Characters native to the African continent have been depicted in comics since the beginnings of the modern comic strip. Initially, such early 20th-century newspaper comics as Winsor McCay's Little Nemo depicted the racist stereotype of a spear-carrying cannibal, a comedic convention of the time. African characters later began to appear as another stereotype, the "noble savage" — a similar progression to that of depictions of Native Americans — and eventually as standard human beings.
In the early years of comic strips and comic books, supposedly humorous racial and ethnic stereotypes were a mainstay of the medium, as they were of most American popular entertainment. Black people were almost always shown as foolish, cowardly, and addicted to gambling. Even in serious comic strips, as late as the 1950s Black characters were drawn with bulging eyes and fat lips.
The first major Black character in the comics was in Cartoonist Lee Falk's adventure comic strip Mandrake the Magician, which featured the African supporting character Lothar from its 1934 debut on. He was a former "Prince of the Seven Nations", a federation of jungle tribes, but passed on the chance to become king and instead followed Mandrake on his world travels, fighting crime. He is often referred to as the strongest man in the world. Initially an 'illiterate exotic dressed in animal skins who provided brawn to complement Mandrake's brain on their adventures,' he was modernized in 1965 to dress in suits and speak standard English.
The publisher All-Negro Comics, Inc. published a single issue of All-Negro Comics (June 1947), a 15-cent omnibus, at a time when comics generally cost a dime, starring characters that included Lion Man. Lion Man is a young African scientist sent by the United Nations to oversee a massive uranium deposit at the African Gold Coast. Wearing a loin cloth and tribal headband, he is joined by a young war orphan named Bubba, and fights the villainous Doctor Blut Sangro.
It wasn't until Waku, Prince of the Bantu in the omnibus Jungle Tales from Marvel Comics' 1950s predecessor Atlas Comics, that mainstream comic books depicted an African character as a strong, independent hero. Waku was an African chieftain in a feature with no regularly featured white characters.
The first known Black superhero in mainstream American comic books is Marvel's the Black Panther, an African who first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966). This was followed by the first African-American superhero in mainstream comics, the Falcon, introduced in Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969). DC's first African-American superhero was Sgt. Willie Walker, a.k.a. Black Racer of the New Gods, introduced in writer-artist Jack Kirby's New Gods #3 (July 1971). Marvel's first major African female character was the superhero Storm.
The series Powerman, designed as an educational tool, was published in 1975 by Bardon Press Features of London, England, for distribution in Nigeria. The series, starring Powerman, was written by Don Avenall (aka Donne Avenell) and Norman Worker, and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and Brian Bolland. In 1988, Acme Press republished the series in the UK for the first time, to capitalize on the popularity of the artists, both of whose careers had since taken off. Acme changed Powerman's name to Powerbolt, to avoid confusion with the character Luke Cage, published by Marvel Comics. Powerman, who was super-strong and could fly, appeared in stories rendered in a simple style reminiscent of Fawcett Comics' Golden Age Captain Marvel. His only apparent weakness was snakebite.
Jet Jungle and his black panther Jupiter starred in one of the longest running radio plays and comic strips in South Africa, from 1965 to 1985. Progressive for his time, Jet Jungle appealed to children across the spectrum but never succeeded in breaking out of the stranglehold of economic sanctions and a cultural boycott caused as a result of the racist policies of the government of the day. Nevertheless, he can be credited with inspiring a generation of naturalists and environmentalists to save the rain-forests and jungles of Africa.
In November 2005, Nelson Mandela announced that the comic book A Son of the Eastern Cape would provide an illustrated history of Mandela's formative years, starting with his birth. The opening panels show Mandela as a swaddled baby in his parents' arms in their mud hut in the village of Mwezo, near Qunu in the Eastern Cape. The graphic novel was made up of 8 volumes, written and illustrated by Nic Buchanan of comics company Umlando Wezithombe, and to be translated into South Africa's 10 other official languages. A teacher's guide was also to be created.
Umlando Wezithombes produce African comic books and have covered topics such as Steve Biko, Xhosa Cattle Killings, Mapungubwe, Table Mountain, water conservation, quadriplegia, gay and lesbian rights, recycling, and more.
In 1930 Hergé drew a story in which his character Tintin visits the Belgian Congo: Tintin in the Congo. True to the time period in which the story was drawn Africa is depicted in very stereotypical way with all black people living in tribes and being either simple-minded or lazy. Hergé later said that he never did any research in his early days and that the book was basically a reflection of how most Europeans thought about Africa. In 1939 Jijé made a comic strip named Blondin et Cirage, which featured a young white boy, Blondin, and his black African friend Cirage. Contrary to most depictions of black people around that time period Cirage was depicted as just as clever as his white friend. The series Lucky Luke by Morris features many Afro-Americans. Although it's not certain when the events happen, it can be assumed that the series is set after the American Civil War, as the Africans are never portrayed as slaves, but housekeepers and servants, as well as being very polite and helpful. In the comic En remontant le Mississippi (Travelling Up the Mississippi) released in 1961, features Africans as lazy but good workers.
In 1947 the character Sjors by Frans Piët was teamed up with a black African child, Sjimmie, who spoke in broken Dutch. The series Sjors en Sjimmie ran for decades. In 1969 the character was remodelled by Jan Kruis, who dropped all the stereotypical elements.
One of the earliest Italian comic strips was about a little African boy named Bilbolbul. The comic was drawn between 1908 and 1933 by Attilio Mussino.