Link: Storyteller group

Neil Napper described his experiences over the last fifteen years with the Storyteller Group in the field of educational comic books.

Napper began his work in comics in the late 1980s. After conducting research into the educational potential of the format and with the help of a group of likeminded colleagues, three initial stories were produced over the period from 1988-1990, none of which made it past the conceptual phase. However future projects were more successful and from early on the Storyteller Group was concerned with inserting an awareness about the processes of history making into their work, utilising oral history methodologies and incorporating them into the fabric of their stories. The Storyteller Group produced a number of comics dealing with subjects ranging from the struggle for basic services to adaptations of South African works of literature. In 1996 changes in educational funding patterns led to the closure of the group.

Napper emerged from this experience convinced that it was the genre of historical comic stories that had the most potential to make the greatest contribution to improving awareness. Well-researched, well- executed illustrations have in Napper’s view, an unsurpassed ability to draw readers into the historical space and to reach younger readers in a familiar and accessible manner. His work continues to make use of devices that seek to draw readers’ attention to the constructed and interpreted nature of the work so as to encourage them to think critically about how history is made and represented.

In conclusion Napper outlined a new project titled, ‘The Allegory Project: Imagining the Real’. Developed in response to the challenges facing history in South Africa, the project proposes an imaginative response that seeks to use the power of allegory as a means for dealing with historical material through the use of metaphor and allegory in the genre of famous works such as Animal Farm. This project would allow for an approach to history through a methodology that focuses on process and ideas rather than the details of actual factual events.

The project aims to provide South Africans of all ages with critical insights into some of the key dynamics that have shaped the history of the country over the past four centuries through a popular, allegorical medium initially produced as a series of comic stories with the ultimate intention of forming the basis for an animated television series that will provoke audiences to critically engage with issues around South Africa’s past.