Nelson Mandela's Life Made Into Graphic Novels

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Many South Africans, and especially the nation's young people, know only the outlines of Nelson Mandela's life his early years resisting South Africa's white-minority government, his 27 years in Robben Island prison, and the remarkable freedom he won for himself, and then for his country.

But that could soon change because of comic books.

One million copies of the first of a series of nine comic books on Mandela's life will be distributed Monday in newspapers and to secondary schools throughout the country. One million copies will be printed of each of the nine volumes, which cover different stages of his life. The first edition, about his childhood, was unveiled yesterday.

"You know you are really famous when [you become] a comic character," Mandela said at a ceremony to launch the comic at his Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.

The drawings are straightforward, far from the stylized renderings of a comic book character such as Batman. The colors are earthy and dark. And the story stays true to Mandela's life.

"The current generation of youth knows that Mandela was our president and that he was in jail, but that's it," said Nic Buchanan, the creator of the comic books. "They don't know their own history. We celebrated democracy and the miracle, but the building stones of a progressive and enlightened society needs work."

As four young black artists wearing headphones stooped over their computers or worked on pen-and-ink drawings for coming volumes, Buchanan said in an interview in his studio this week that he decided to take a "realistic approach to the drawings so that they didn't detract from the severity of the situation. History is the message here."

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