09 November 2009

Nelson Mandela Foundation with Umlando Wezithombe, Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book. New York: W.W. Norton &Co, 2009.


This is a beautiful book. Full-size pages of glossy stock give it serious heft, and at over 190 pages, it contains what was originally an eight-volume comic series. These were published by Umlando Wezithombe in South Africa, from 2005 - 2007, to make Nelson Mandela’s story accessible to a new generation.

Mandela’s story should be familiar, and it is worthy of super hero treatment. This book, which focuses on themes of tradition, community, and story, is a wonderful introduction to the South African struggle for freedom. And, as Mandela notes in his introductory comments, you are really famous when “you discover that you have become a comic character”. Drawing on many published and archival resources to show us not only Mandela’s role in the South Africans’ fight for equality, more than twenty years in prison, his jubilant release and election as President soon after, the comic also presents key events and relationships throughout his life that help us understand “why”. While not a deeply penetrating biography, we do see Mandela’s life as a whole, not simply a political thing, and can see glimpses of faults which make him appear that much more human. We see it in beautiful pictures with richly muted color.

Mostly, though, we see a strong and gifted man of great pride who refuses to accept an injustice and, in so doing, persuades the world to stand with him against it. We see a hero, triumphant. What better subject for a comic book?

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