Comic book publishers are finding themselves in a cultural rough spot. Oftentimes, creators will mix mythologies and folklore from different cultures with failed results. VENERATION Z by Yambo Okoth avoids this pitfall. Mixing manga-style art and Kenyian folklore, VENERATION Z gives us a story that cannot be duplicated in its authenticity, ingenuity, and storytelling. This sponsored review will take a look at what makes VENERATION Z stand out from the crowd.
The Story of Oru
Our story centers on Oru, the son of the Mzee Polo Piach (the leader of the Ziwani people). While with his family, Mzee Polo Piach tells the story of an unnamed Ziwani warrior. Polo Piach explains how this warrior saved the village during a time of intense war. Oru doesn’t feel this mysterios fighter was a hero and is unafraid to tell his father how he feels. However, this bickering quickly ends when news of a potential attack on the village reaches Mzee Polo Piach.
Polo Piach quickly suits himself and a few warriors to prepare against it. Oru must stay behind and take care of the homestead and his mother. Oru is extremely unsatisfied with this, saying he is of age and is able to fight. Polo Piach insists that Oru stay, and leaves the boy behind. Unfortunately, Oru has already made up his mind and sneaks out. He quickly runs to catch up with his father, which turns out to be a giant mistake.
Folklore and Stereotype Breaking
Being an American reader, some of the history and folklore were a little lost on me at first. I’ll admit I was not always sure where some of the terms or ideas came from. But knowing the folklore is not necessarily essential to the story, it just gives more volume to it. Okoth uses folklore within his comic to break stereotypes, creating a space for us to unlearn incorrect information and relearn the truths in the world around us.
One of the ways Okoth addresses this new information is by using asterisks. His comic has a few notes around the edges, explaining what the character is referring to. For example, on page nine of the first comic, Mzee Polo Piach asks, “Has Ker Nyame been informed?” The asterisks is by “Ker”, but the name overall is what’s relevant. Ker Nyame is part of the Akan creation myth. Nyame’s name alone means “he who knows and sees everything”. For a reader who may not be familiar with google, some of the references in the comic could be difficult to figure out. However, these subtle cultural points never bog down the overall story.
Okoth also uses this comic as a platform to break traditional thought. He does this by providing us with information that may be less known. There is a scene were Mzee Polo Piach and his warriors bust into a house called Thimlich Ohinga. We are often taught that African people live in huts made of straw, which stems from stereotypes. Thimlich Ohingas, by contrast, were stone-built ruins in Western Kenya. Okoth uses truths about the country in order to combat (albeit false) thoughts.
Manga-Style Art with a Twist
One of the biggest aspects of this story is how it combines cultures and creates something completely new. Although the story and folklore are all centered in Africa, the art is borrowing from styles in manga. This creates a space within manga that does not receive enough spotlight: people of color living their everyday lives. Okoth also has a careful eye for detail, making every image exciting and beautiful.
The choice of art style for the comic makes total sense. Although it may seem out of place, it actually provides an interesting perspective on a narrative style that has become globally accepted. Manga is also an art style that is notoriously bad at depicting people of color. VENERATION Z combats this by utilizing the style and proving that people of color can (and should) be in manga just as much as anyone else.
Okoth also is careful in how the detail of each image falls together. One of the most eye-catching of these is the depiction of clothing. The symmetrical pattern on clothing creates movement. Although it may seem minor, these small details are what make some of the clothing and characters pop. Oru’s mother, for example, has an amazing dress. But it wouldn’t be as stunning without the carefully done patterns.
Final Thoughts on VENERATION Z
This comic ties together two cultures that are not often seen together: African and Japanese. This mixture of cultures creates an absolutely fascinating story that is definitely worth your time. It can provide a new perspective on folklore or elaborate further on some stories you may already be familiar with. What’s better, the story is published online here weekly. So every week, we get a new chapter. VENERATION Z is a story I’m definitely going to keep following.