A Graphic Novel by Appollo & Brüno
I was in the mood for something different today, and figured that a comic about an African dictator fit the bill quite nicely. T’zee – An African Tragedy by Appollo & Brüno is a new graphic novel from Belgium-based Europe Comics that promises to shed some light on the sort of internal struggles that one has to deal with in post-colonial Africa today. Whether it be hunger, crime, poverty, or war, it seems like one rarely sees any good news coming from such a large and varied continent, and this book attempts to explain why some of that sadness ends up happening. One could take issue with the fact that this book is done through the eyes of a westerner that grew up as a colonist in an African country, and there may be validity to that concern, but I feel that the events depicted in this book are not too far from what has happened in the past.
“T’Zee is dead… or is he? For this corrupt leader of a fictional African country near the Congo, it may be the end. His generals have abandoned him. The palaces he built on the backs of his countrymen are deserted or destroyed. His trophy wife harbors a secret passion for a man her own age, dangerously close to T’Zee’s orbit. But the old leopard has not had his last word. His claws are gone, but his mind is still cunning. And nothing is more fearsome than a wounded wild animal that smells blood… Born in Tunisia and raised on Réunion, author Appollo has made colonial history his specialty in his career as a comics writer. Here, with Brüno’s instantly recognizable art, he delivers a choral portrait of dictatorial decline, suffused with mysticism and multiple perspectives.”
I’m a big history guy, and wanted to know more about what happened in this story. When I first started this, I was not 100% certain if this was based on an actual true events or not, and it appears that this is, in fact, historical fiction loosely based on real events rather than a true historical comic. In this graphic novel, T’Zee is the iron-fisted ruler of an unnamed African nation, however I have an idea for the inspiration of the story in one would want to seek out more details. T’Zee is portrayed in a similiar manner to what westerners perceive as the norm for African political leaders. He is ruthless, squanders his wealth away from his people, enriches his friends, and lives in absolute isolation from the real problems facing his own country. Due to this characterization, he honestly reminds me of a cross between the infamous Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa I of The Central African Republic (albeit less zany and idiotic) and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (Congo), with the latter being the prime suspect for primary inspiration.
Considering the similarities between Mobuto’s fall from power compared to T’Zee’s fall and the fact that Europe Comics is based in Belgium, the country that formerly was the colonial power over Congo, it makes sense if this was basically a retelling on Congo’s past. There are also town names in the story including Gbado, which is both T’Zee’s capital and a real city in Congo, and the story also uses the term “Mai Mai” to reference local militias, which is specifically a name for a community-based militia groups active in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Finally, the comic mentions a neighboring country having a genocide that triggered the unrest, which is likely a stand-in for Rwanda. I assume it’s purposefully vague due to being a fictional story, but that’s what I’m rolling with.
The artwork in this book is nothing short of gorgeous at times. I have an affinity to art with dark lines and bright monochromatic contrast, and that is exactly what we have here. There are certain color themes present in the numerous locations we see in the book, with jungle areas being green, the countryside being yellow, places like Paris being blue and more. It gives the book a unique look and becomes a way to impart emotion and familiarity to the reader as the story progresses. This is a style that BRÜNO, the artist, has employed in other comics, but his lines and coloring are masterfully done in T’zee – An African Tragedy. I will have to follow him from now on and keep tabs on what he is working on.
I enjoyed the scripting for this book as well, especially seeing the story broken into five acts as if this was a Shakespearean play. This structure is very fitting because the story told in this comic is every bit as epic and tragic as the best of those plays. Seeing the rise and fall of an entire dynasty due to one man’s greed and unwillingness to accept his own fate is a staple of historical tragedies, and Africa’s rich history of regional empires, bloodthirsty colonialism, and mysticism make the setting a great place for stories that have only recently started to be told. As T’Zee escapes death, he fails to see his power collapsing around him until it is too late. He angers the water spirits specifically and they have to get revenge somehow.
I mentioned before that some may take issue with the depiction of African politicians being cartoonishly corrupt in a way that could be seen as a racist idea that africans are unable to govern themselves. I don’t really see this, and felt that the narrative was largely Afrocentric in many ways. I never felt that the overall idea was “perhaps France or Belgium should take this place over.” Africa has problems as any region does, and this book does a good job bringing some of these issues to the forefront.
Overall, I was really impressed with this book. I’ve learned about about African history on my own and in a college setting, but am not as educated on it as I would like to be. Even though this is a fictionalized story about a fictitious dictator in a fake country, one can use it as a lense to look at the history of African colonialism and the repercussions of those policies in our modern era. In the west, it’s far too easy to prop up dictators that call “unity” by forcing numerous tribes to “play nice” only for that to unravel within seconds if that power is removed. It’s a lesson we may never learn, as we continue to do it again and again even today. T’Zee is a tragedy for the characters in the story, many of whom die because of one man’s hubris, but also for the poor subjects in such countries caught in the middle of a crossfire between colliding cultures and exploitation. I’m hoping, one day, Africa can rise to it’s full potential and become the world power it should be, not just a backdrop for greed.
If you are interested in this book, click HERE
For additional titles by the same publisher, Click HERE
NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.