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Zedd – The $85 Million Classically Trained DJ

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Before regularly scoring six-figure nightly fees spinning thumpy electronic tunes, Zedd got his start playing classical music at age 4. He learned how to plan performances with meticulous detail, an ability that’s obvious in his carefully choreographed shows today, which feature less of the freewheeling song selection used by most popular DJs. “I see myself as an artist who presents a show,” says Zedd, who earned $19 million this year and $85 million over the past five. “It’s almost like when you go to the movies. You’re not going to buy your ticket and see a movie and, if you don’t like it, expect the movie to change in real time.”

Zedd has produced hits for Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga and released solo smashes like last year’s multiplatinum “Stay”- while becoming the anti-DJ of the DJ universe. To distinguish himself from competitors, he created a graphics-heavy live show that feels like watching a videogame projected onto a movie screen with a custom visual for each song. A cable runs from his computer to the front of the house, where a team of technicians makes sure everything syncs up, including the program’s lasers and pyrotechnics. “It used to be really cheap to make a show – I used to be able to keep all the money,” Zedd recalls. “Now the shows cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

As costs continue to escalate in a musical arms race, Zedd is flirting with the idea of reinventing the DJ model again by turning to something with which he’s very familiar: live instrumentation. “I think I will one day go unplugged.”

Zedd DJ

Zedd: He’s earned $85 million over the past five years at the height of the EDM boom. Just don’t call him a DJ (Photo by Jamel Toppin)

Forbes senior editor Zack O’Malley Greenburg sat down with Zedd at the 30 Under 30 Summit in October. Here’s the interview for the first time, with a few light edits for clarity and brevity.

ZOG: The first time I interviewed you, about four years ago, you said, “You know, I don’t want to say I’ll be a producer, and a DJ, for the rest of my life. I can totally see myself being in another band in five years, if that’s what my heart and soul wants to do. If that’s what will make me happy, I’m totally happy just to not DJ anymore.” So, it’s been almost five years, how are you feeling about that? Are you going to go unplugged? Or are you going to do the current thing a little while longer?

Zedd: I think I will one day go unplugged or change my show somehow. Or my show form, I’ll say that. Currently I am still DJing, yet I think I have a way more dramatic show, and a much for dynamic show than I’ve ever had, that involves a lot of planning… the nature of the DJ is to go up there, and play a song, look at the crowd, feel it out, and then play whatever you think people want to hear. That’s very difficult for me, because I see myself as a musician in the first place, and I [challenge you to] name any artist who’d want to think they’d go on stage, and look at the crowd, and say, “Maybe let’s play this song. I don’t think people will like that one.” You present the show, you prepare, you rehearse for weeks, and then this is what you present to the crowd. And there’s always a section that is staying flexible to mix stuff up, if you have to, or if you want to. But I would say the majority of my set is pre-planned; it’s a show that I want to present. I want people to see something that I spent a lot of time working on.

ZOG: And the live element in your show, it’s obviously the core of the electronic music experience. But also streaming being the way the music gets out, the economics have changed a ton, even in the last few years. Talk a little bit about that, and how it’s starting to change for artists.

Zedd: I think that streaming became a huge part of every musician’s career. Even for, or especially for, unsigned artists. I have a friend who is a singer, and she just makes music at home and she puts it up on SoundCloud, and puts it up on Spotify, and she makes a really decent living off of people streaming her music. I think there’s a lot of artists who actually make more money now, streaming their music, than they did selling their music prior. And I was one of those people who was really scared of that whole streaming world, because you see all these numbers, and I don’t know what exactly the numbers [are], but it’s a fraction of a cent that you make per stream. And then in your mind it’s, “Oh my God, people are going to listen to my song once, and then that’s all I’m going to get.” But the reality is, that you can have millions of people stream your song, or songs, every single day. You can have 10 million streams on your album daily. Over a really long time that becomes a lot of money. So, I think that the streaming section that sounded so scary to me, and probably many others, is actually a really good thing.

READ MORE: Kendrick Lamar: The Conscious Capitalist

ZOG: Before, artists would put out new albums so that they could have new stuff to put in the concerts. But maybe [it will soon] flip back so that you do concerts just to raise awareness about the new music?

Zedd: Yeah, I mean, I think the music industry is changing really fast. So it’s hard to predict where things are going to go. I know a lot of artists don’t like touring. They do not like not having any sleep every day, being stressed every day. They like being at home, waking up, doing their thing, and then making music whenever they want to. There is much less of a schedule to create music than being on tour, and having to open the doors on time, and having a curfew.

And there’s artists that are the exact opposite, they hate being at home. And they feel frustrated, and they want to get out there and play music. I think that if anything, the streaming world may open the door for people who don’t want to tour, to actually not have to tour. There’s a great living you can make off of being creative and not having a schedule at all. And working when you want to work, and putting up music the next day. There use to be two or three months in the lead time to when you could release an album. And here you can just release your music the next day, if you want to.

ZOG: Tell me a little bit about your live show, what goes into it. I think a lot of people have a preconceived notion about what that entails.

Zedd: So my live show is not a DJ show at all. My platform is Djing, and I can change my music, and my selection of songs anytime. But essentially, what’s most important for me is for the crowd to go home and think that was an incredible experience. And to think that they can’t get that same experience from anybody else. And that involves, of course, the music choice, but also the visuals you see: the lights you see, the lasers, the special effects, and that’s all very choreographed. And that’s still all made live. So the way we do it is I DJ, and then there’s a cable running from my computer to the front of the house, with three screens so everybody is always aware of what I am playing, if I decide to change something last minute. Every song that I’ve ever played has a specific visual that goes with the song. And my team can, in real time, see what I am about to play, and adjust and create the visuals, and the lighting looks, and the colors, that we rehearsed for each song. Sometimes I play a song that has a visual that is also assigned to another song, then they can decide to, on the spot, change it, or whatever fits that moment. So, we essentially have a show that looks really rehearsed, and almost pre-made. Yet I have the flexibility to change anything, at any point in time.

ZOG: It’s more like a theater production than a movie, although you said it could be like a movie in some ways too.

Zedd: Yeah … it’s almost like when you go to the movies. You’re not going to buy your ticket and see a movie and if you don’t like it, you expect the movie to change in real time. That’s kind of how I see it. I am not going to go on stage, and look at the people, and if someone’s unhappy I’m going to change the music for that person. I spend way too much time … creating a theatrical show, to then adjust it on the spot, and make it something that’s not perfect. In my mind, this is what I want to present as an artist, and if people see me on tour, this is what they’re going to get. And if I, on the fly, decide to change something, that becomes part of the show. … Every moment is really planned out, every single light is planned out. So when people go to the show they should expect a real experience, not just me deciding on the fly what song I want to play.

ZOG: What sort of instance would cause you to change something on the fly?

Zedd: Well, for example, a few days ago I didn’t play one song, and what made me do that was just a mistake. I just forgot that I didn’t play that song. I thought I had already queued that song up, but I didn’t. And I was already mixed into another key … I’m trying to be very musical about the song choices I make, and I can’t just mix keys back and forth all the time, because that just doesn’t feel musical to me. So at that point, I was too far ahead. And I didn’t have any more songs that could lead into the key of that song that I missed. So I just left it out for the entire show.

What else could happen is that one part of my production is not working. There’s certain songs that … are not particularly exciting songs just by themselves, and I would never listen to them, because they’re not musical at all. But they give you the sense of lasers. Literally. You hear it and you think of something space flavored … and if we don’t have those lasers working, I’m not going to play that song, because it’s all senses that come together into one experience.

It’s not just about what you hear, but it’s the combination of what you see, and what you hear. And if you hear that sound of lasers, and then you see that right over you, and you feel like you can touch it, that’s the experience I want people to experience, and not just a song by itself. So, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong that would make me not play a certain song.

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ZOG: What are some things that you do in your live set that nobody else does at all?

Zedd: I think the preparation that goes into my sets is something that most DJs are embarrassed of. And I’ve had a conversation with an amazing DJ, one of the best DJs in that sense, he could go up there and play six hours. I don’t even have enough music to play six hours. I could never do that. Neither do I think there are six hours of incredible music that I’d want to play. But, he was under the impression that it’s not real DJ’ing if you go up there and you already have something prepared, if you have a list that you plan on playing. To me, that may be true for a DJ. But I just don’t consider myself a DJ. I see myself an artist who presents a show. So, to me there is nothing embarrassing about being perfectly prepared in knowing exactly what you’re about to do, but I think that most DJs have an issue with that. … A lot of people back five, six years ago thought, “You don’t even use headphones; so you’re not a real DJ.” [I say], “Yeah maybe?” I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a need to use headphones if you’re well prepared.

ZOG: You don’t always use headphones, but you have your own headphone line. Tell me a little about that.

Zedd: Yeah. So my headphone line is essentially a headphone that is for everyday use. I wanted it to look nice, because a lot of headphones that look great, don’t sound great. So, in Tokyo I met with the people who make the headphones, and they had created a version of a Transformers type headphone … I don’t know how to make the parts, so it was dozens of parts, and you essentially build it as you go, and then you put on the headphone, and it looked terrible, but it sounded incredible. So I asked them, “Why don’t we both come together and make a headphone that looks incredible but also sounds incredible?” And so we started the process, and it was far over a year from the first drawings, to the first renderings, to the first design, then to changing the shape. And I just wanted everyone to have a headphone that is really pretty, and good-looking, and sounds incredible, but most importantly is really comfortable to wear for a long period of time, because as somebody who sometimes has to mix something on the road, it was important for me to have a tool that I can trust. So some headphones that I know: this is exactly what I make my music like in the studios, so this is what it sounds like on the road. And just to have that connection was really important for me.

ZOG: What’s next for you?

Zedd: What’s next for me is I just started my tour, so I will be touring for a while. And I am, for the first time, trying out to not spend two years working on one single album and then put it out at the same time. But I essentially want to finish a song. I will try to release it pretty quickly. And I started that with “Stay,” that was the first time I finished a song essentially, and put it out right away … it sounded fresh. I don’t know how fresh “Stay” would have sounded if I released it two years from now, when the rest of my album is done. I want to try that for a little while. Then next year I will probably take some time and make an album, and I don’t know what that will mean yet and whether that will be a concept album, but I’m starting to want to make one again.

ZOG: Have you seen costs go up dramatically for your show? What are some of the things that have changed over time, in that regard?

Zedd: Yeah, I mean, I remember my first tour I ever played as a DJ was with Skrillex, and back then, my production, as an opening act, was just a folding table. And between me and the next DJ, who was Porter Robinson, I looped the song, and he came on stage, and while the song was looping, we switched tables into his laptop, and then I was like, “Thanks, guys!” And I’d walk off the stage and he’d start. That is not the thing anymore today. Everything is really professional. From the change over music, from what you hear and see, between each DJ, to the cost you spend on a show. I mean it used to be really cheap to make a show, I used to be able to keep all the money, and now the shows cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, just to put on one show, because the special effects are expensive, and you have to get all these licenses … the expenses have gone up dramatically.

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Harry And Meghan Need $3 Million-Plus To Be ‘Financially Independent.’ Here’s How They May Do It.

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would like to “become financially independent,” they announced Wednesday—and that may have to happen sooner rather than later, as Prince Charles, Harry’s father, is reportedly threatening to pull the millions he gives them each year. How they plan to replace those funds remains a subject of feverish palace intrigue about which the couple remains mum.

But what is clear: By stepping away from their duties, they likely are no longer prohibited from earning income the way senior members of the royal family are, clearing the way for them to take real jobs. What will those be? And how much will they actually need to make in order to live in the style to which they’ve become accustomed?

Annual Costs: Roughly $3 Million A Year (Not Including Renovations)

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact amount that Prince Harry and Markle earn from the various royal mechanisms each year—and a spokesperson for the Sussexes did not respond to questions about on the couple’s finances—but 95% of their annual income comes from Prince Charles, Harry’s father, via the Duchy of Cornwall. A trust that consists of 131,000 acres of real estate and more than $450 million in commercial assets within the United Kingdom, the Duchy of Cornwall was established in 1337 to support the direct heir to the throne.

That estate paid a combined $6.5 million (or £5.1 million) to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton) and to Prince Harry and Markle in the fiscal year ending March 2019, according to the latest financial report. The funding for the princes and their families didn’t change much from 2018 to 2019, although both reports were prior to the birth of the Sussex couple’s son, Archie. Let’s assume the brothers split that income from the Duchy (though William and Kate, with three children, are likely taking a bit more). While the Duke and Duchess did not immediately surrender this income, reports surfaced Friday that Charles is threatening to cut them off completely.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex did announce that they will “no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant,” which we know covers an additional 5% of their income, and used for their official duties. It covers official business such as international tours, travel to official events and the upkeep of their homes and offices, and comes from about 25% of the revenue from the Crown Estate (£85.9 million or $112.2 million for the 2020–2021 fiscal year), a portfolio of investments controlled by the monarchy—though not by the royal family or the government—and includes properties across the United Kingdom. (For example, the Queen herself does not own Buckingham Palace.) 

In 2018 and 2019, the couple used money from the Sovereign Grant to travel across the world, from Fiji to South Africa, on official royal business. While the royal annual reports don’t detail how much the Sussex’s travels cost in total, their trip to Fiji and Tonga cost $105,000 (£81,000), according to the latest Sovereign Grant financial report. (While it may seem that travel costs could go down as the couple steps back from royal duties, they say they plan to split time between the British Isles and North America, which will lead to new expenses.) 

Based on what we know, we estimate the total of the couple’s funds from the Duchy and Sovereign Grants to be a (very conservative) $3 million—again, not including security costs. 

And that’s not including the cost of their home and renovations: The Sovereign Grant covered last year’s $3.12 million (£2.4 million) refurbishment of the Frogmore Cottage, the four-bedroom plus nursery home in Windsor where the couple lives when they are in England. The home’s maintenance began before the couple decided to move in and was covered by the Queen, under existing commitments to maintain the upkeep of certain historical buildings, while the couple privately paid for the furniture and decor. Even though the house is property of the Queen, the couple plans to continue using it as their official residence when they are in the United Kingdom—meaning less rent to pay. 

None of this takes into account the cost of their security, which is reportedly covered by the Metropolitan Police, and which the family is expected to continue to accept.  

With all of these expenses and their easy access to funds facing a precarious future, the questions remains of how, exactly, the couple plan to earn the millions that their lifestyle demands. 

What Could Make A Royal Gig: Books, Speeches, SponCon?

They do have some money to live off of: Thanks to her seven-year stint on the television drama Suits, Forbes estimates that Markle has a net worth of about $2.2 million. Prince Harry has money of his own as well, as he and his brother received the bulk of Princess Diana’s $31.5 million estate upon her death in 1997.  

But it is likely that they will join other royals, like Harry’s cousins Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, and actually take paying gigs (the former works in finance, while the latter works at an art gallery). While no announcements have been made as to how exactly the couple plans to make money, it would seem natural that they take up work in the entertainment and media fields. 

Markle has said that she was giving up acting for good once she joined the royal family; maybe this is an opportunity for her to change her mind. At the height of her acting career, she commanded up to $85,000 per episode of SuitsForbes estimates, a number that would likely shoot up thanks to her royal title if she decided to return to the screen.

But it is more likely that the pair will take up shop on the speaking and book circuit. High-profile speakers like former president and first lady Bill and Hillary Clinton can earn up to six figures per speech to corporations and universities, while even B-list celebrities like Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi could command $32,000 per oration during the height of her fame. 

A hit book has the potential to earn the couple even more. A seven-figure advance is typical for celebrities like Amy Schumer and politicians like Elizabeth Warren, with some high-profile authors earning even more. In 2017, former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama signed a record-breaking $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House, while Hillary Clinton scored a $14 million advance for Hard Choices in 2014, and Bruce Springsteen got $10 million for 2016’s Born to Run. 

There’s also talk that the couple, which favors new media and direct lines of communication with their fans, may even start a podcast, which could be a lucrative endeavor. Last year, advertising spend on podcasts reached an estimated $680 million, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, and that number is supposed to shoot up to $1 billion by next year.

And in the unlikely chance they’re ever interested in following the footsteps of the royal family of Calabasas, the Duke and Duchess could surely earn an enormous sum doing sponsored content on their widely popular (10.4 million followers) Instagram account. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and her half-sister Kylie Jenner earn up to $500,000 per post.

Of course, the details of the couple’s future, and their future earnings, are all in flux, as Buckingham Palace’s curt statement on the matter made clear. And the wording of their own statement made sure that they can work toward financial independence on their own time. One thing is for certain: It doesn’t seem as if the Duke and Duchess will be hurting for cash anytime soon.

By  Madeline Berg, Reporter, Forbes Staff and Deniz Çam , Wealth Reporter, Forbes Staff.

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Arts

Forbes Africa’s Best Photographs In 2019

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[Compiled by Motlabana Monnakgotla, Gypseenia Lion and Karen Mwendera]

Image 1:

Kabelo Mpofu, an entrepreneur, took over his mother’s shop in Meadowlands, in the South African township of Soweto. He is hopeful of making the family business a success despite big retail stores opening up in the townships and swallowing up the corner groceries.

Image 2:

Africa is the youngest continent in the world. Every year, South Africa observes June as Youth Month, honoring the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising on June 16. In this image, the country’s sprawling township of Soweto comes alive with youth dancing in the winter weather to local and international music at the Soweto International Jazz Festival, an annual confluence of history, art and culture.

Image 3:

Women hold up placards against gender-based violence during a ‘Shutdown Sandton’ campaign; this after a spate of brutal rape and killings in South Africa.

Image 4:

Car dealerships were among the businesses set alight in Johannesburg’s Jules Street, during the spate of xenophobia attacks in South Africa in August this year. The spark that fueled the raging fire began in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district.

Image 5:

Sibusiso Dlamini, the co-founder of Soweto Ink, works on one of his regular clients at his tattoo parlor founded in 2014 with his long-time friend, Ndumiso Ramate. In 2019, Soweto Ink held the fourth annual tattoo convention, and for the first time in partnership with BET Africa, to break tattoo taboos in Africa.

Image 6:

Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of South Africa’s opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is about to cast his vote in front of local and international media houses who had wrestled to get the perfect shot in his hometown in Dobsonville, Soweto, during the elections in South Africa in 2019.

Image 7:

The brother of South African journalist, Shiraaz Mohamed, begs for government intervention after Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria on January 2017 by a group of armed men. The group demanded more than $500,000 for his freedom.

Image 8:

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with his body guards at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the three-day South Africa Investment Conference was held in November.

Image 9:

In a world that’s embracing new technology, inspiration is being found in bug behavior. The hard-bodied dung beetle is now key to robotics research, in Africa too. Astounded by this discovery early this year is Marcus Byrne, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who has been studying dung beetles for over 20 years. He holds up a metallic replica of a dung beetle in his hand in his office at the university.

Image 10: 

Mzimhlophe Hostel, a hostel among many others in Soweto, erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections in South Africa. In the same vicinity, an informal settlement was also allegedly set on fire. Brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22), pictured, had arrived in Johannesburg looking for employment. They sold African beer, but their shack was set alight while they were still at church. They lost all their stock and possessions.

Image 11: 

A thrift market in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district, not too far from a busy taxi rank, known for its pavement robberies. Despite the crimes, thousands of small entrepreneurs trade in this raucous market every day.

Image 12:

ANC, DA and EFF supporters dancing and chanting outside the Hitekani Primary School in Chiawelo, Soweto, South Africa, as they await South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to cast his vote in his former primary school. 

Image 13:

Tenants in the discarded Vannin Court in Johannesburg look on from their balconies as jubilation erupts on the ground floor.

Image 14:

Vestine Nyiravesabimana makes money weaving intricate baskets made of grass to feed her nine children in Kigali, Rwanda.

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Life

Colors For Mandela

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The world of comic books is dominated by stories from the West. Two South African brothers are helping reshape that narrative with a central character inspired by the iconic hero.

Nelson Mandela had his own following at the recent Comic Con Africa convention at the end of September in Johannesburg.

At the center of all the organized chaos at the event at the Gallagher Convention Centre attended by 71,000 visitors over four days was a comic book bearing the late South African president’s name created by brothers Phemelo, 28, and Omphile Dibodu, 25.

The comic book, Young Nelson, features an African superhero, for readers in the continent and beyond.

Co-founders of Rainbow Nations Comics, a black-owned comic book and publishing company established in 2018, the Dibodu brothers were born and bred in Rustenburg, known as ‘platinum city’, in South Africa’s North West province.

Far from their hometown, the duo were in the big city for the event, showcasing their creations to an adept audience – people dressed as superheroes, cyborgs and zombies – who crowded around their stand and were as colorful as the comic books they were thumbing through.

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“Wow, that looks cool, who is Young Nelson?” asked a curious bystander.

Phemelo was ready with his answers even as his brother assisted with more queries. 

“Young Nelson is a proudly South African black comic book inspired by the late Nelson Mandela,” responded Phemelo.

In front of him, on the table, a large poster of Young Nelson, featuring a young black male with the South African flag over his shoulders and a gold-colored map of Africa emblazoned on his shirt.

This day saw the launch of the very first issue of Young Nelson titled An Act of Kindness, for R20 ($1.3) a copy.

Phemelo, the writer, and Omphile, the illustrator, say they were inspired by Mandela and some of their own life experiences growing up.

“I think I wanted to pay tribute to the old man in a way that it would hopefully inspire others to look at him in the way that many South Africans see him,” says Phemelo to FORBES AFRICA.

In the story, ‘Young Nelson’ gets his nickname when he volunteers at a local boxing gym. The people watching him witness his skills and ability to solve problems, so they equate him to the young Mandela, who was famously a boxer in his youth.

“[The lead character] doesn’t like the nickname at first but once he sees the significance of it and his heroics, how they are taken up by the community to represent who they are, he takes the name and rolls with it and that’s his superhero name going forward with the series,” Phemelo explains.

READ MORE: How Disney’s Investment In Entertainment Brands Like Marvel and Star Wars Will Power The Launch Of Its New Streaming Service

Young Nelson’s real name in the comic is actually ‘Thabo Mo Afrika’, inspired by South African president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela.

“ ‘Mo Afrika’ is a generic surname [which] translated into English is ‘an African’. So I wanted to see every African seeing themselves in Young Nelson,” Phemelo adds.

The young writer’s plan is to take his product to bigger markets, but for now, the African comic industry is a tough market to capture for lack of any funding.

“Imagine getting paid for what you are doing. That would [make a] big difference. Once people realize that their art can be compensated, more of us will actually start creating content the world would want to start reading,” he says.

Bill Masuku, a speaker at the Comic Con event and who is also a digital artist, shares the same sentiments.

“In Zimbabwe, where I am from, it is pretty grassroots. Everyone is self-publishing and if you don’t really have a passion for it, the book won’t come out,” says Masuku, who has been a part of the African comic industry for over three years. He is the founder of Enigma Comix Africa, and creator of Razor-Man and Captain South Africa.

“As much as new creatives are coming out every day, what really makes the comic book industry is distribution. And seeing that [Young Nelson] has such widespread potential really makes me hopeful for where we are going,” says Masuku.

For comic books to thrive on the continent, they need a big financial push from publishers, distributors or investors, unlike any other medium.

The Dibodu brothers were fortunate to have been sponsored by the Rustenburg Herald, a weekly local newspaper in Rustenburg.

“The problem with creating by yourself is that you can only create at a certain rate and you do burn out. So you find people who have been making comics who have three or four issues out and it’s easy to forget about them as a consumer,” he adds.

Globally, platforms like Weekly Shōnen Jump in Japan make it easy for Japanese creatives to publish their work as the comic book and manga industry is thriving there, making it one of the best-selling magazines. Weekly Shōnen Jump has sold over 7.5 billion copies since 1968.

But the African comic industry has a long way to go.

Kugali, a digital platform founded by three entrepreneurs and friends from Nigeria and Uganda, is designed to help people find and share the best African narratives and comics. It is an entertainment company that focuses on telling stories inspired by Africans, offering much-needed exposure to young creatives such as Masuku and the Dibodu brothers. For now, the reception the Dibodus are receiving give them some hope.

“It’s been awesome and inspirational. I didn’t know people felt the same way as me. It’s amazing when people are [reading] the story of the character and people are saying ‘you know what, that’s what we need’,” says Phemelo. At the end of Comic Con, they managed to sell over 300 copies of Young Nelson.

“People are catching onto the culture. I think it might even grow bigger than the American industry only because I think we are a very artistic community… Whether you look at the hieroglyphics in Egypt or the cave paintings by the bushmen in South Africa, we draw,” he says.

He also plans to sell his comics to local book stores in the country.

The team is currently working on their next creation – a black African female superhero called Imbokodo.

“We are looking for new creators we can partner with and create our own justice league, our own Avengers, to actually have young kids in South Africa look at their heroes the same way Americans look at their heroes in the Comic Cons to come.”

Young Nelson is a refreshing reminder that not all heroes wear capes.

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