Let’s talk comics with Bill Masuku creator of Captain South Africa, Razor Man and a Book series
January 6, 2020
Before I start questioning Bill. Let’s set the scene. Why? Because this is about comics from Africa! Everyone who loves comics in Africa, has their own story to tell. And while preparing the questions that I will ask Bill, it reminded me of my own story below; how I love and have a passion for comics and how accessing it was difficult. Feel free to share with us your story in the comments section below. And bookmark this page if you find it’s too long to read it now. It will be worth your time to come back. If you want to support the works of this comics artist, please also share this article in your social media network.
The TV generation kids…
In my childhood there was no internet, we had no mobile phones and my classmate lied to me once that he found my profile on a laptop (that he also didn’t have) where it showed my photo and lots of personal details. He had some great imagination. That was in 1990. Little did we know that someday people would voluntarily upload details of their personal lives on platforms like Facebook. So, in those days, watching aired cartoons was something we took for normal, and access to comic books was a luxury. Am talking about when I grew up in Mauritius. In Germany there was plenty of comics and plenty of TV channels. We didn’t have all of that in Mauritius. We would also most of the time miss the aired cartoons because these would be playing when we are at school (15:30) receiving additional tuition from the teacher for which parents had to pay extra. So after school, I would run home to get a glimpse of the ending of Tom Sawyer. And that would be the last cartoon for the day. Some people were more privileged in having a TV antenna that could receive TV channels from our sister island Reunion which is part of France. They would air all the animes such as Dragon Ball Z. At that time popular was Les Chevaliers du Zodiac. I had some stickers of them, and still have sticking on my cupboard. I would look at them and imagine their stories. No, we couldn’t get animes on video cassettes from the local video clubs. They only had Disney stuff and then not even Duck Tales! I despaired when it came to my options if I’ll ever get to see mangas+animes and till I became an adult, and then left Mauritius, gradually, with internet, and living in Germany, options started to make themselves available… but then I was too busy making ends meet! Ah now wait, I remember, there were a few animes that aired, one was Genki, and it was super sad. And then Thundersub which I loved and Ricky Star. I didn’t like Bioman. Back in those days we didn’t have Biofoods either, makes him sound kind of pathetic now…
We cherished what we had. I had a few Dagobert Duck comics in German, some very old comics in French called Zembla and a few TinTins which I bought locally. They cost like Rs.200 around 1990. That wasn’t cheap. Oh, and this story needs to be told before we begin, I also have an old Marvel that cost DM 4.80 (Deutsch Marks) from 1985. How did I get that comic? I was in Berlin then, and my parents had given me a few Marks that I could buy with, whatever I liked. I went to those small stores that sell tobacco, newspapers, sweets and a few comic books. Once in there, I looked for the comic books and saw the Marvel I wanted to get cost more than I could afford. I really wanted that comic book. Like really really wanted it. I couldn’t imagine leaving that shop without it. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted it so bad, and I couldn’t leave. So I just froze there and stared forever at that comic book. Customers of the shop came in and out, and I would still be there staring at the comic book. After a while, some customer noticed me, a man. He came over to me and asked me, do you want that comic? I told him and nodded YES! Ok – I’ll buy it for you he said. He bought it and handed me the comic, and I was super thankful and happy. The shy shopkeeper smiled. I walked home and told my parents what had happened, and enjoyed every page of my comic, reading it slowly, turning each page carefully. And a few days ago I checked, and I still have that comic book. See, so many years later, I still remember. I don’t remember what’s in the comic book, it’s the gesture, the reception of that gift. Let’s take this as a reminder to do something nice for a kids now in our adulthood and when we can – what do you say?
I tried to draw comics myself, but wasn’t very good at it. There is one small comic story that I did make, and when I look at it today, it’s actually a nice comic. I should have persevered and made longer stories. Something was different with my mind then, I could think so crystal clearly and pay attention so closely to the smallest details. Now, I feel like I have brain fog and it would intensify if I would want to try to draw a comic. I admired people who can draw comics! There was one guy from Malaysia in high school who drew really well. When I would sit next to him, we would draw together, and I felt like my drawings were just not up to his level. He was simply talented. Ah! Not to forget Christian in primary school who like out of magic could draw anything on …rock slates. Yes, we had rock slates in primary school which had a wooden frame around it, and we wrote on these with pens made out of rock. Sounds like Flintstones huh!?
We could carry these in our bags, and if you weren’t careful, these would break. We would learn writing on these, and when done, we just wipe them clean with a cloth. Christian drew sports cars and we would laugh our asses off of the funny drawings he did of people pooping (which ended up him getting beaten with a bamboo stick by our class teacher!). He mastered really well perspectives. He was gifted. Apart from drawing things in the classrooms, it didn’t amount much more to that. None of them produced a comic story. And I kept wondering, how are comics made? What pens, ink, paper, techniques do they use? I felt like there was some sort of secret on how to achieve a comic book story. And this secret would never be revealed to me. So, I gave up on my dream of becoming a comic book artist. There was no youtube to google “How do I become a comic artist!?”. And, have you ever met a comic artist? Young adults in Mauritius, didn’t have much options in the artist arena. Very few would be musicians, some would paint, and some would write books. They couldn’t make a living from that, only very few music artists could. Neither would we get a comic book from continental Africa. That wouldn’t even cross our minds.
Over the last decade, I have seen various comics publications come out that have been created by local Mauritian comic artists. I would find these comic books in the comics book section at the hypermarket Super U in Grand Baie. (Hey Bill, they should sell your comics there too!) The stories, drawings and book binding is really well done. I would buy them like a collector would and also thinking, it’s a good way to support the artists. I want them to keep bringing out new works. Of course I also love going through these comics. Childhood nostalgia. Still, it never crossed my mind that there could also be some comics in production at our neighbours on the continental mainland such as in Zimbabwe. Did you ever think about comics from Africa? I say continental as I’m on an island, and we are actually really far away… Just for giving you an idea of location. Still, I hadn’t met a comic artist yet.
Some years later… Let’s pretend we have a scene transition here. I got to meet Bill at his brothers place here in Mauritius and we became friends. So far I have read his comics Captain South Africa, and read his book Misfortunism which I got as signed copies from him personally! Razor Man will be for the future. Am not familiar at writing critiques for books or comics, so am not going to write a review of his works. For sure I definitely enjoyed the comics and the book. Maybe, it also spares us some spoilers alerts! Let’s get to know comic artist Bill Masuku!
1. How’s your time been in Mauritius so far? Was there any comics related events that you attended or that took place while you were here? You told me about that Cosplay event in Ebene…
Hi, hello! Mauritius was such a lovely experience. I had never been on an island before, was interesting to how that affects the sense of community, safety, openness and just the fact the entire country is a beach day waiting to happen at any given moment. Has the feeling of going overseas without having actually left the continent.
Sadly I had only heard about the local comic event at last minute and wasn’t able to get my affairs in order in time. Hopefully next year would be able to exhibit there with some comics inspired by my travels in the country, definitely have a book and graphic novel brewing already!
2. Can you tell us where you are from? Where did you grow up? What was it like there for you in those different locations?
I’m from Zimbabwe which is in southern Africa, seated as a tea pot shaped country nested just above South Africa. I grew up there in the capital city of Harare. Zimbabwe makes for an interesting case study on economic changes affecting entire ecosystems and livelihoods. For most people inflation is a nuisance that means your petrol/gas now costs a few more cents, but the inflation that hit us in 2008 devastated trade, bonds, interest rates like the world had never seen before, mass migration and other wonderfully unpleasant things. But funnily enough, those that remained learned to make due, to make the best out of bad circumstances and learn how to make plans where none should be possible.
3. When did you come across comics for the first time and what did it make you feel?
I had actually started drawing comics well before I would ever hold one. I knew they existed and not like the newspaper strips I had seen in local press. Had seen them in TV shows and movies, and I was compelled to make some of my own. When I first held a comic, I must have been in high school – it was Uncanny X-Men. Everything I knew about story telling changed in that moment. My mind was being opened.
4. How and when did you discover that you are talented in drawing comics?
Was one of those things in Grade 4 where we needed to draw animals, and everyone shouted that I was good at drawing. Which made me question my talent because I figured that everyone could draw about the same. So it was a pleasant surprise.
Talent is also people’s perceptive value of someone else’s skill or ability I learned.
5. When did you know that you want to become a comics artist?
I think I had always known in some way, I wanted to tell fictional stories. So that meant I was dreaming up TV and game plots but they all equally worked in comic book format.
6. For young entrepreneurs reading in here, for many, in their early beginnings, they all face challenges, many give up, and some persevere. Some have fears, and some never get started. How was it like for you in the beginning? Did you give up several times? What kept you going? How did you motivate yourself not to give up and carry on? Any advise for young people who want to follow their passion?
My second beginning is really the start of my career, the year after university was very difficult. People’s perception of your talent can also affect you negatively. I was told to quit drawing several times. I think the main thing that kept me going was my compulsion to draw. I don’t just do it as a hobby, I think and convey information via images and it helped me continue to try and improve.
My advice is, do it for yourself. Not for the money, because that can go away or run out. Not for other people cause public opinions are fickle and trying to please everyone can get you no where.
7. Why did you study commerce at Rhodes University in South Africa? Did you already know before that, that you will become a comic artist, or did it crystallize into being while you were there. Did you then just quit your studies or still completed them? I’ve met a few students from the African Leadership University and some of them told me, they are studying something they aren’t passionate about. They are doing it because of their parents, and once they go back home, they’ll do the arts they love.
Yes indeed, was forced to study commerce and it didn’t go well for my health and life. It’s a really big weight trying your absolute best at something and still coming up short all the while massive amounts of funds are poured into your education. Dropping out was both painful and freeing. Didn’t know at the time that I was going to get anywhere with my art. But I knew I needed to get back to my art and me.
8. Tell us more about Captain South Africa and Razor Man. What’s your journey that led to the inspiration in creating them?
Captain SA was very much inspired by all the politics and social changes that happen in South Africa, the character herself was made with all the inspirational women that I attended university with. Razor-Man is everything I like about manga and anime written with a local African flair and I love experimenting with storytelling with it.
9. Comic characters have a life of their own… Does something metaphysical happen in your mind when you tell their stories? Do the characters talk to you and there is a flow of how the story will progress?
It’s a lot like playing sims actually. You make the character as intricately as you can and then you build the environment for them to face challenges, and then you are no longer in control watching them interact with new people and gain a personality of their own.
10. We haven’t had a comic con so far in Mauritius. You have exposed your comics at comic cons in Zimbabwe and South Africa. What was it like? Any approximate stats on how many people attended these events? In Mauritius, at Caudan Waterfront in Port-Louis, a space for artists has been set up. Maybe they could host a comic con someday!
I’ll definitely come back as soon as I hear there’s a comic con now! Haha. Comic Con Africa draws a crowd of about 71000 attendees, the venues and events are massive and its getting bigger every year. 250 or so unique exhibitors showcasing their talents and art. It’s a four day event that such a rush. Most cons have the same energy and even though they are hosted by local people without the same level of capital the fans really make or break an event.
11. When I was in Kenya, I noticed how mobile payment has been adopted by the population, mobile phone usage and internet have become accessible in many areas that do not have cables via the telecom network antennas. Is there a way, like an app people can buy and access your comics on their phones?
Having an app has always been on the cards for me but comic book fans are REALLY obsessed with owning a physical copy of a book. There’s no feeling like opening a comic book, and its an even greater feeling getting your personal copy signed by the creators.
12. You recently published your second book: Psychophagy: A war of Minds (Misfortunism Series Book 2). Can you tell us more on how you got into book writing and what was the journey like? How do you see the future of your series? Something big in store? Movie script!?
Only one more book in the Misfortunism series coming out, not sure if my publisher will be happy if I leak the name now but the cover has already been designed and I’ve begun drafting the conclusion to the entire story. I got into writing by accident, my publisher wanted a graphic novel from me but I ended up sending the start of the first Misfortunism book and she was blown away and wanted me to develop it further. The original draft didn’t have Holey as a villain. I would really love having a Netflix original series, that’s my dream!
13. I saw on your website that you also sell a course to learn drawing, that is also to get to know the behind the scenes work steps on how you create your comics. Can you tell us a bit more about your drawing course. What inspired you to do that and where is it best to order it?
I started making the drawing course for a younger version of myself really. There’s no comic book art mentors or schools to tell you how to design characters where I’m from. A lot of art schools and courses offer a different set of fundamentals which I’m ironically missing because I have a commerce background, so have tried to include what I learned on my own in those aspects.
Dietmar: You can access Bill’s website here: https://www.billmasuku.com/
14. Going back to your characters in your comic books, would you say that they are less violent and more prone in practicing negotiation to solve problems, before applying force?
Captain South Africa is definitely pro negotiation, which has made it difficult to tell an action story but a great challenge for myself to make it interesting. Razor-Man is all guns blazing from the first page of his book. I like to explore different philosophies and approaches.
15. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Alive! I didn’t think I’d be this far in 5 years so I couldn’t even tell you how fast things are moving. Hopefully I’ve made it to New York Comic Con, someone is developing games off my content, I’m signing movie deals, and my company is hiring people like me.
16. Can you tell us more about your company? What is it’s name? Does it have it’s own website and what activities does it cover? Why did you create that company?
At the moment the company is just a banner under which I publish my comic books. I had the idea to call it Enigma Comix when I was still in grade 5 thereabouts. When I started actually printing comics and tabling events it’s just what I stuck with. I temporarily had a business partner to assist me and we agreed to call it Enigma Comix Africa in full for various reasons. You can find the main website here: enigmacomix.com
Juggling between promoting myself as an artist/writer as well as trying to promote my work as a product has been difficult. Hopefully, this year can get a team that includes a copy writer/social media person that can manage the website and all the social media accounts @enimgacomix
17. On which projects are you working on currently? What’s in store for 2020?
This year I’ve been hired by a few companies to letter their comics, will also freelance as a writer and artist for some independent publishers. Every year has been a surprise, planning at the beginning and then looking back at everything that happened at the end of the year shows how much life changes. What I hope for is to be able to be stocked in more bookstores around Southern Africa and maybe travel to new events and make new friendships.
18. If someone wants to get started as a comic artist in Africa, what would you recommend to them, how to get going? Any tips on how to get to a position that they can also make a living from their passion? What are the must have’s to get known?
The time is now! Just draw, doesn’t matter if it’s good or not because there aren’t enough of us making content. People want to support you financially but you need to be making something they can purchase. All best selling ideas are gathering dust as incomplete scripts. Get yourself out there. Set up your social media account so that its easy to find you and make yourself easily Googleable! If someone types in “African comic book” they must be able to find you easily.
19. If you had a superpower to change the whole comics landscape of Africa, what would you change or impact?
Make only two big publishing houses instead of the many micropublishers that are scattered across the countries. In Zimbabwe alone there are 4-5 comic book houses and we would do better if we worked together.
20. Which social media platforms are currently very popular in Africa? Is there a way a comic artist can create a big follower base on these?
WeChat is doing amazingly and adding the big Facebook, Instagram and Twitter doesn’t hurt. It’s really about how much effort you put in. You can’t put out 4 tweets and expect a followership.
21. How can people reach you and where can they buy your comics and books?
I’ve unified all my social media so that you can find me @billmasukuart as well as my website Billmasuku.com there are links to purchase both Razor-Man and Captain SA there.
For my books, they are on Amazon
Misfortunism → https://bit.ly/Misf001
Psychophagy → https://bit.ly/Psychophagy
Dietmar Disclaimer: Please note that these are not affiliate links! If you click on these links and buy Bill’s books & comics, I do not earn a commission. These links have been provided by Bill.
22. Thank you for this interview Bill! I wish you a lot of success on your journey! And when you come back to Mauritius, please bring all your latest print comics. As an idea, the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority is always looking for ideas in promoting Mauritius to the world. A major Comicon event could be interesting… Do people from all over the world travel to Comicon events and can these be setup at any location in the world?
People travel great distances for things they love. And yes hopefully with enough interest, the comic con Africa team will host in Mauritius jump starting the era of something truly beautiful!
FanCon 2019 Guest Interview : Bill Masuku
Bill Masuku Homepage → https://www.billmasuku.com/
Bill Masuku on Twitter → https://twitter.com/billmasukuart
Billa Masuku on YouTube → https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYJqXJfAoQbEZf7Ncs-2hhw
Enigma Comix Africa Homepage → https://enigmacomix.com/
Enigma Comix Africa on Twitter → https://twitter.com/enigmacomix
Enigma Comix Africa on Instagram → https://www.instagram.com/enigmacomix/
Enigma Comix Africa on Facebook → https://www.facebook.com/enigmacomix
Enigma Comix Africa on YouTube → https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2if4KFQ-OF98XmKcZxEGAw
Buy the comics on the Enigma Comix Africa online shop → http://enigmacomix.com/e-shop
Buy Enigma Comix Africa Merchandise → https://www.rageon.com/a/users/enigmacomix
Reviews of Bill Masuku’s books on goodreads → https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18777142.Bill_Masuku
Buy the comics in digital format on Gumroad
Captain South Africa → https://gumroad.com/l/CSAP1
Razor Man → https://gumroad.com/l/RMV1
Bill Masuku Art Sketchbook → https://gumroad.com/l/kdvFz
Buy the books on Amazon
Misfortunism → https://bit.ly/Misf001
Psychophagy → https://bit.ly/Psychophagy