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Papa Mfumu'Eto 1er Papers

 Collection
Identifier: MSS 0384

Scope and Content

The Papa Mfumu'eto 1er Papers are the global first, publicly accessible collection of an African comic artist's original drawings and production materials. They consist almost entirely of items associated with the artist’s work of creating and selling comic books, rather than finished, printed products. Items in pencil or ink on paper represent all stages of his creative and production processes: story ideas, early creative drawings and conceptual sketches, drafts, sketched covers and page layouts, storyboards, cut-and-paste (adhesive-taped) montages in various states, camera-ready copies and stencils, press tests or proofs for pages and covers, press damaged and misprinted pages, and twenty complete printed comic books are all present in the collection. Many items are parts or fragments of larger or more complete works, with much evidence that the creator excised drawings, cells, and other elements from one project for use in others. Twenty complete comic books of 8-16 pages (folded A3 or A4 size sheets) are included, representing self-published issues as distributed and consumed by readers (see Contents List on pages 7-9, below). Artist’s notes, doodles, business papers, advertising proposals, posters, flyers, and drawings are included. Several of the comic books and production drafts are works by others or collaborations between Mfumu’Eto and assistants or peers. Papa-leki Nzila (pseudonym) is credited as an inker on some items. The names Kabos, Jean Lepa Mabila Saye, Waderi-Banza, Kongi Kelly, and Kuntuala Mukiese appear on original or printed materials in the collection, though their specific roles are unclear. Many materials present evidence on the material print and art culture of 1990s Kinshasa. Quality artists’ supplies were not easily available at the time, while printing presses also were scarce. Original drawings, production montages, and printed pages serve as physical evidence of the materials and methods the artist employed, and by extension what was possible for a small creative publisher in this place and time.

Circulation numbers are uncertain, and questions of production and distribution are open, as no comprehensive review of the creator’s notes estimating printing supplies or print runs has firmly established his works’ circulation. Other complexities challenging scholarship on Mfumu'Eto include spelling variations for titles of the same series, inconsistent issue numbering, and many items with more than one date noted (e.g., in print versus manuscript notes, pen versus pencil, in different locations on the same page, etc.).

Despite its fragmentary, fragile, and uncertainly ordered (or known out of order) state, the collection's intellectual value lies in its vernacular, primary-source, humorous perspectives on everyday life in Kinshasa during the 1990s and early 2000s. It is a trove for the investigation of Kinshasan (Kinois or Kin) culture from many perspectives: domestic life and conflict, religious anthropology, urban slang, sorcery idioms, text/image communication modes, and the history of local caricatures of one of Africa’s most important postcolonial dictators and his political regime, before and following Mobutu’s 1997 downfall, exile, and death. Social issues such as AIDS prevention and care, gender roles, class, hunger, child abuse, sexual morality, emigration, and urban poverty in the African context are recurrent themes. Importantly, the comics’ dialogs, text, and speech bubbles are rare examples of urban Lingala (Kinshasa’s lingua franca) in print. In contrast to other African comic artists, Mfumu’Eto highlights his community's creative use of vernacular language through the dialogs in his stories. Several comic books relate to then-current international events such as the First Gulf War, in which he employs more of the DRC's official language, French. Most stories and text-images, however, are set on the streets, or more precisely in the households and domestic courtyard spaces, of his own neighborhood.

The collection includes evidence of issue sponsorships and product placements in numerous drawings, issues, flyers, and posters. Most examples are for the Maison de Haute Couture Élégance (featuring characters Clarisse and Papa Missamou), with fewer items related to advertising Serkas photo lab, Crèmerie d’Ollart, Platinum fluoride toothpaste, and Boulangerie Bana. The artist designed school notebook covers (cahiers, for sale to students by the artist or printer), drawing pads, and promotions for religious groups such as Puissance Spirituelle du Verbe/Flamme Internationale, L'Eau prophétique, and Union Chrétienne. Several stories feature individual religious leaders (Frère Patrice, Pasteur Kutino, Frère Mente, Matou Samuel). One issue highlights traditional wrestlers, possibly a paid promotion. Posters, flyers, outside back covers, and titles mentioned within the pages of other works often serve to advertise his own creative work. There is an example of a handwritten sign with a price list for back-issues on sale (see item 3-7-6a-3). Examples of reportage illustré (unposed, live sketches of workshop performers and participants) at programs at the French Embassy’s Halle de la Gombe (e.g., Sculpture Animé, Les Ruches Kinoises, Atelier Masque, and Atelier Théatre de la Rue à Mains Nus, Rater Mieux) present another aspect of the artist’s work, some of which he integrated into non-fiction comic books. A proposal for a UNICEF memorial commemorating child soldiers in Eastern Congo is also notable.

Many stories are inspired by popular music, with reproduced song lyrics. Others are inspired by successful television shows of the '90s. Several of his comics document news stories from a popular perspective, such as Pastor Kutino's trial after he was accused of burning the Qur'an, tried, jailed, and later released from prison. Stories often feature rumors circulating in Kinshasa when they were created. Mfumu'Eto caricatured Mobutu's imagined after-death exploits and documented the waves of popular polemics surrounding Congo's musical groups by featuring famous artists such as Noël Ngiama Makanda and Jean-Bedel Mpiana Tshituka. His comics introduced and popularized lesser-known artists, featured strange or supernatural stories, and employed multiple languages. There is a continuity in Mfumu'Eto's comic universe, where many stories are connected through common characters. Some represent actual people to explore current events, while others feature characters who are related in the same fictional universe, such as Ma-Mpaka, who appears in at least three Mfumu'Eto comics.3

Series are arranged to facilitate convenient (broadly chronological) access to the major characters, popular figures, full stories, developed themes, and complete comic booklets. Note that oversize materials, housed in box 4, are listed by folder, adjacent to the standard size folders with the most closely associated materials in each. This organization is approximate, as the materials were chaotically arranged on receipt and presented challenges to consistent arrangement.

"Series 1. Stories and major characters, 1982-2007" includes the only publicly available examples of Mfumu'Eto's comic characters, popular figures, and full comic books. Drafts and sketches are included together with more developed or finished material, in cases where they appear to be clearly associated by character, theme, or chronology but some items are separated from their original context. Many of the best-recognized and -represented characters are found here. An example is Mwan'a Mbanda (a Cinderella-like theme with the moral, "treat your stepchild as your own." Based on a traditional theme, this title has also been used by comic author Lepa-Mabila Saye (his Djo-Ef le parisien is represented in the Papers by several original inked pages). Other examples include Princesse d'Or (an idealized teenage girl, sharing her name with Mfumu'Eto's daughter), Bébé Oyo Abimaka ("The elderly baby" spirit who bedevils her infertile 'mother'), Bernard Tshilombe (a playboy zombie/man), and Ngadios (based on a well-known comedian and street performer). Folder 7 includes stories and images relating to many popular musicians and performances, a market Mfumu'Eto apparently targeted for sales in entrepreneurial fashion. The final folder includes most of the complete comic books available here as distributed in chronological order.

"Series 2. Fragments and drafts, 1985-2007" contains possibly the earliest drawing in the collection is a pen-and-ink depiction of the steep, stony hills of Matadi (dated both as April 13, 1980 and December 1985). "Un Helowa" is a blue, alien-like "being of light from the 5th, 6th, and 7th dimensions" (dated 1985 and 1988). Several studies of Tintin, Belgian BD cartoonist Hergé's popular character, may indicate some influence. Other production materials, sketches, and drafts represent both well- and less-known characters that could not be arranged with confidence into Series 1 or are fragments deemed best kept with otherwise related items.

A final set of materials, "Series 3. Work for hire, 1981-2006" includes undated work, collaborations, and work by others. In some cases, we were unable to determine what role, if any, Mfumu'Eto played in creating these. A comic book not authored by Mfumu'Eto (signed Jean Lepa Mabila Saye) commemorates the 1997 death of DRC Général Mahele (Marc Mahélé Lièko Bokungu), donated by Jacob Sabakinu Kivilu (item 3-11-0-1). As one of the earliest customers among Kinshasa’s professional class, History Professor Sabakinu is well acquainted with Mfumu'Eto. A print of the cover photograph for this booklet was already included in the Mfumu'Eto papers, perhaps indicating a collaboration with JunioR (a comic book series by Lepa).

3 Aurelie Maketa documents important story themes and characters in a supplemental spreadsheet available in the UF Institutional Repository (see https://ufdc.ufl.edu/ufir).

Dates

  • 1981 - 2007
  • Majority of material found within 1992 - 2006

Creator

Language of Materials

Texts and dialogs are primarily in urban Lingala mixed with French in a variety of sociolinguistic registers, while the creator’s notes are mostly in French. There are about a half-dozen examples of notes or other brief texts in English or Portuguese.

Access

The collection is open for research.

NOTE: This collection is currently being digitized. Please consult with the archivist.

Biographical/Historical Note

Jaspe-Saphir Mfumu'Eto Nkou-Ntoula identifies himself as Papa Mfumu'Eto 1er (le premier, or the first). His surname translates as "our leader" in the both the Kongo and Luba languages. 1 Born in 1963 at Matadi, DRC, Mfumu'Eto was the only surviving child of his parents, who divorced when he was two years old. Overprotected in childhood, he created stories to connect with the wider world (Mumbu 2000; Mfumu'Eto 2015), later studying painting and interior design at the 1Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa (Brezault 2009). In 1990, he began creating comic books (bandes dessinées or BD) for Revue Mfumu'Eto. One of his first stories, "Nguma a meli mwasi na kati ya Kinshasa" ("A Python Swallowed a Woman in Kinshasa") became a runaway success, launching his career. The Revue and dozens of his BD "magazine" booklets continued in popularity throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.

As the artist notes in interviews, "No Congolese comic has ever sold this well, to this day." He describes himself as a journalist, "always on the lookout with [his] 'bio-camera'" to document events observed firsthand (Mfumu'Eto 2015). He emphasizes a unique ability to report on the everyday world as well as the "second, parallel, secret, spiritual world," describing his comics’ primary theme as "mysticism" (Mfumu'Eto 2013). His distinctive reportage is filled with satirical, text-image depictions of and perspectives on everyday life and politics in DRC and former Zaïre during the brutal, tumultuous, final years of the regime (1965-1997) of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997) and its aftermath. On Mfumu'Eto's pages, however, familiar characters and events mingle with ancestor spirits, human-animal metamorphoses, living-dead zombies, and other supernatural phenomena (Hunt 2015).

Kinshasa is sub-Saharan Africa's second-largest city, with over 11 million inhabitants (Europa World, 2018). There, in the Quartier Abattoir (Slaughterhouse district) and other crowded, unplanned extensions of the former colonial city center (see De Boeck 2011:262), as for a time in Inkisi as Studio Village Mpangala Original, Mfumu'Eto and his production team of about five young men created comics in makeshift facilities for a living (Mfumu'Eto 2015). 2 He leveraged his comics’ success for paid projects with local businesses and non-profits, promoting these through his unprecedented popularity with ordinary Kinshasans. He describes his target audience as "the literate, semi-literate and illiterate, kids and women, academics and priests...the Congolese masses as a whole" (Mfumu’Eto 2015). Selling his comics in the street and outdoor markets for the price of a loaf of bread, Mfumu'Eto produced up to 10 issues monthly, reportedly with over 100,000 comic books circulated in the city through his career (Angalia n.d.; Hunt 2016). In fact, a review of collection materials found press run and supply calculations indicating this figure is a dramatic undercount of actual production (Reboussin 2019:323). By the mid-2000s, he tired of his frantic pace, while responsibilities as a divorced father may also have led him to focus on painting. The Beauté Congo exhibit in Paris (2015-2016) featured both his comic books and works on canvas at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art (see Magnin 2015).

1 Mfumu'Eto explains he created his surname from a traditional honorific mfumu "chief" and eto "our" by adding an apostrophe, the first Congolese to adopt it as his own—including on his passport (Messenger chat with Reboussin, Nov. 13, 2020).

2 Mfumu'Eto named team members, requesting their anonymity (email messages to Reboussin, July 18 and 23, 2019).

Extent

1.87 Linear Feet (4 Boxes)

Abstract

Original comic book art, creative, and related production materials by the popular Congolese street comic creator and artist Papa Mfumu’Eto 1er. These include conceptual and story notes, drafts, sketches, and ink on paper vellum production sheets. Many sheets are attached as printer’s or reader’s pairs, printer’s spreads, or impositions (see Goodrich 2014). There are plentiful examples of draft layout designs, planning and production notes, and personal or business promotion materials. Many press check or proof pages and 20 complete, printed comic booklets are included. The contents document humorous, satirical, political, and moral perspectives on everyday life in Kinshasa (capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) from the early 1990s to 2007. They offer a rich source for investigations of its urban culture and issues such as war, history, poverty, entertainment, disease, emigration, religion, class, rumor, and domestic life in former Zaïre and post-Mobutu DRC. The papers offer physical evidence of handmade, ink-on-paper, comic book production in urban Africa during the nineteen-nineties and early twenty-first century.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in three series: "Series 1. Stories and major characters," "Series 2. Fragments, drafts, and production material," and "Series 3. Work for hire, advertising, collaborations, work by others." Within each, folders are arranged chronologically to the extent possible. Oversized materials are physically separated as noted in the series and folder list. For better preservation, oversized materials are grouped with physically similar items, rather than by conceptual, descriptive, or thematic categories. The folder list reflects this inconsistency, with some oversized folders listed more than once, reflecting like materials housed in both locations. The physical location of each item is indicated by Box#-Folder#-Divider#-item#, e.g..4-1-0-4, with zeros indicating locations before any divider.

Researchers will encounter fragments in the collection and damage such as stains, tears, holes, and wear. The creator explicitly used cheap, recycled paper to keep costs low for his readers (Mfumu'Eto 2015), obscuring his technical skills to many observers. Provenance and physical evidence indicate that while many were preserved, they were damaged from wear and other causes while causally stored by their creator in his home. Environmental conditions there were far from desirable for paper preservation, as reflected in the condition of many of the materials. Housing itself was haphazard, with evidence that many pages were re-used for sketches, doodles, notes, etc. as well as accidental damage caused by spills, footprints, and tears. The artist excised or photocopied cells, images, and other elements of previous work to create new or updated versions of comics, posters, flyers, advertisements, etc. Pagination for some booklets can be seen in different states, reflecting elaborations on simpler formats such as adding new covers to a previously self-cover booklet. Many items were reused casually for notes, sketches, messages, phone numbers, calculations, or by children in the home.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building.

Acquisition Information

Purchased directly from the artist on March 6, 2017, the papers accumulated in his home in Kinshasa, DRC. Professor Nancy Hunt dates her knowledge of the collection "since 2001, when I found them strewn in his home."4 The artist deposited his papers with her in three sets, lastly in 2007 (Hunt 2015:266). She held the collection privately for several years, with his permission, supervising graduate students' initial processing at the University of Michigan. The collection was moved and stored in Paris to provide access to curators of the 2015 Beauté Congo exhibit. It was finally shipped to the University of Florida in March 2017, following its purchase by the George A. Smathers Libraries, with generous support from the Dr. Madelyn Lockhart Endowment Fund in African Studies.

4 Hunt to Reboussin (email forwarded September 26, 2018).

Related Material

The Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC) includes a wealth of related materials. As part of Mr. Jean Pigozzi's private art collection, housed in Switzerland, it includes the largest of the only two other known collections of complete printed Mfumu'Eto comic books. With an estimated 250 self-published booklets as sold in Kinshasa from c.1990-2002, it provides a substantial complement to the Smathers Libraries’ archival collection of original sketches, drawings, and production montages.

Bibliography

Angalia art contemporain. n.d. "Papa Mfumu'Eto 1er." Available: https://en.angalia-arts.com/Papa-Mfumu-Eto-1er_a31.html

Brezault, Alain. 2009. "La caricature face à la dictature en RDC," Africultures 79. Available: http://africultures.com/la-caricature-face-a-la-dictature-en-rdc-9063

De Boeck, Filip. 2011. "Inhabiting ocular ground: Kinshasa's future in the light of Congo's spectral urban politics." Cultural Anthropology 26(2):263-286. Available: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01099.x

Europa World online. 2018. "Area and Population (The Democratic Republic of the Congo)." London, Routledge. Available: http://www.europaworld.com/entry/cd.ss.2

Goodrich, Ron. 2014. "Book/Booklet-Printer Spread Key." Unpublished guide available: https://www.behance.net/gallery/15638721/Book-Booklet-Printer-Spread-Key

Hunt, Nancy Rose. 2015. "Papa Mfumu'eto 1er, star de la bande dessinée kinoise." In Magnin (ed.). Beauté Congo : 1926-2015 : Congo kitoko. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain.

-----. 2016. "The emperor of Kinshasa's street comics" Chimurenga Chronic / Could Be No. 3: The corpse exhibition and older graphic stories. Available: http://mediacityseoul.kr/2016/assets/contents/COULD-BE-NO.-3.pdf

Magnin, André (ed.). 2015. Beauté Congo: 1926-2015: Congo kitoko. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

Mumbu, Marie-Louise. 2000. "Mfumu'eto, la radio-trottoir kinoise en BD." Africultures n. 32

Papa Mfumu'eto. 2013. [Interview on DVD video: 36:55-38:49]. Kinshasa Mboka Te. Kinshasa, DRC and Belgium: Sens Uniek.

-----. 2015. "Beauté Congo Entretien avec Papa Mfumu'eto 1er." [Video interview at the Beauté Congo exhibit]. Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxLfxXuyk64

Reboussin, Daniel. 2019. "The Papa Mfumu'Eto Papers: An Urban Vernacular Artist in Congo's Megacity." Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society 3, no. 3: 315-329. Available: https://www.muse.jhu.edu/article/744592. Postprint: https://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00011042.

Processing Notes

Mfumu'Eto used photocopies and other reproductions in his production process. Press test or proof prints are evidence of how he produced his comics and reused them. Page elements were cut-out for use in other works, and many pages were used for note taking or messages. Because the collection illustrates the process of creating and producing printed materials under difficult circumstances, duplicates and multiple versions of items were retained. The Library Conservator cleaned frass and remediated the papers for mold during summer 2018, advising researchers to wash their hands both before and after handling these materials. Much of the original order was lost prior to accession. In some cases where the artist wrote dates on an item, the date is not definitive or reliable: arrangement approximates chronological order as best as can be determined or left in original order. There are numerous disconnected pages with unknown titles or dates, pages out of order or separated from related items, works for hire, and examples of other artists’ work or uncertain crediting for members of his creative and production team. A few items indicate plagiarism or disputed authorship, for example item 3-9-1-1 is signed Kuntuala Mukiese although Mfumu'Eto asserts the work is his own. Item 3-3-6-1 is a flyer montage admitting guilt for plagiarizing Mfumu’Eto by the editors of Revue Super Lubanza-Chada (see "Arrangement" p. 5 on how to locate materials using item numbers).

The curator is grateful for numerous and varied insights shared freely during mediated, scholarly encounters with the papers during all stages of archival processing. With apologies for a less than complete list, these include significant interactions with participants at the 2018 UF Center for African Studies Carter Conference organized by Nancy Rose Hunt (History, UF) and Alioune Sow (Languages, Literatures and Cultures, UF). I offer sincere thanks to Jacob Sabakinu (History, Université de Kinshasa, DRC), Tom Hart (Sequential Artists Workshop, Gainesville), Nichole Bridges (Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Saint Louis Art Museum), Jean Comaroff (Anthropology, Harvard University), Michael Meeuwis (Languages and Cultures, Ghent University, Belgium), Margot Luyckfasseel (Languages and Cultures, Ghent University, Belgium), Michelle Bumatay (Modern Languages and Linguistics, Florida State University), Phillip Van den Bossche (former director at MuZEE, Ostend, Belgium), Patricia Hayes (Visual Studies, University of the Western Cape, South Africa), Katrien Pype (African Studies and Anthropology, Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven, Belgium), Zoë Strother (Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University), Jan Cumlivski (Academy of Art, Architecture and Design, Prague, Czech Republic and Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Bratislava, Slovakia). Special thanks go to Papa Mfumu'Eto 1er who generously allowed Nancy Rose Hunt the time needed to find his papers the right home and graciously shared perspectives on his life's work. I also would like to acknowledge the important perspectives developed and shared through hours of archival arrangement and description in collaboration with UF Graduate Assistants Daniel Salvador Barroca (Anthropology) and Aurelie Maketa (History). I gratefully acknowledge the support and editorial assistance from SASC colleagues Suzan Alteri and Florence Turcotte. All errors in fact and interpretation are entirely my own. I welcome comments from researchers, practitioners, and anyone aware of errors or omissions in this document.
Title
A Guide to the Papa Mfumu'Eto 1er Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Finding aid prepared by Dan Reboussin
Date
March 2020 (Updated December 2020)
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

Contact:
George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America
352-273-2755