Black Heroes/Sidekicks

In the process of assembling collections of childrens books related to the African Diaspora, I found comic books featuring black heroes, superheroes and sideckicks as consistent main characters.

These comics all come from countries which were colonial powers in Africa, namely Italy, France, Belgium and Spain.

Analyzing the collection I came to realize that this genre did not exist in the USA.  The reason it was prevalent in Europe was because Europe had a longer and richer history with Africa that went far beyond the issue of slavery.  As colonial powers, there was a vibrant African community in Europe and a far greater awareness of African culture and Africans were integrated within European society much earlier than in America.

In America, historically the black experience mainly focussed on slavery and civil rights.  The result is that a colourful pop culture emerged in Europe concerning Africa that never emerged in America.  It is noteworthy that the theme of black heroes during the American Civil War appears as a major focus of the pop culture across Europe. The collection I have put together will be added to as I find new materials.

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Bound volume of the complete set of 40 issues of Dick-Hard, Prodigiosas Aventuras de un Nino a Traves del Mundo. Produced in Barcelona, it is the story of the world-wide adventures Dick and his African friend Toto. I cannot find a reference for this romance comic in the usual data bases but from the look of it I would say it was produced before the Civil War.

Price: $400.00

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A complete run of 64 issues of Merlin el Mago Moderno, as found in the Spanish comic Aventurero. The comic lasted from 1935-1953 and the run of Merlin ran from issues 54 to 118. Merlin is a magician and has a black assistant named Lewis. While Merlin is always dressed in a tuxedo and cape, Lewis is half naked wearing a leopard top, shorts and a fez. This series is based off of the Mandrake series by Lee Falk and Phil Davis, however the strip was modified for Spain and the names of the main characters changed. This was one of the first international syndications of the strip in the US, which first appeared June 11, 1934. Another noticeable change in the Spanish version is that Lewis does not appear illiterate, which he does in the US version of the strip. From Wikipedia: “Mandrake (Merlin in the Spanish version) is a magician whose work is based on an unusually fast hypnotic technique. As noted in captions, when Mandrake "gestures hypnotically", his subjects see illusions, and Mandrake has used this technique against a variety of villains including gangsters, mad scientists, extraterrestrials, and characters from other dimensions. At various times in the comic strip, Mandrake has also demonstrated other powers, including turning invisible, shapeshifting, levitation, and teleportation. His hat, cloak and wand, passed down from his father Theron, possess great magical properties which in time Mandrake learns how to use. Although Mandrake publicly works as a stage magician, he spends much of his time fighting criminals and combatting supernatural entities. Lothar (Lewis in the Spanish version) is Mandrake's best friend and crime fighting companion. Mandrake first met Lothar during his travels in Africa. Lothar was "Prince of the Seven Nations", a mighty federation of jungle tribes; but forbore to become king and instead followed Mandrake on his world travels. Lothar is often referred to as "the strongest man in the world", with the exception of Hojo — Mandrake's chef and secret chief of Inter Intel. Lothar is invulnerable to any weapon forged by man, impervious to heat, cold and possesses the stamina of a thousand men. He also cannot be harmed by magic directly (fire bolts, force bolts, spell incantations). He can lift an elephant by one hand easily.

One of the first African crimefighting heroes ever to appear in comics, Lothar made his first appearance alongside Mandrake in 1934 in the inaugural daily strip. In the beginning, Lothar spoke poor English and wore a fez, short pants, and a leopard skin. In a 1935 work by King Features Syndicate, Lothar is referred to as Mandrake's "giant black slave." When artist Fred Fredericks took over in 1965, Lothar spoke correct English and his clothing changed, although he often wore shirts with leopard-skin patterns.”

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Spanish comic book CHISPITA. Issued weekly in 1952, it ran for 24 issues. Chispita and his son Relampago arrive on ship to a tropical island. The governor of the island has a young black servant named Boliche, who is introduced in issue #3. He runs away and joins Chispita and Relampago as they experience adventures in the tropics and in the far east. I have a complete bound run of this comic.

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Jeque Blanco, or WHITE SHEIK is a Spanish comic book. It was the work of writer M. Gonzalez Casquel and artists José Laffond and Armando Sanchez , published by Rollan between 1951 and 1954 and reached 137 issues.

The plot surrounds Lancaster, an American agent and his white companion Sanko and Moroccan companion Ali. The story begins in the Maghreb and then moves to the United States. Over the course of the three years we see the evolution of Ali from a native Moroccan child to a young American adult.

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Spanish fascist comic book CHICOS featuring a limited run of regular comic strips about a boy named Pepe and his black friend named Coco. Each week they get into mischief or new adventures together, with one often helping out the other. This strip ran in 1945. Chicos was a weekly Spanish childrens comic that was published early in the Franco regime and lasted until 1955. It was first publish on 23 February 1938, in San Sebastian , a city where production of comics was centered in the "national zone" during the civil war . Its editor and owner was Juan Baygual and its artistic and literary director was Gil Roesset Consuelo. Its format was very similar to the Flechas y Pelayos but with fewer pages and a more affordable price (10 cents instead of 25). On November 15 of that year, the magazine became the property of the National Delegation of Press and Propaganda. However, Chicos was never a propaganda magazine (although, obviously, it had to remain within the dominant ideology). Due to its good relations with the Franco regime it had no trouble getting the quota of paper required to publish weekly.

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Aventuras de Sir James Pink, was an insert comic found in the first 21 issues of YO, a Spanish Republican childrens comic published in 1937 and then terminated in its first year as the war went against the Republicans. The story is about a white adventurer in Africa named Sir James Pink. He is accompanied by his faithful servant and friend named Krubb, who guides him through many dangers along the way and saves his life as well as others on more than one occasion. In the beginning he is dressed in African colonial clothing but soon reverts back to his native form of dress as they explore the jungle together.

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Collection of Spanish comics entitled El Cachorro, which ran from 1951-1960. It is the story of a swashbuckling youth named Miguel Diaz Olmedo, nicknamed ‘El Cachorro’ or, ‘the Cub’. Miguel commands a Spanish galleon “The Eagle”, and makes a promise to cleanse the Caribbean of pirates, which he achieves in the end. He then fights in the Mediterranean against the Barbary pirates whom he also manages to defeat. Miguel is a fearless boy, an excellent sharpshooter and highly skilled in the use of the sword and pistol. Batan, whose Christian name is Sebastian, is Miguel’s lieutenant and best friend. He is a black African who saved the life of Miguel in the jungle on the island of Tortuga. Miguel returns the favour many times. Despite his color, Bataan becomes commander of his own vessel, the Spanish galleon “El Toro” commanding a crew of former slaves.

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Spanish comic book Mercado de Ebano, published in 1947, under the Franco regime, inside the comic book Chicos. It is the story of the African slave trade and a slave boy named Atiman and his exploits and development. Note: Chicos was a weekly Spanish childrens comic that was published early in the Franco regime and lasted until 1955. It was first publish on 23 February 1938, in San Sebastian , a city where production of comics was centered in the "national zone" during the civil war . Its editor and owner was Juan Baygual and its artistic and literary director was Gil Roesset Consuelo. Its format was very similar to the Flechas y Pelayos but with fewer pages and a more affordable price (10 cents instead of 25). On November 15 of that year, the magazine became the property of the National Delegation of Press and Propaganda. However, Chicos was never a propaganda magazine (although, obviously, it had to remain within the dominant ideology). Due to its good relations with the Franco regime it had no trouble getting the quota of paper required to publish weekly. I have the complete run of 21 issues of Mercado de Ebano

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Rayo de la Selva, or Ray of the Jungle, was a comic book produced in Valencia, Spain in 1960. It featured a white tarzan-type, called the Ray of the Jungle, and his black sidekick, ‘Sanson’ who curiously has hair like a Ukranian cossack but is clearly an African native. Together they dispense justice and make the jungle safe and very often it is Sanson who saves the day.

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