Kickstarter Spotlight Review: Birth of a King in ‘Shaka #1’

by James Ferguson

Review written by Malissa White.

Kickstarter serves as an indie comic self-publishing and crowdfunding platform. Despite pandemic related layoffs, they continue to provide indie creators a place to showcase their works in hopes of fan support.

One such work is Shaka #1 written by Warren Duncan, with interior art by Elijah Johnson and letters by Toben Racicot. Duncan, a screenplay writer from South Africa, delivers a world-building first issue that sets the stage for the famed Zulu monarch’s story.

The history of Shaka kaSenzangakhona, aka Shaka Zulu, is a timely tale from which to draw inspiration. Planned as a ten-issue limited series, Shaka intends to follow its title character from rise to leader of the Zulu nation, to downfall and eventual assassination by his half-brothers.

The script, well received by several screenwriting competitions, is tightly and effectively written. The comic opens with Shaka’s birth during the tumult of a powerful storm. Despite his mythic birth, young Shaka is a low-caste bastard dreaming of one day becoming a warrior. At twelve years old Shaka is strong; he takes on much larger half-brother Dingane during warrior training despite the taunts of other half-brothers. Dingane is praised while a bleeding Shaka is ignored. But, his strength isn’t drawn from a desire to belong, but instead from his mother.

I enjoyed Duncan’s characterization of Nandi, Shaka’s mother. She embodies protection and support in a tribe ruled by the cruel, duty-driven Nkosi (chief), Senzangakhona. When Nandi comforts Shaka after he loses the bout, we see the power of that loving support inspire Shaka’s strength. Strength he will need to stand up to the Nkosi and lead his future nation.

I found myself instantly drawn to the earth-toned backdrops against which dynamic pops of red, gold and green shine. Those colors are accented beautifully throughout, adding another layer of visual narrative and context to this heroic epic of African roots.

Johnson also uses bold brushstrokes throughout. Perhaps a marker of style for this comic, but perhaps foreshadowing the eventual boldness so inherent in Duncan’s Shaka. After all, it is a bold act to stand up to one’s oppressors, to demand respect and dignity. Even, as shown at the end of issue #1, to face the unknown in exile.

Shaka #1 stands as a timely story with restrained, communicative dialogue and impressive art from Elijah Johnson. Check out the on-going Kickstarter here!

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