Adventures of Tintin, Asterix and Oberix, Mavel comics and DC comics might have influenced the boom of comic strip series in most local magazines in the 1970s to 90s in Malawi.
Of course, the history of comic strips in the country is not complete without its most influential cartoonists, the late Vic Kasinja who published a Joza comic book and the late Brian Hara, who published a Pewani comic book both under Dzuka Publishing Company. Hara also illustrated the Chatsalira cartoon comic series at some point.
The two arguably inspired various local artists to take to comic strips that came in a style that looked like a storyboard for a movie which were accompanied by a passage or a speech burble.
Some of the popular comic series strips were Zeze, Chatsalira and Amjojo. Unfortunately, these comic strips died a natural death.
Children would read Courage Golowa’s Zeze in Moni Magazine, a comic series strip about a mischievous rascal who was into drug and alcohol abuse and always ended up in trouble.
Through this strip, children were advised to abstain from drug and alcohol abuse as the cartoonist always had a bold warning for youngsters: “Ana inu musakhale ngati Zeze, musasute chamba ndikumwa mowa mwa uchidakwa. Mzanu Zeze adaona nazo mavuto” (Children, don’t involve yourself in drugs and alcohol abuse like Zeze who got himself into trouble because of that habit).
In the same Moni publication appeared another interesting comic strip—Chatsalira, named after its comic hero, a young man who was very stupid and always ended up messing up things.
Unlike Zeze, Chatsalira, held a promise to change for the better. At the beginning of every strip, he would speak of how changed he was, but trouble would never leave him.
In Odini newspaper, there was Kamzimbi while the Ministry of Information’s publication, Boma Lathu had Amjojo which was being drawn by Charles Chabwera.
Besides the comic strip series being a source of inspiration, they also instilled a reading culture in children as they had to read texts from passages or speech burbles to follow the story unlike the two block cartoon strips that are usually found in newspapers.
Interestingly, the comic strip series started to vanish almost at the same time.
What led to death of these popular comic strips?
James Kazembe, creator of Amtchona and Kalimalima comic strips in the Weekend Nation, says most newspapers and magazines are not ready to fund comic strips.
“The thing is that it is expensive to publish a full page which is worth about K100 000 (about $250) just for a comic strip. So, most magazines see it as cost rather than an investment,” he says.
Kazembe adds that it is also difficult for artists to publish comic books because publishing houses that supported such projects closed shop.
Richard Mwale of the Chatsalira fame, who is also president of Illustrators Association of Malawi, told Society that the comic strip series appealed to a wider population as they were in vernacular.
He said his Chatsalira strip died when Montfort Press stopped publishing Moni Magazine.
“Besides the fact that the comic series had good moral standards, it also encouraged the reading culture in children since it had a passage unlike the speech burbles that are commonly used in conventional newspaper cartoons,” said Mwale.
Tofara Dikani, who draws the Dobadoba sports cartoon strip, told Society that the comic series style of cartoons is scarce because the market for such cartoons is almost obsolete since the newspaper are not willing to give up much space to cartoons.
He, however, said the cartoons were very exciting since the artists had space to express a thought completely unlike on the popular two block cartoons through which thought is condensed to save space.
“Another exciting with the comic series strip cartoon was the suspense at the end of the stories. Readers always looked forward to what would happen next,” said Dikani.