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African Comic Artists Gain Attention Through Serious Topics


West African comic strip artists are getting more and more international attention. In Africa, a medium that is often associated with light-hearted humor also tackles serious topics, like development, loans and illegal migration. Kari Barber met in Dakar with two Senegalese cartoonists who were recently showcased in New York's Studio Museum in Harlem.

On this day comic strip artist Alphonse Mendy, who uses the pen name T.T. Fons, is making preliminary sketches of a story board idea he had early in the morning.

His comic strip, Goorgoolou, has become wildly popular over its nearly 20-year life span branching into television shows and books.

Mendy says Goorgoolou touches on the social and political problems that face ordinary Senegalese.

For example, he says, the hapless main character is eternally jobless following layoffs resulting from World Bank and IMF reforms.

Comic art, Mendy says, lends itself well to cultures in Africa, where low literacy rates make visual communication a vital medium.

Another Senegalese artist recognized in the New York show is Samba Ndar Cisse. Cisse takes a more intense approach.

From a small room in his Dakar apartment that serves as his office, Cisse explains the subject of his work in the New York show.

In the story, Cisse says, a young girl is forced to undergo female genital mutilation - an act still practiced in some areas of West Africa.

Cisse's is also exhibiting a project on illegal migration.

Cisse says curiosity about the unknown prompts the West to take an interest in African comic art. But because of underdevelopment and social problems, Africa can be a tough place for artists to concentrate on their work.

Cisse says many artists leave Africa once they become successful. But, he says, he plans to stay. He says he uses the struggles to inspire his stories.

The New York exhibition, which lasts until March 18, features the work of 35 African comic strip artists.