A comic character, created by a Lagos-based comic publishing outfit, emerges from the premise of an annulled presidential election held almost two decades ago. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
A mystery figure in a green DC Comics’ hero-like outfit is on the prowl. He needs not seek his “bad guys” in some distant planet of the galaxy. They are right here. Indeed, his adversaries are no hideous-looking villains, but ordinary-looking people who oil the wheels of this dysfunctional system. Oddly omniscient, he appears at the right moment to foil evil schemes.
Scene opens in a National Assembly building corridor. A probe committee has just landed some corrupt officials on the gravy train. One of them is Senator Maku Andrews. Smirking like the cat that got the cream, he saunters into his office only to be confronted by a green-clad mystery figure, who seems to read his private thoughts as though he were reading them through the pages of a book. Strangely, he knows about his plans to buy “that Dubai property”, as his next sentences confirm. “I could come up with some properties nearer home than Dubai. The only problem is the money is not yours.”
So what does this mystery figure want? “I heard you and your friend discussing the millions you just received from the construction consortium you are to probe,” he says. Groping for words, the discomfited senator listens helplessly as his schemes to cream off the system are exposed. “Senator, I will implore that you do not assign that new environmental infrastructure to your cousin as planned. It might become dangerous to your health.”
Maybe the mystery figure is a kind of Orwellian Big Brother. “I am watching you, Senator,” he continues. “Your people deserve an amazing experience this year. Or... your yet-to-be-acquired property in Dubai will be sold to fly you back home.”
Who does this figure say he is? “You know who I am. I am Justice. I am Truth. I am the people. I am JUNE 12 and I am always around the corner.”
June 12? It is an allusion to June 12, 1993 – one of the most idealised dates in Nigerian history. For pro-democracy activists, it was a day the people spoke with one voice. Indeed, Nigerians from across all geo-political zones had voted overwhelmingly for a business mogul from the Yoruba ethnic stock. But the elections were nullified even before the results were officially announced. For the publishers of this comic magazine, a character à la DC Comic superheroes embodies the spirit of this date. “The whole nation came together to agree with one man’s vision,” writes Adeola Abidemi the Imperial Creations Studios Limited’s editor-in-chief. “They believed he could make a difference, and those who stood against him did so because they realised it...One man can make a difference.”
The comic’s storyline is, therefore, not about the life and times of this believed winner of the June 12, 1993 elections. Here is the creators’ credo in a nutshell: “If a king is incorrupt and his subjects remain corrupt, such a king will soon be deposed and the land will fall into pure chaos and injustice. But if there were to be but one man amongst the people who stands against the corruption of the populace, the king may yet rule over a peaceful blessed land.
“The key is one man, any one man willing to stand and make that difference. That man is you. That man is June 12.”
The Imperial Creations Studios Limited’s team sums up its intentions with the hope that “you like the concept and story and will help us build June XII into not just a comic brand but a force that will not only represent the struggle of one man for the democratic freedom of his fellow citizens but one that will also inspire you and me to stand up and be the one man that makes the difference.”
June XII is therefore a hero created not only for the downtrodden but also for all Nigerians who aspire to an honest life. Even from this first episode, it is clear that he is prepared for a protracted war against corruption, nepotism and all the vices plaguing this most populous black nation. It begins with inspiring opening quotes from Mahatma Ghandi and the believed winner of the June 12, 1993 election, Chief MKO Abiola. Written by Ibrahim Ganiyu, it is not only “the first official release to carry the ICS Comics brand”, but also the outfit’s pioneer comic for its new digital release.
A character who mysteriously reads the mind of the “bad guys” is designed to be invincible. In his subsequent encounter in this issue, he rides roughshod over his adversaries. He wades into a near fatal scuffle between a trigger-happy policeman and a greedy Lagos minibus driver, who gleefully exploits his passengers but resists extortion at a police checkpoint. To both of them, he says: “Really! You both need your heads checked.” And to the trigger-happy policeman, he says after crushing the bullet heading for the driver’s chest: “Are you really that broke, Officer Francis, that you will kill for N50?” To Officer Francis’s lame excuse that it was an accidental discharge, he retorts: “Well, that is one accident that will not be happening again...ever.”
But the character’s guaranteed invincibility inflicts a numbing predictability on the storyline. It robs it of the much-desired suspense. So far in this first episode, he has neither been captured nor hurt by a foe. The reader cannot help seeing the modern-day prophet in him. This is especially when he spews out such platitudes as: “The police force is not a master, its [sic] a servant” and “No matter what, the safety of the populace is your objective”.
In this issue’s epilogue, the publishers deny that June XII is a superhero. “He is Justice,” they say. But then, virtually every discerning reader knows that justice is not always poetic. Indeed, it is one word most Nigerians easily scoff at. It also explains the worrisome culture of the so-called “jungle justice”.
The choice of the comic’s title, for the publishers, is also an awakening to the fact “that for our comics to appeal to people outside our country, it must first be accepted and related to Nigerians. Comics are a medium of expression and it seems we have spent way too much time and effort expressing thoughts and ideas that are alien to us as Nigerians (blame it on the fact that we grew up reading foreign comics or “Nigerianised” ones).”
With the anticipated success of this issue, the ICS Comics hopes to publish its other comic titles like Dark Edge 5 in the digital format. Faced with the same challenges of the publishing sector, the comic industry opts for new ways to remain relevant. “We still contended with distribution challenges because distributing the comics cost more than the unit production price. It was a bit of an issue for us and we’ve cracked our heads all these while for how best to resolve it. The digital release option is one way.
“We are hoping that, with your support we can put our entire titles out in digital release with the option for a combined print version to be available only by order annually. Some of our more down -to-Nigerian-earth titles however will be published in print form (e.g. Amazing Life stories and Badgais).”