Fida Finds: Spider Stories, an African cartoon series

Another Friday, another pick from the web. We call these Fida (Friday) Finds.

Confession: we didn’t have to look very hard for this week’s Fida Find. This African-inspired cartoon project has been on our radar for a while, and first appeared on our Animated Africa Pinterest wall back in January.

But the buzz around Spider Stories has grown louder since its creators John and Charles Agbaje hit their fundraising target on Kickstarter. With $30,000 raised, their production company Central City Tower can now get to work on a pilot episode.

One of the things we love about the Agbaje brothers is that their creativity comes from a story-rich childhood. In an interview with Africa Is A Country, John says that he and Charles began experimenting with writing and drawing at an early age, partly inspired by folktales their parents told:

“There isn’t a turning point that got us into animation and storytelling, it’s more that we never grew out of it. Our parents would also tell us folktales from Nigeria as children. … That has been kept up through reading, watching movies, and trying our hands at the creative process.”

The right time for an African ‘toon

Before Spider Stories the Agbajes created Project 0, a series of graphic novels. The story took place in a beautifully realised sci-fi universe, but like most sci-fi and fantasy it had no clear links with Africa.

By contrast, Spider Stories draws heavily on the brothers’ West African heritage. The main characters are a young warrior princess with a love of technology, a drummer who acts as both ‘spirit guide’ and griot, and a Spider Spirit who is based on the folk character Ananse.

Character artwork for the series blends traditional dress with futuristic weapons and accessories. Drummer Ayan wears a blue and white dashiki, while President Gamba wears an agbada fronted with high-tech armour.

Ayan, a character from Central City Tower's Spider Stories cartoon President Gamba, a character from Central City Tower's Spider Stories cartoon

With so few precedents, what convinced the brothers that an African-inspired cartoon could find a large audience? John explains in an interview with Harbus Online:

“We are at the point where we should start to see more and more of these types of stories. … Now that technology and streaming services are making their way further and further into the African continent, things can really pick up steam and suddenly you’ve tapped into the global African diaspora. You’re not talking about a percentage of the U.S. population anymore, but a global population of nearly 300 million people.”

There are others on the same road. Shrinkfish Animations has created The Legacy of Rubies, a 23-minute animation by Nigerian writer-director Ebele Okoye. Here in Ghana, Otoo Studios delivered a brilliant short cartoon based on the traditional game Chaskele, and subsequently worked with 6miludo Media on an animated music video for Jayso & Sarkodie.

The African cartoons for younger children we have come across include:

So while John and Charles are breaking new ground, they are doing so in good company.

Kickstarter success

When the Agbajes turned to Kickstarter to get Spider Stories up and running, they took it very seriously.

Their campaign gave ample proof of their commitment and artistry – see the clip above – and was kept updated with new rewards and progress reports from the brothers themselves.

Later in the Harbus Online interview, John says: “We did a ton of preparation work [for Kickstarter]. We created a lot of artwork, shot some video, and refined the story.”

What’s more, they didn’t give up when progress seemed slow:

“We went to other conferences, made more phone calls, made frequent updates to the website, developed new rewards for backers, and brought more people into the fold to make them feel like they were part of the pilot.”

As a result, they beat their $25,000 target by an impressive $5,000.

There’s a good lesson here for aspiring creatives: neither raw talent nor online tools guarantee success. Hard work and ‘offline’ networking have to be a part of the mix.

Luckily, the Agbaje brothers seem to have the whole package. We can’t wait to see the pilot, and hope it will prove there is a huge global appetite for animated content set in Africa.

A big ayekoo! (well done!) to John and Chris for taking the project this far.

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