The first Ethiopian comic book, Jember, weaves a superhero story about the journey of an ambitious young man.
As a college graduate, the main character, Amanuel Tilahun, is seen struggling to find a job in Addis Ababa, an aspect many young Ethiopians can relate to. In the midst of figuring it all out, Amanuel accidentally comes across an ancient relic that gives him extraordinary powers. The book follows his journey as he grapples with his new abilities and responsibilities.
Standing in front of the famous statue of a lion in Addis Ababa—an animal that is depicted in many Ethiopian stories as a symbol of courage and strength—Jember makes its debut as the first Ethiopian superhero in comic books. Not many of these books are embedded in African socio-cultural practices and hardly appeal to African’s sense of recognition. Jember, published in Amharic and English versions, is the newest addition to comics that work to dissolve this under-representation.
Inspired by a desire to make a positive impact in his community and tell stories that are important and exciting, Ethiopian-born Beserat Debebe set out to create fresh stories readers can relate to and use to expand their imagination and expectations for themselves.
To learn more, Culture Trip reached out to Debebe for an interview. ‘We live in a day and age where a lot of people around the world, especially Africans, use entertainment media as a source of education. Unfortunately, the overwhelming message that Africans currently see and hear about themselves in today’s media is negative. This can, consciously or subconsciously, limit their aspirations. By portraying them as superheroes, we shape their expectations for themselves and inspire them to be better citizens of the world,’ said Beserat.
In collaboration with his team members, Stanley Obende, Brian Ibeh, Akanni Akorede and Rebecca Asah, under the company Etan Comics, Beserat hopes to highlight the African history and mythology that have not been given the spotlight in mainstream media. The company’s comic books will showcase these historical events by merging them with an element of fantasy and sci-fi, with hopes of encouraging readers to learn more about the actual events. Reflecting the team’s belief, one of the characters in the book quotes Marcus Garvey: ‘A people without the knowledge of their history, is like a tree without its roots.’
Prior to moving to the United States as a teenager, creator and writer of the comic, Beserat Debebe, lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He studied Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland and also holds an MBA from Indiana University. In hindsight, Beserat speaks of how reading comics was one of his favorite hobbies. He was attracted to comic books’ ability to communicate complex emotions and tell fantasy stories through images and art.
Beserat says seeing the story depicted in the art, the colors, the dialogues, and the final product coming together makes him feel euphoric. Getting a message from fans about how much they enjoyed the book and how much it meant to them also gives him great satisfaction.
Endalk Asres, who has read the comic book, hopes Jember will continue to deliver stories with real heft. ‘It’s great to have a superhero that tries to combat social issues. The present-day Ethiopia is truly in need of a powerful mind than a powerful body and I am eager to see how Jember will use his indestructible powers to promote African values, cultures and indigenous knowledge in building a nation.’
Etan comics goes beyond creating works of art to offering its platform to those interested in creating comics. ‘Whatever you create, create it for yourself. Don’t force it or make it so that others will like it. Make it so that you will love it and be proud of it. If you ever want to work together, learn from each other, or use the Etan Comics platform to publish your work, please feel free to reach out.’ says Beserat.
The Etan team is now working on releasing the second issue of Jember, with an exciting new shero character reportedly on the way. Ethiopian readers can get the hard copy of the book at Emana Book Center, Getu Commercial Building in Addis Ababa. Fans outside of Ethiopia can purchase the digital copy on Etan Comics. Print copies of the first edition will be sold in the U.S. for the first time at the upcoming 2018 Soccer Tournament & Cultural Festival organized by the Ethiopian Sport Federation in North America in Dallas, Texas.