Where are our black superheroes? Inspired by Marvel Comics, Bahian artist turns myths of African Orixás (deities) into superheroes



Note from BW of Brazil: Just like any young boy, I spent a great amount of my time in the fantasy world of the superheroes. It was a regular part of my life. I remember growing up in Detroit, there was a time when a local TV channel featured a different 30-minute Marvel superhero every day of the week. First, from Monday through Friday, at 4pm, there were the adventures of “your friendly neighborhood Spiderman“. And then at 4:30, there was a different hero holding down the next 30-minute slot. I don’t remember the exact order, but the Marvel superheroes were Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Ironman and the Submariner. Also during this time period, there were Saturday morning cartoons featuring the DC Comic heroes, The Superfriends, cheesy TV shows such as Shazam, Isis and Batman, and later the original three Superman films. Even growing up in a city in which nearly everyone was black, I loved my superheroes and at such a young age, it didn’t matter that all of these heroes were depicted as white, well, with the exception of the green alter-ego of Bruce Banner, the Hulk. In the world of children, the superheroes represented the flip side of the Barbie doll, another genre mostly represented by white images

But as an adult, in an era in which nearly every superhero is presented in huge budget blockbuster films and TV series, I now reflect on the depths of the colonization of young, black minds when these larger than life heroes with superhuman strength and special, magical powers and our concepts of god and his only son are presented as Europeans. Of course, myth is a wonderful thing and there is nothing wrong with dreaming and having an active imagination, but such images are just another way that white supremacy re-enforces black invisibility, destroying any possibility of black children seeing themselves as beautiful, important and having the capability of making great contributions to society. I imagine most white people would look at this idea and think that I am exaggerating or making an issue of race where there shouldn’t even be one. What’s wrong with whiteness representing humanity itself, right? But again, until white people can take a step back and reflect on how many images we are bombarded with on a daily basis that look like them and how many look like non-whites, specifically black, there’s really no point in discussing the issue. But think about it, when everything that is considered intelligent, beautiful or powerful comes packaged in a European body, what influence does this have on our very consciousness?

It is along these lines that a comic artist from Bahia was thinking when he starting depicting superheroes in the appearance of black/African mythical deities. The idea is revolutionary in a country so anti-black/African as Brazil. I won’t go into the numerous shocking attacks on Afro-Brazilian religion houses of worship and the everyday demonizing of these religions to further my point, but it speaks volumes about Brazilian society and its desire to stamp out any and every representation of blackness and Africa in the minds of the people. 

As myth and fantasy play such a huge role in our psyches, the idea of presenting superheroes in black skin in an African/Afro-Brazilian context is a small, yet enormous way of counter-balancing the European stranglehold on our conscious. Can’t wait for the films and TV series! I know it’s a far-fetched idea, but again, nothing wrong with dreaming!

The Orixás

Orixás and myths

With the series “Contos dos Orixás”, the Bahian comic artist Hugo Canuto brings diversity to comics and breaks prejudices about Afro-Brazilian culture

From the newsroom of Revista Trip

Bahian comic artist Hugo Canuto

Passionate about mythologies since he was a boy, the Bahian comic artist Hugo Canuto decided to leave stability as an architect to venture into transforming his taste for the comics into a profession.

Now, the Soteropolitan (native of Salvador, Bahia) is dedicated to studying Exu, Iansã and Oxóssi, giving body to the Contos dos Orixás (Tales of the Orixás), a series that recreates the stories of the Yoruba myths with the pop look of the comic book hero.

IANSÁ – The Orixá of the winds and storms, thunder and lightning. The Yoruba usually ask Iansã or Oya, as she is also known, to calm the storm on the way. She is the wind before the storm.

The adventures of the powerful Xango: Comic strip turns Orixás into superheroes

The creation: “Contos de Òrun Àiyè” page, with launch scheduled for June

By Tiago Dias

If Marvel was inspired by Yoruba mythology to create its stories, the Xangô warrior would have as impressive a force as Thor, defend justice as much as Captain America, and rely on the help of Oxum, Ogum, and Oxossi to conquer the throne of the African empire of Oyó.

OBÁ – She is a warrior orixá, wearing red and white. She uses the sword, shield and bow and arrow. She is the orixá of the Niger river. Of the troubled waters. She is also one of Xango’s wives.

But a giant is no longer necessary to blow up a new universe in the comics. The HQ Contos de Òrun Àiyé (Tales of Òrun Àiyé) due to be released in August, will give the Orixás colors and outlines of superheroes.

“They have very distinct powers and distinctions of personality, as superheroes do. Xango and Iansã are red. Ogun is blue and green. Oxum is golden,” says the creator of the story, Hugo Canuto. “There’s a code there that dialogues a lot with the superhero figure.”

ÒGÚM – He is the deity of war and technology. Lord of the iron and tools. He is one of the main orishas from Orun (the sky).

Like any self-respecting fan of heroes, the Bahian cartoonist grew up reading the universe of Thor, Conan and Superman, characters inspired by distant mythologies, but never had any difficulty of assimilation on the part of Brazilian readers.

Yemanjá – The Lady of the Seas and Water. She has a primordial role in the creation of the human world. She is a companion of Olokun, also divinity of the sea.

The author then visited other cultures in “A Canção de Mayrube” (The Song of the Mayrube) inspired by the Latino peoples: Why is the Nordic god, in Marvel’s fiction, is a superhero and Xango, an African warrior, considered a demon?

“Why is it that Brazilian, which is part of the country’s culture, it’s seen in this negative way and this same archetypical Western Euro culture is seen as a hero?” he asks.

XANGÔ – The orixá of the rays and thunders. Equivalent to Thor, of Norse mythology. He is a justiceiro (vigilant) who does not forgive lies and betrayal. Xangô is the only orixá that has some power over the dead.

“The Orixás”

With the desire to drive away prejudices and merge his two passions, Brazilian culture and comics, last August he recreated a classic cover of “The Avengers,” with Ogum in the same pose as Captain America, and Oxaguiã instead of Iron Man.

OXUMARÉ – Lord of the rain and the rainbow. He is the orixá of wealth and fortune, as well as the activity, and mobilizations that move everything.

The Orixás was born there – an unpretentious tribute to the American comic maker Jack Kirby, founder of Marvel and one of his greatest inspirations, who would turn 99 on that day if he were alive.

“I did the first art, ‘The Orixas’, in the same way, with this corruption between Portuguese (Orixás) and English (Orishas), symbolizing the concept of the illustration itself. I had already read about Yoruba mythology and African history due to “Canção de Mayrube” (Song of Mayrube), a project in which I created a mythical universe inspired by the peoples who formed the American continent,” says Canuto.

OXUM – The orixá that governs the fresh water of the rivers and the waterfalls. Lady of beauty and love.

The illustration was received with a tidal wave of curtidas (likes) and shares. Canuto then created fictional covers for each Orixá and decided to finance a real project. He refused publisher offers and went to the well-known crowdfunding. The “pool” started in November hitting its target of R$ 12 thousand in the first weeks – and closed the collection with R$ 40 thousand.

  • Hugo Canuto: “I want to bring this universe to a media that is still very Eurocentric, closely linked to North American themes” 
OXUMARÉ – Lord of the rain and the rainbow. He is the orixá of wealth and fortune, as well as the activity, and mobilizations that move everything.

According to him, there is also much support from the religious communities that worship the Orixás, such as: Candomblé, Umbanda, Batuque, Cubana Santeria and Ifá.

“We constantly receive dozens of messages of support and encouragement from people both at home and abroad, regarding how we treat the issue with respect and care,” he says.

OXÓSSI – The hunter orixá. Known for his cunning and generosity, he is a lover of the arts and of all that is beautiful. He is the divinity of all that is positive.

In the preview of “Tales of Òrun Àiyé”, provided by the artist and that opens this report, you can see the influence of classic heroes, as if Jack Kirby and Stephen “Steve” J. Ditko (responsible for the art of “Dr. Strange” ) threw their colors and pop influences into a new world of super-gods.

But the project goes beyond transforming the Orixás into mere archetypes. “The story I am building lies in the legendary time, in the mythical past, in which heaven [Òrun] and earth [Àiye] is one. There is no way to be a Manichean. They are very complex, not being
reduced to good and bad,” explains Canuto.

“I want to bring this universe to a media that is still very Eurocentric, closely linked to North American themes. Bring something that is such a victim of prejudice, that is fought by reactionary movements, to a different language and to make people look in another way,” says the Bahian. “I made a bridge between two realities.”

The Avengers of African Matrix Mythology: Hugo Canuto Drinks at Orixás Fountain for New Comic Image

The greatest stories from Yoruba mythology, taken to the universe of Comic books.

“Hi, my name is Hugo Canuto and just like you, I’m passionate about Comics!

I have always been fascinated by the great epic sagas that burned the souls of the ancients, creating civilizations and monuments. From Gilgamesh to Darth Vader, beautiful Porasy, Thor or Superman, the heroes of a thousand faces still stir our imaginations, with the same charm as when we heard stories around the fire, in the night of time.

Although since 2013 I have thought of developing a work that addresses the African culture, a few months ago decided to start it, drawing “The Orixas” in honor of the 99 years of the master Jack Kirby, one of the most influential artists in comics.

Then, I decided to go ahead with the initiative, because I believe that it is necessary to write about plots that dialogue with our culture (Afro-Brazilian culture), from other glances.

So, after a few years in São Paulo, returned to my hometown, Salvador, in the state of Bahia, a city of great Yoruba/Nago heritage located in northeastern Brazil, to go deep in research, talking with scholars and adepts of Candomblé, seeking knowledge in this universe, aiming for something that honors tradition and, at the same time, presents in an artistic way and with a different approach, the stories of the Orixás.

Throughout the years of working to create “the Song of Mayrube” universe (see more at https://hugocanuto.com/acancaodemayrube/), I have often sought inspiration in the history of civilizations who belongs to Africa.

I realized that, despite living in the country that received the most African people in the diaspora, its contribution to our development and importance, is still underestimated under layers of prejudice.

It’s necessary to understand our identity as a nation, and in most recent years, there are some laws approved to increase the teaching of Afro-Brazilian and African culture. It is fundamental, rescuing this heritage for the new generations.

That’s how “Tales of Orishas” was born, which will take the powerful narratives of the Yoruba culture to the Comic book format, in a 90-page color album to be released, first in Brazil, in August 2017.

This project believes comics as an artistic expression, and is born of the desire to produce a quality material, with affordable price for the public.

Visit our page https://www.facebook.com/ContosdosOrixas/, in which we post news, arts, character cards and the process of creation of the magazine.

About the story

“There was a time of kings and heroes upon the earth… There, between the dry ocean of sand and the rain forests, was a mosaic of peoples whose cities, made of ivory and bronze, loved war and trade with it Intensity … craftsmen, sages and sorcerers, who have marked two continents forever. ” This is the universe of the Tales of Orishas, constructed based upon the Itan, traditional stories told orally for centuries between Yoruba tribes, in a place today between Nigeria and Benin, whose children, scattered throughout the diaspora of oppression, have taken root in Brazil and Americas. When entities like Xangô, Exú and Yemanjá walked among men, influencing their destinies, aiding and protecting mortals. And, to make this project real, we formed a creative team that counts on my script and pencils, artwork and layout of Marcelo Kina, and the incredible colors of Pedro Júnior, both comic book and animation professionals.”

Source: Entretenimento, Revista Trip, BuzzFeed, Nexo Jornal, Catarse

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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