Fully Funded ‘Spider Stories’ Kickstarter Reflects Viewers’ Desire for African Stories in Animation [Video]
In 2009 the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED Talk on the dangers of what she called "The Single Story." Put simply, the Single Story is the conventional understanding of a people, culture or situation that's informed by stereotypes in literature and the media -- stereotypes that aren't necessarily untrue, but that are necessarily incomplete. For example, it was the Single Story of her middle class family's young servant that his family was incredibly poor -- not "incredibly poor and incredibly hard working." It was the Single Story of Africa as a "catastrophe" that prompted Adichie's American roommate in college to remark upon how well Adichie spoke, how impressed she was that Adichie could use appliances like stoves, and how surprising it was that Adichie listened to Mariah Carey instead of "tribal music."
Adichie's remarks struck a chord with indie comics creators John and Charles Agbaje, who observed that one chapter largely missing from the story of Africa in the west was that of the hero -- more specifically, the heroine. To that end, the brothers took to Kickstarter to fund the production of Spider Stories, an 11-minute animated pilot inspired by Nigerian folk tales and modern hero epics like Avatar: The Last Airbender, with a view to selling the project as a proper animated series. With three days remaining to pledge, the Agbaje brothers have already raised the $25,000 needed to produce the short, which I think demonstrates that a western audience is keen to see something new in animation and improve its understanding of the African story.
WHAT IS IT: Spider Stories is an 11-minute animated pilot for a series starring Princess Zahara, the exiled young ruler of a fictional kingdom who, upon meeting a representative from the spirit world, becomes empowered to reclaim her birthright and unify her divided people. The spider in the title refers to the ancient spider spirit, the recorder of history and the source of power for every ruler of the kingdom, including the Princess. Once produced, the pilot will be shopped around in the hopes of graduating it to a fully produced animated series.
HOW MUCH IT WILL COST: $25,000 that's already been raised to pay the animation professionals, sound people and so forth, with approximately $1,500 budgeted for each minute of screen time. The remainder will be used to facilitate the rewards for backers and to cover any unforeseen expenses. Excess funds will go towards improving the quality of the pilot by hiring additional personnel.
WHAT YOU WILL GET: Pledges between $20-$25 offer rewards like t-shirts, music downloads and Project O comic books previously created by the Agbaje brothers (which can be read online as well). A physical copy of the pilot isn't offered before the $50 tier which doesn't include any of the lower tier rewards but does offer exclusive access to the production as it happens. More economical may be the $75 tier, which comes with the Spider Stories DVD as well as the Agbaje's comic book work. When you jump to $250, you get all the lower tier rewards plus an art book detailing the Spider Stories production. From there on, rewards include things like custom logo design for your company and statues of the Spider Stories characters.
WHEN YOU WILL GET IT: John Agbaje told us via e-mail that the goal is to complete the pilot by January 2014. Backers will have private access to view Spider Stories online while the creators pitch it for a series.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I wasn't aware of Spider Stories until just after it had reached its fundraising goals, but I felt compelled to write about it because of what I think it represents. As Ms. Adichie articulated so well, it's important to our cultural well being to fill in the gaps in our understanding of people, places and things, and one of the best ways that is achieved is through art, literature and media. In the west there is a distinct lack of positive sub-Saharan African culture represented in our lives, and the ascension of online communities has taught us that just because something is not seen doesn't mean that it's not missed. That two independent creators with just a few black and white comics to their names could raise $25,000 to produce Spider Stories tells me that there is a western audience willing to support female heroes in adventure fiction, heroes of color, and to change their understanding of Africa's Single Story.
You can learn more about Spider Stories and its various rewards at the official Kickstarter project page.