Brenda Fassie is getting her own comic in a new book that places her alongside a who’s who of the world’s female pioneers, including Michelle Obama, Nina Simone, Joan of Arc and Bjork. The book was written by celebrated South African novelist Lauren Beukes and illustrated by budding design star Nanna Venter.

City Press learnt about the comic from Beukes as the nation recognised the 13th anniversary of the death of the beloved pop icon.

The crowdfunded Femme Magnifique is made up of “50 comic book stories that salute women of pop, politics, arts and science”. The Ma Brrr! section of the anthology of comics is called Queen of African Pop and opens with Fassie singing Weekend Special at full throttle to a jiving crowd during the dark days of apartheid.

It tells Fassie’s life story in just a few pages, highlighting why the nation loved the pop star, but not hiding the darker aspects of her life, such as addiction. It includes a frank and tender lesbian scene and shows Nelson Mandela visiting Fassie when she was on her death bed.

The comic does not shy away from Brenda’s controversies and celebrates her as an iconic lesbian artist
The politics of Brenda Fassie and the political banning of her work is part of her story in Femme Magnifique

The powerful illustrations by local artist Venter, capture the raw energy of Fassie’s voice and personality. City Press got a sneak preview of the pages, which are busy being coloured in time for the book’s release in September.

It’ll be available first to the backers of its hugely successful Kickstarter campaign.

Shelly Bond, the well-known US comics editor, approached Beukes, who had worked with her on several comics before, and asked her to pitch a South African female hero. “Fassie was the immediate, obvious choice – queen of African pop, queer icon, the notorious, unmistakable Ma Brrr!” said Beukes this week. “I wanted to memorialise her for an international audience and put her name up there in the stars where she belongs.”

The book, Bond told City Press, “gives us the opportunity to represent so many diverse voices by way of story, female subjects and esteemed creative teams”.

Asked how she so successfully “channelled” the spirit of Fassie in her drawings, Venter said it “involved doing a lot of visual research: watching all her music videos, TV interviews and building up a collection of images. She is so iconic and much of her visual identity is related to particular outfits, moments, poses and media events – it was tricky balancing these classic moments, and trying to give readers who are familiar with Brenda something they hadn’t seen before. It’s also exciting that this will reach a whole new audience – and that Lauren and I get to spread the Ma Brrr! gospel.”

Beukes hit the literary scene with a bang when her creepy sci-fi fantasy novel Zoo City appeared in 2010 and went on to win the prestigious Arthur C Clarke Award. The rights to her time-travelling horror novel The Shining Girls were bought by Leonardo DiCaprio, who plans to turn it into a movie.

“Brenda didn’t back down. She was fearless and provocative in her music and her life,” reads Beukes’ comic. The last panel of the comic delivers a knockout punch: “Time magazine called her ‘the Madonna of the townships’, to which she’s rumored to have replied: ‘No, Madonna is the white Brenda.’”

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