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Superheroes and sugar daddies …… the art of Boyd Maliki

By Bruce Ndlovu

DECADES before young Zimbabweans would have to fork out top dollar to experience the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its heroes like Spiderman, Iron Man and Black Panther, cartoonist Boyd Maliki was already lost in the fantastic world of those blockbuster characters.

Boyd Maliki with the late Dick Giordano chief executive and vice-president of DC Comics in 1989
Boyd Maliki with the late Dick Giordano chief executive and vice-president of DC Comics in 1989

Before the often violent, heroic lives of those intergalactic heroes would explode on high definition screens across the globe, Maliki saw them come to life on the pages of comic books that were once his most prized possessions.

The 1950s were a completely different time, the 62-year-old Maliki can attest. This was an era in which cinema was hardly accessible and the TVs were a rare sight in most households.

Things have changed since then. Nowadays, entertainment is on so many people’s fingertips, and it is hard to imagine a world where local and international content is not the click of a button away.

But for a generation that grew up before independence, this was not always the case.

What did those young men and women do for entertainment in their spare time? What did they do to escape the harsh realities of life under colonial rule?

For some, the roving bioscopes offered a reprieve, offering communities a chance to congregate under one giant screen.

The bioscope’s impact was undeniable and the fact that it still occupies a cozy spot in the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans is an illustration of how the country had warmed up to it.

For a select few however, comic books were the entertainment source of choice. It is in that exclusive club that Maliki, who spent his early years in Zambia, belongs to. These comic books would go a long way in sparking the imagination of one of Zimbabwe’s greatest cartoonists.

“I was already able to read and write while I was in pre-school,” he told Sunday Life in an interview.

“At that school we had a teacher called Wilbert and what he and I had in common was that we were both Southern Rhodesians in Zambia. So he took a paternalistic interest towards me because he was Shona and I could still speak ChiShona. So this man had a particular way of drawing images.

“He would give us a story and as he told it to us he would go with his chalk on the board and he would draw it. So almost all of us who were keen ended up drawing with the technique we saw from this teacher. Another thing that showed me I had a flair for art was that I could see shapes and figures from clouds. Even now I see things like baby elephant shapes in the sky,” he said.

Boyd Maliki at the home of Jerry Robinson, a famous comic book artist and cartoonist. Robinson was the co-creator of Batman and worked alongside Bob Kane the Batman cartoon creator
Boyd Maliki at the home of Jerry Robinson, a famous comic book artist and cartoonist. Robinson was the co-creator of Batman and worked alongside Bob Kane the Batman cartoon creator

Having taken to reading and writing like a duck to water, it was not long before Maliki got into comic books.

“Because I started to read very early, I started to grab comic books from South Africa. The first comic that we got into was Bulldog Lawson. This was a crime fighting character that would go on adventures as a crime fighter.

“This was a photo action magazine called True Africa featuring Bulldog Lawson. After Bulldog Lawson came Samson the Lion Heart and this was picture story version of the Tarzan that we were watching on movies. So while I was looking at these photo action magazines I kept asking myself if maybe one day I could do something similar,” he said.

After a diet of True Africa magazines, Maliki was accidentally introduced to the world of DC Comics’ Batman. It was an encounter that would spark a lifelong passion and obsession.

“Every Friday I would make sure that I was the one to open the gate for my father because I would be waiting for my copy of True Africa. So one day I went through his car and I was searching frantically for my copy of True Africa and I couldn’t find it.

“My father said ‘my son, those stupid books are sold out before I even get to work. So instead I brought you something else’. I looked at it and I saw a Batman comic. I was unhappy but I started to go through it. I got obsessed with it. I just fell in love with it. I then asked my father to bring me the comics instead of the South African photo action comics,” he said.

It was the Batman series that saw Maliki decide to try his hand in drawing.

“It was mostly DC comics that mostly dominated my collection. So the early copies of Batman that I got I said this is drawn by hand and I can equally draw this. Later on I was introduced to the Marvel Comics like Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and other superheroes.

“There was a comic book reading boon when we were in primary school. We formed clubs and we would go to libraries and we found out that they kept bound volumes of comic books. So we started to draw copying those comics. I would get a plain 24 page book and start copying. We weren’t using pencils but pens so if I made a mistake I would start afresh,” he said.

The would-be cartoonist found himself using his talents at school, where he drew up promotional posters for theatre projects.

“Because of my work I ended up doing school publicity work for most of our activities at school. Drama is where I really excelled. I would pick parts of a script and illustrate them on paper just to whet the appetite of those that wanted to come to the play. I would do posters. Those days before movies were released there would be posters and I would do the posters. All of that work I did landed me a job in advertising,” he said.

After doing illustrations for the popular weekly column Kapelwa Musonda, Maliki would make his way back to the newly independent country of his birth, joining the Chronicle’s advertising department in 1982.

At the Chronicle, Maliki would once again find himself drawing cartoons although this was by accident and not by design.

“I applied for a job in the Chronicle in the advertising department because that was my field. I had already made waves in Zambia with my advertising and marketing and so I got the job.

“I was the first black person in the arts studio, which I later headed. I talked to this guy called Stanford Makasa who was the news editor. I approached him and said I think your paper could do with one or two cartoons,” he said.

Maliki, who has published 16 comic books so far, will always be remembered for Nyathi, his signature cartoon strip that began running in the 80s. It is a character was birth also happened by accident.

“This is where this character of Nyathi came from. I created this sugar daddy with an eye for women. It was an occasional thing and I didn’t know how people were receiving them. When Geoff Nyarota took over as editor, he realised that the paper’s circulation improved on the days when I did the cartoons.

“So eventually I was asked to do the cartoons on a daily basis and I was now doing the comics at lunch time. So I was now doing two jobs because I would work in the advertising department for the whole day except for lunch time when I would work on the comics,” he said.

Maliki is still into his trade, but now as his own boss, doing jobs in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Sunday News