked the launch of Avandu Studio’s ninth comic book at the Alliance Française, Wana wa Magere (translated as “Children of Magere”).
Wana wa Magere Chapter 1: Umati Far from merely being a unique take or exploration, the comic serves as a continuation of the enduring legacy of Luanda Magere.
Although the story may be familiar to many Kenyan millennials and Gen Xs, there is a collective agreement that it may have been told and retold countless times.
However, Wana wa Magere demonstrates Avandu Studio’s ability to pay homage to the past while propelling the legend’s narrative into the future.
However, in the end, the comic book is a “product”, and it is only reasonable to delve into and analyse it thoroughly to ascertain its effectiveness as a product.
Jawar and Neema embark on a quest to confront a “prophetic” figure who may or may not be the beacon of hope the youth desperately need.
This narrative strikingly mirrors the current state of our nation, where young individuals are trapped in a cycle of unproductive behaviours like alcoholism and unemployment.
It serves as a powerful social commentary, reflecting the reality of life through art.
While art often mirrors life, the story skillfully navigates the delicate balance between social commentary and the captivating allure of comic book storytelling.
Unlike other Kenyan comic book entries like the first chapter of Jonte, which heavily emphasised social commentary, or the action-packed superheroism of Punchers: The Olaloh Pus Saga, this book seamlessly blends both elements, avoiding an overwhelming tilt towards any single direction.
The pages boast captivating illustrations, a notable feature of Avandu Studio’s distinct approach to character design.
The characters are not only visually stunning but possess unique personalities that ensure readers remain fully engaged, especially during action-packed scenes.
The skilful utilisation of environmental design seamlessly complements the narrative, subtly infusing the story with familiar Kenyan cultural locations.
Artefacts and traditions are flawlessly integrated, leaving no sense of cultural displacement. While the concept may not be entirely original, the narrative structure is remarkably easy to follow, catering to both adult and young readers.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the book is the evident dedication to research. The attention to detail is particularly evident when delving into artefacts, showcasing a level of understanding that elevates the storytelling.
Even for those unfamiliar with Luanda Magere, Avandu adeptly ensures they are kept well-informed with an opening that helps with understanding the roots of the story.
Luanda Magere has a primarily western Kenya origin, this story introduces an aspect from the central part of Kenya and the seamless fusion creates a truly all-encompassing Kenyan experience.
Remarkably, the physical book’s quality in terms of printing is good, leaving one puzzled at its modest price.
Although the central characters, Jawar and Neema, are visually well realised, their depth seems limited mainly to their superpowers.
As the story progresses beyond this introductory phase, I anticipate gaining insight into the significance of their lineage as descendants of Luanda.
The antagonist, while visually imposing and commanding, falls short as a character due to a lack of compelling motivation and development.
Interestingly, secondary characters like Kamaa, whom we follow closely in the opening, and Maina, the henchman, exhibit more robust personalities than the primary villain.
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Wana wa Magere: Chapter 1: Umati stands as an exceptional ninth addition to a rich collection of stories I highly recommend acquiring a copy not just for its Kenyan origin but because it genuinely exemplifies excellence, seamlessly intertwining traditional and contemporary cultural elements.
Its universal appeal spans all age groups, presenting familiar themes through a masterful blend of tradition and captivating artistry.
For those new to Avandu, Beast from Venus serves as an excellent entry point into their world of creativity and imagination.
I would also encourage you to explore their stand-alone posters as well, which are sure to be equally visually enticing and culturally immersive.
You can conveniently obtain these books via their website or other comic book online vendors like uncanny valley comics.