An image from a comic strip of men with cattle and one man has a surprised face, while one of the cows looks angry.
Photo courtesy Etan Comics.

In ‘Long Distance,’ Etan Comics Brings Ten New Stories to Life

The Ethiopian-founded comic book company gathers together 24 African creators from across the continent in a thrilling new anthology.

Beserat Debebe is no stranger to taking his biggest dreams and making them come true. He founded Etan Comics in 2018, and in January next year will celebrate 6 years in the business of bringing African fantasy and superhero stories to audiences around the world. Debebe, who was born in Addis Ababa and came to the U.S. in 2004, has achieved feats like creating the first range of Ethiopian comics through Jember, which was short-listed for Best Graphic Novel at the Nommo Awards, and Hawi, which gave life to Ethiopia’s first female comic superhero. His latest venture is something, he tells OkayAfrica, he’s been wanting to do ever since founding Etan.

“My goal with the company has always been to make it a center of Black excellence and the best place to find empowering stories that celebrate African history and culture,” he says. His latest project that embodies this ethos? A Pan-African comic book anthology – “a perfect way to do just that.”

Titled Long Distance, the anthology features the work of more than 24 trailblazing African creators from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and more, across ten stories. It’s in keeping with everything Debebe’s comic book company stands for. “Etan Comics is all about making sure Black kids can dive into awesome stories that make them feel amazing about themselves. We want to make that the new normal. We are tired of stories that make Africans seem helpless, violent or uneducated,” he says. He believes stepping up and filling this void is a vital part of the work they do. “In this era of book bans, we want to play our part in empowering Black kids by curating fun and educational anthologies like Long Distance.”

An image of the comic book anthology's cover of two people, one is a rural person, the other a more futuristic one.

Long Distance, the anthology, features the work of more than 24 trailblazing African creators from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and more, across ten stories.

Photo courtesy of Etan Comics.

In the past, Debebe has had great success using the platform of Kickstarter to get his projects off the ground, and so he turned to it once again for Long Distance, setting up a Kickstarter that was fully-funded within a day by over 300 Day One backers. “Kickstarter continues to be the lifeblood of independent comic book publishers,” he says. “Even mainstream brands are publishing their books through there nowadays.”

Authentic African comic books

The platform continues to be a useful tool for Debebe because it connects Etan Comics directly with its “most passionate fans.” And, he adds, allows Etan to give them the best version of their product. The way he sees it, it’s mutually beneficial. “Independent creators don't have to sacrifice their vision or give up their creative freedom or deal with industry gatekeepers when they publish through Kickstarter,” he adds. “We will certainly continue to use it. All comic creators should.”

But there’s a big reason why the Kickstarter did so well. Etan Comics is tapping into the growing desire for authentic African comic book stories. “This anthology features incredible talent,” says Debebe. “Just to mention a few, this book features the debut comic book story by Booker-Prize shortlisted author Maaza Mengiste. It features a story by the great-grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie, Prince Joel Makonnen. It features a foreword by New York Times bestselling author and Head of Disney's new imprint, Freedom Fire, Kwame Mbalia. And a cover by the artist of Black Panther and Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse, Sanford Greene.”

It’s an anthology where some of the most exciting stories come from women, too. Ethiopian American writer Mengiste delivers yet another untold story about African women in history, while Nigeria’s Cassandra Mark takes readers to the Palace of Dreams in Nigerian mythology. “There is so much awesomeness packed into this book, it's hard to pick which to even talk about,” says Debebe. If he had to describe it though, he’d go with “the African version of Love, Death and Robots made by Pan-African dream team!”

Beyond just creating a must-have offering for readers, Long Distance is also a project that started with the aim of creating authentic friendships amongst like-minded creatives from all over Africa. “Our goal wasn't just to make a great book,” says Debebe. “We wanted to support each other beyond that. This naturally led to the most organic, intimate and significant work we've made to date.”

As far as African comics go, Debebe has been in play long enough to know this isn’t a simple release, but the beginning of something more to come. “It's a game changer for comics and the perfect gateway to African comics specifically.” And the best part? “It's available in stunning deluxe hardcover. That is every collector's dream. The roaring success of the Kickstarter is a testament to the quality of the book, and the hard work everyone put in to make this anthology like nothing we've ever seen before.”