ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA by Zidrou and Raphaël Beuchot
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
A powerful survey of stories great and small that make up a village, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA highlights the power of narratives to shape who we are.
93 %
Moving, mournful fable

In ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA, author Zidrou and artist Raphaël Beuchot provide a lovely fable within a fable. This lusciously illustrated tale uses stories as means of entertainment, escape, and opposition.

Each character has a compelling tale to tell of their own, from wise old woman to vicious vulture. Meanwhile, lines between truth and tale, real world and dreams, blend together. Along the way, the story examines how narratives both bind communities together and allow individuals to define themselves.

Power of Stories in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA

Set in a nameless region of modern-day rural Africa, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA is about exactly what it says it’s about. Specifically, a puppeteer named “Once Upon A Time” is traveling across Africa to tell stories. “Once Upon a Time” loves sharing his vibrant fables with the children and dreamers of the towns he passes through.

The path he has chosen is long and dark. Local politicians view his tales as dangerous. After all, stories may sew dreams of escape or encourage citizens to explore alternate forms of expression. Thus, in this dystopian world, a storyteller is the most menacing insurgent of all.

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Zidrou shapes a world in which words are mightier than the sword. A master of his art, “Once Upon a Time” keeps audiences rapt with bright puppets and simply-told tales. Each tale holds a message that hints at the importance of resisting authority.

Happily Never After: Narrative as Resistance

In one story, a chameleon betrays Cheeky the monkey by tattling on him when Cheeky misbehaves. Consequences are harsh: Cheeky is forbidden from climbing trees after that. This mirrors the story of the puppeteer himself. Authorities have chopped off his hands in order to prevent him from using his greatest gift.

Another story concludes with the now-shunned Cheeky learning to confront his fears and fight the strong lion-snake. Similarly, despite having his hands cut off, “Once Upon a Time” bravely continues to tell his tales. However, he will not escape unscathed once his enemies catch him again.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA
Image courtesy of Europe Comics.

In context, readers come to realize the deeper meaning of these fables. Such tales in which small creatures outwit powerful ones parallel the storyteller’s situation. In reality, he is stuck within an authoritarian society that seeks to punish him for speaking out in any form. Particularly, those in power hope to stop him from sharing fables in which the weak defeat the dominant. Despite efforts to destroy his body and spirit, his stories remain strong. 

It Takes a Village: Weaving a Tapestry of Tales

Above all, this gorgeous graphic novel shows that each of us has a tale to tell. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, each character has a past that holds power and shapes their identity. Zidrou allows readers to travel in and out of multiple perspectives from a host of storytellers. Each character’s tale adds to our understanding of this community and its way of life.

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA weaves in stories of animals and townspeople of all ages and backgrounds. In this world, no one character’s history is privileged over another’s. Many of the stories told reflect those whom society deems invisible or voiceless: children, the elderly, even the dead.

Throughout the work, we overhear the conversations of vultures as they wait for a meal and eventually feast. We listen to monkey Toubab, as he narrates lonely his past as a giant Yeti. And Sprite, a child’s toy made of cut-up soda cans, outlines the hopes and dreams of his creator.

In the end, we even hear stories from “Once Upon a Time’s” skeleton. Importantly, the creators emphasize the shape-shifting power of narratives. Once told, stories can sustain themselves across countless generations. In this way, even the voices of the long-dead continue to be heard and felt.

‘My Fibs are Beautiful’: Escaping Through Alternate Realities

Through art and words, the creators of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA paint a world that’s rich and unbounded. The work allows dreamers and storytellers to spin tales that defy explanation. Crucially, it allows characters to escape the drab, dark world they currently inhabit. Instead, they can conjure up more pleasurable planes of existence.

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Specifically, many women within this tale use stories and dreams to explore escape. For example, elderly Mamina reads fairy tales to feel free. She imagines marrying Prince Charming, a pleasant alternative to her real-life marriage as a child bride.

We also hear the desires of Dialu, a woman caring for her aging mother while her husband works in Europe. She uses fantasy to sustain her, dreaming of looking at her homeland while atop the Eiffel Tower. Similarly, Beuchot’s dreamlike drawings deftly blend fantasy and reality. We see Prince Charming embracing Mamina and the Eiffel Tower jutting out amidst the jungle.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA
Image courtesy of Europe Comics.

Above all, ONCE UPON A TIME showcases the power of stories to shape our identity. It highlights how tales take us deep within our imaginations and uplift us through hardship and heartache. Much like a good story, this graphic novel feels timeless and limitless. Readers of all ages can find beauty in this exploration of the stories we tell our children, our communities, and ourselves.

This title and others will be on sale starting February 19th as part of Europe Comics’ Black History Month special. Find it here.

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