Mandela is reborn as a comic book hero, awakening a nation to its history

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The Independent Online

When Nic Buchanan decided to tell the tale of his country's most famous hero, he decided to enlist the help of young animators. The result is a nine-part comic book series based on Nelson Mandela's life called Madiba Legacy Series, of which one and a half a million copies will be freely distributed in schools and newspapers.

Mandela, South Africa's anti-apartheid icon who spent 27 years behind bars before becoming his country's first black president, is backing the project and will give a speech at the book launch in Johannesburg tomorrow.

In the comics, he is portrayed as a precocious young man with a flair for rebellion. Beginning with his birth in the mud-hut village of Mwezo, the books show him as an everyday man who makes mistakes like everyone else.

"Nelson Mandela is no super hero," Mr Buchanan told The Independent. "He does not have a magic wand. He's a normal guy and that's the kind of role model we want to get out to people."

The first comic in the series, A son of the Eastern Cape, charts Mandela's early life, from his time as a child in his village to his arrival in Johannesburg in 1941. He is shown stealing cattle, lying to clan elders and fleeing from an arranged marriage.

"The thread of the story is that he was a troublemaker. When he made up his mind that something was not right, he fought it hard," said Mr Buchanan, whose publishing company Umlando Wezithombe hired five comic book artists to tell Mandela's story .

Using comics in this way first became popular in Japan, famous for its thick black-and-white manga comics. The style suits South Africa, the publisher said, where 14 per cent of people are illiterate.