While some African comics creators are beginning to attract publishers in North America and Europe, Vortex247, a Lagos, Nigeria-based African-centric digital comics platform, is developing the next generation of talent and tapping into the continent’s rapidly-expanding mobile-digital consumer base.
Indeed, the African continent, with a combined population of 1.2 billion and a fast-growing middle class of 300 million, is starting to make an impression on the global economy as a creative hotbed for artists and as a growing market for books and media.
Vortex247 positions itself as Africa’s answer to Amazon’s Comixology: an app-based digital comics marketplace featuring a mix of previously-published, creator-owned, and company-supported original works in a variety of genres. The site uses a monthly subscription model with a cost that works out to around US $3 per month. Payments are handled through a third-party site called Paystack, which facilitates transactions in and out of Nigeria, allowing international readers from Africa, North America and elsewhere to access the site.
“We believe African comics and fiction stands as the future of global storytelling in mainstream media,” said Vortex247 founder and CEO Somto Ajuluchukwu. “We hope to be a propelling force and platform for this new age of entertainment content,” he said, adding “and create not just opportunity for individual creators with exceptional comics but a market place which would build an industry for young creators to monetize their stories and grow a fan base using our comics as a tool to export African culture and globalize our Afro lifestyle.”
Vortex247 currently lists 71 titles from 30+ creators. About 50% of the featured work comes from Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country; others hail from Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, elsewhere in Africa, and from Africans resident in the U.S. or Europe. According to the company, Vortex247 currently has over 1500 active subscribers and is growing at 8-15% per month.
Some of the top content on the site currently includes:
Land of Gods by Somto Ajuluchukwu with art by Gamahel Kamgain and Tolu Adeojo. A charming supernatural journey of discovery featuring a young Nigerian-American girl drawn into a magical struggle between spiritual beings in the land of Orun.
Captain South Africa by writer/artist Bill Masuku. The daughter of South Africa’s first super hero takes up her father’s mantle in a politically-charged alternate history timeline.
Folk Tales by Somto Ajuluchukwu and Oratomi Oladapo with art by Osikabor Emmanuel. A stylishly-drawn adult-themed horror/mystery where investigators probe the secrets of an ancient African cult.
Sky Ranger by Kelly Nenye Kalu, Chima Kalu, and Lasbrey Nwachukwu. A polished and professional Lagos-based superhero action title that would fit easily on the racks of any U.S. comic shop.
Bawt by Rodney Ngundu, Elisha Nash, and Tanayaku. A manga-style sci-fi epic from Zimbabwe-based AfroTokyo.
While some of these titles have been released in print in Africa, most of the creators and work have not received much international exposure. Ajuluchukwu said Vortex247 is setting up a small printing business to accommodate demand for print “collectors’ editions” as a value-add for creators and fans, and to help African creators find distribution deals in Africa, the U.S. and the U.K. Land of the Gods is already slated for publication in Brazil in early 2021.
One curious technical feature is that the platform presents comics page-by-page (sometimes in two-page spreads that require navigation), rather than the vertical scroll format adopted by popular mobile-first comics apps such as Webtoon and Tapas.
“We realized most users of the platform prefer to consume the content in the traditional style mirroring the actual experience of reading a print comic, said Ajuluchukwu . “Our Pinch/Spread feature helps the user zoom in and out seamlessly as well as our double-tap which helps zoom into chat bubbles with ease.”
Like any 21st century comics publisher, Vortex247 has one eye on the larger media landscape. The company’s location in Lagos, home of “Nollywood,” the world’s third largest film industry, helps. “We are currently in conversation with a few Nollywood and South African producers,” said Ajuluchukwu, who added that one of the company’s VX Originals is now in development for an iOS mobile game by an Italian game studio.
With one of the world’s youngest populations demographically and a continent with vast cultural and linguistic diversity, African comics have a lot of runway to find an audience for exciting graphic storytelling.
Vortex247, much like the African comics industry, is just at the beginning of its journey in terms of creative and economic impact. But it’s a promising start. Vortex247 offers a range of genres designed to appeal across ages, genders and international borders. Open-minded American readers are likely to find the diverse representation of African characters, locales, voices and values to be a refreshing and valuable addition to the global comics vocabulary.