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Unveiling the Unknown – Congo

Congo: A Forgotten World is a comic book set in a fictional Congo, by the end of the XIX century. The Central-African rainforests are a well-known place for cryptid sightings, who where more common after the Victorian era. The author talks about the creative process, in the following text!
Poster – “What is at stake is bigger than us” – “Congo A Forgotten World”

Location

Surrounded by mist and a treacherous rainforest, Congo is a location known for its amazing flora and mysterious fauna. It houses the seventh biggest river, which is one of the deepest and, also, more mysterious.

In 1880, Portugal owned Angola and Mozambique as its territories, and various military expeditions where conducted, so that “we” could claim all the territory between these two countries, passing through Southern Congo. This is the main concept behind the story, what supposedly the characters must accomplish, as they start from Angola, try to cover as much area of the Congo as they can, and then descend into Mozambique.  

Rwenzori Mountains

As I have always loved exotic locations and their fauna, also Portugal’s rich history uncovering the unexplored depths of Africa, having in mind the very poorly documented expeditions, at this time, and the surreal encounters with legendary animals from the African-European folklore, Congo was the location to explore in what would be my first (self) published work.

After almost two years of research, talking with historians, reading books published some even before 1880, I started to draw the first sketches and, successively, the entire storyline and script.

Some of the most well-known areas I wanted to illustrate were in the Congo river and the Likouala Swamp, for this, the Volume I (published) and the Volume II (coming out late October 2019) portray an abundance of swamp and river scenes, depicting some famous anecdotal encounters with some of the most well-known cryptids.

Characters

The expedition crew

As the story itself depicts a military expedition, the crew is led by Major Afonso Ferreira, with the help of Tenant Roberto, followed by other explorers and science men. It was extremely important for me to depict all these characters realistically, going against the clichés of having good and bad characters, and having human characters instead, with good and evil within them. I also tried to depict the Cryptids realistically, in a way they act like animals defending their territory or simply hunting to survive, instead of classical monsters driven by an almost devilish intention to kill all the human characters.

People

Afonso Ferreira has a very imposing character, a man experienced with Africa’s interior, he has led various other expeditions, mostly to chart the unknown lands, with extreme success. As the story begins, he is faced with the gruesome death of a man he was supposed to find, as well as brother of one of the crew’s members. Even used to witnessing death, he is extremely shocked by this, thus beginning his decline in leadership, as he can no longer guarantee the safety of his men in a land that seems to have been forgotten by time. He is also not keen to agree with the way colonization is accomplished, even though he is a colonizer himself, creating even more conflict with himself.

Major Ferreira and Mokele Mbembe

Roberto is Afonso’s right-hand man. Being older, he is wiser, but also scared as he never really went on an expedition similar to the one they’re in now, and doesn’t trust anything nor anyone, except for Afonso. 

Carlos Silvano is the brother of the character we witness being killed in the first pages. Avid hunter and explorer, he fears nothing and is prone to act not thinking of the consequences, leading to many disputes with Ferreira. All his actions are led by a vengeance to the beast that killed his brother, who was a part of another Portuguese expedition they were supposed to meet.

Aristides Sousa is a biologist who went to Congo with the other expedition, thus being the only one found after almost a month lost in the rainforest. He is very self-confident and seems to have a lot of secrets. He is also the one who was with Carlos Silvano’s brother before his death, making him (Silvano) very suspicious that he has something to do with it. He does not, at first, mean no harm to any of the characters, but this soon changes with the “help” of Aníbal.

Some pages of Congo

Aníbal is the expedition’s financer. Being extremely wealthy, he paid for almost every expense, so he is keen to do things the way he wants, leading to a lot of confrontation between him and Ferreira, throughout the entire comic. He is also very skeptical of all the creatures other members say they witness, or so it seems.

João de Almeida is the expedition’s missionary, a man of few words, he dislikes all the ones that create conflict, sticking by the side of Ferreira all the time. He also has experience in Africa and speaks the Pigmies language, being the translator and bearer of bad news, most of the time.

Óscar is the expedition’s doctor and the oldest member. Has a calm demeanor but he is also a very rational man, even though he enjoys missionary João’s company above all the members. 

Augusto is a biologist that does not hide his enthusiasm when encountering new species, even if it puts him in danger, or the others.

Pereira is a sergeant, but never seems to respect his higher officers orders. Being a very angry man, he does not seem to enjoy anything and is always trying to start conflict. Ultimately, he is also a rational man, who doesn’t enjoy the perks of colonization.

The Pigmies are the guides because of their immense knowledge of the jungles and swamps. They also seem to know every animal they encounter, as well as recognizing a cryptid just from their footprint. They are precious help, even though most of the members treat them as inferiors.

Cryptids

Before starting to describe each cryptid, I will define what the word itself means:

Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience that studies animals unknown to science, or beings with paranormal capacities, based mostly on anecdotal reports. Cryptids are the beings themselves. Some of the most famous world-wide, seem to “inhabit” Congo.

Bellow I will write how the animal is described and how I came to its final concept, backed up by real scientific facts.

Mokele Mbembe

Mokele Mbembe, meaning “the one who stops the flow of rivers” in Lingala, is the main Cryptid of the entire comic (and series for that matter). Described as an animal with and Elephant-like body, long tail and long neck, followed by a crocodile-like head, with spikes running along its back. The description sounds identical to what we know to be the largest land animals to have ever existed, the Sauropod Dinosaurs, long necked animals that had some species reaching more than 40 meters in length and 100 tons. Footprints of a large tree-toed animal have been described since 1776, almost 100 years before the word “Dinosaur” was ever said and written. Eventually, it has been known for a while that all the non-avian Dinosaurs became extinct in the K-T event, 65 million years ago.

Even with this, the possibility of a smaller species of Sauropod is enough to amaze the minds of the most respected science men, even if it is not a Dinosaur nor has 20 meters in length, there is the possibility that something big and yet unknown is lurking in the depths of the Congo river, in the most unexplored areas, after all, the Okapi and the Forest Elephants of the Congo where found recently.

In the comic, I gave it the dinosaurian look, making it to be an animal with 20 meters in length, spikes along its back (similar to an Iguana’s, but rigid instead of soft).

I also based the look in a mixture of an Amargasaurus cazuei (African Sauropod) and a Diplodocus hallorum, this last one to give it a more recognizable look. The color is a mix of browns and greens, making it blend in the depths of the rainforest.

Another thing to notice is the fact that this animal is an herbivore, but its also described to be extremely territorial, killing Hippopotamus and Crocodiles that venture near it.

Although in the Volume I it seems, at times, to be a mindless evil monster, the Volume II will, in fact, demonstrate why it is acting the way it is, and I assure you it has strong reasons.

J’ba Fofi

J’ba Fofi, meaning “giant Spider” in the Pigmies Baka language, it’s an over-sized Tarantula. In the Carboniferous period, arthropods were among the largest living animals because of the Oxygen rich atmosphere, Milipedes reached 2 meters in length and Scorpions more than a meter in legs pan. Nowadays in the remote areas of the world, thousands of giant Spider reports are still coming from the Congo region.

The Pigmies talk of a giant Spider (more than 1 meter legs pan) inhabiting the depths of the forest. They also say that it once was very common but has since declined its numbers because, when the natives find their nests, they tend to incinerate them, as they think this animal presents a danger to their villages. 

The biggest (now extinct) known Tarantula in Africa was the Hysterocrates hercules, rivaling in size the infamous South-American Goliath Bird-Eater (Theraposa blondi). The, now, biggest species (and among the most venomous) is the Pelinobius muticus, or the King Baboon Tarantula. It can reach about 20 cm and it’s one of the only species that makes audible sound, which is very similar to a snake, and it’s one of the extremely aggressive tarantulas.

Although no tarantula deaths can be confirmed, a bite from the majority of baboon tarantulas can inflict serious damage, and I can imagine an elderly person or a small child experience extreme symptoms.

J’ba Fofi is said to be a brown and dull color as an adult, and a transparent yellow-purple as a baby-juvenile. This is backed up by the fact almost all members of the Theraposidae family being born transparent yellow and becoming darker as they mature.

Second edition of the first book

Scientists and explorers have come across large portions of the forest covered in a silk matt and small vertebrates stuck and eaten in them. Although tarantulas are cannibals, some species have been known to live communally, thus having more success in catching prey.

In the comic, so far, only one juvenile specimen has made an appearance, after being tampered with. I depicted the extreme aggressivity shown in most Baboon Tarantula species, drawing it in a defensive posture, they all tend to adopt to make themselves look bigger. Only if this does not work, they will attack.

I made it a mixture of an Hysterocrates and a Pelinobius muticus, but about 10 cm bigger than an adult specimen of the last one. Volume II will depict an adult specimen.

Nguma Monene, meaning “great python” in Lingala, makes a short appearance in Volume I. Described as a 15 meters long animal, with an enormous sale on its back, makes it look very much like a Spinosaurid Dinosaur.

Nguma Monene concept

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, the biggest land predator ever known, inhabited the swamps and shallow waters of the African continent, in the Early Cretacious period. Its sail alone could measure up to 2 meters in height, and its skull was identical to the one of a Crocodilian.

Although Nguma Monene has been also described as a Mosasaurus, it makes no sense for such an aquatic reptile to ever inhabit freshwater rivers, but for a Spinosaurid, it makes all sense, since it lived in such areas. Thus, my choice to go with the Spinosaurus look. 

In the comic, Nguma Monene appears briefly to eat a Kongamato, resulting in a group-wide discussion whether it exists or not, since only 3 members saw it.

Pigmie and Nguma Monene

Kongamato, meaning “breaker of boats”, is a pterosaur-like animal said to have been seen by natives and explorers of the Congo, Angola and Zambia.

As some people have suggested, it resembles a Rhamphorhyncus, which is a medium-sized Pterosaur from the Late Jurassic period. I went with this design, adding some traits of other larger Pterosaurs such as Quetzalquatlus (a 15 meter wingspan Pterosaur), while keeping its size faithful to the reports (about 1.5 meters wingspan).

They are also known to attack fishermen and canoes, being extremely territorial and being known to have bitten people gruesomely in the past.

In the comic, they bite one of the characters in the shoulder, as their witnesses suggest they tend to do. Some also fall prey to the colossal Nguma Monene.

All these Cryptids had the strong influence of Dinosaurian Speculative Evolution, as in what they would look like today, if they had never gone extinct.

More animals also appear in the Volume I, such as a Gorilla, Elephants, a Snake, a Lizard and some Birds and Arthropods, all Congolese species.

Volume II will also feature a new and terrifying Cryptid.

Process

Comic

After the comic was initially drawn, on paper, I also did its entire final art digitally, so I could add the amazing colors Congo’s rainforests possess. I initially made the story with the intention of combining Volumes I and II into one, but after the 94 pages of the first, I decided it would be better to release two separate albums. Surely, booth suffered major changes throughout their courses.

Kongamatos and Nguma Monene

When the first was complete I was 21 years old, from a journey that started before I was even 19, and I, an avid Portuguese comics collector, didn’t think I had the time or chance to get it published by a comics publisher. Thus, I wanted to know how it all was done, the process of creating a book, and with the help of many wonderful people I got to self-publish the comic with no publisher and no ISBN. This was an immense risk, I was not known in the comics world at the time, I had some major connections and that was basically it.

December 5 2017 the comic was launched and turned out it got to be an unexpected success when all the 250 copies sold out practically in a month. A second edition was needed but had to wait until July 2018 to be launched, this time, and with the help of more wonderful people, me and my brother, created Mudnag, the publisher of Congo.

The second edition got to be a much bigger one, nearing the one thousand copies, nowadays still in circulation in all major stores, a thing that was not possible with the first edition.

Videos

The book and the movie – the same scene

I have always had an interest in cinema, and general video-making. Having worked on many short-films featured in famous international cinema festivals and having won first place in a Correio-da-Manhã film contest, I always knew I could not have published Congo, if it were not accompanied by at least a book trailer video, and so it was. On June 2017, we called an actor with who we had work before on another short-film, Nuno Nolasco, and he immediately accepted to participate. He also had the exact same look of the character, which was great.

The video came out alongside the book and the general reaction was amazing.

But it would not end there. Februray 2018 I worked on an animation trailer to the entire comic book, featuring the voices of Miguel Valle, Raul Muta, Vitor Cola and Mário Cardoso. 

Also in 2018, I came to the conclusion that we would have to aim even higher for the next Volume, and so we did! We began planning a real short-film, inspired by Volume II of course, and, to this day, we (me and my brother, alongside an amazing and talented team) are still working in the post-production of what is arguably becoming our best cinematic work to date.

Volume II

I knew, from the start, Congo would be a comic series, instead of a stand-alone comic. Having been working in Volume II even before the I released, I am hoping to deliver my best illustration, writing and, in general, work, yet.

Volume II will start where the Volume I ended, continuing Major Ferreira’s crew storyline, as well as introducing new characters and creatures. 

By the end of the year, at the 30th international comics festival AmadoraBD, Volume II will be launched, alongside its short-film, starring names such as Pedro Lima, Miguel Valle and Pedro Wallenstein. We, and the festival, are aiming for a big event, with the presence of big Portuguese names and all the film’s actors. Hope to see you all there!

Trailer of the first volume of Congo
Prom vídeo

By Henrique Gandum

Born in 1996, Almada. Completed a professional course of Animation 2D/3D in 2015 and has since done several narrative/illustration workshops and small courses at Fine Arts. Since very young likes to draw short stories, culminating in his taste for comics, where he used to spend all his savings. The love for exotic animals, such as Tarantulas and Reptiles, horror and adventure stories and cinema also played an important part in his dedication to comics nowadays. This self-published author has also done work for short films featured in international cinema festivals and television. Currently he is mainly working in the continuation of his Congo comics series, alongside his brother, promising to deliver an intense adventure both in the pages and on the screen.

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