The Children of Ghana Need Comics

by Adam Z. Berenstain, SUNY Cortland

Posted in on Sunday, Apr 27

It was 1998 and I was selling comic books in Bethesda, Maryland. My friends John, Jason and I were in town for the Small Press Expo, a comic book convention catering to fans of underground work. The Expo ran all weekend, so we pooled together our meager funds for a room in the Marriot in which the show was held. Each day the three of us threw on our best t-shirt and jeans and set up our display in one of the hotel’s three convention rooms. There we hawked our wares to anyone who showed the slightest interest. That year’s show was a big deal to us. We had a slick run of hot-off-the-photocopier comics to sell: The Horror of Mecha-Gurnalon, The Colossal Monster War of 1976, and the latest issue of our anthology Bewildering Fantasy, among others. Picture the experience as a slacker’s business trip.

The near-constant rejection inherent in selling at a convention can be a drag, and each of us made frequent jaunts away from our table (and meager sales) to catch smoke breaks in the lobby. On one such break, John started up a chat with two middle-aged African guys dressed in dashikis. That John was selling comics intrigued the Africans, who explained that they were in town on the business of the Rights of the Child Foundation—an arm of some U.N. agency or another—and speaking at a convention in D.C. The Africans, to our tremendous surprise, wanted to take our comic books back home to Ghana.

John, Jason, and I met with our new partners (Peter, the thin, severe-looking one and Philip, the fat, amiable one) that night to discuss details and determine exactly what sort of scam this was. Peter and Philip wanted ten copies of each of our comics to take back to Ghana for review by an educational board. If our work passed muster, Peter and Philip would order more books from us, and the comics would become part of a bookmobile program that would spread English—and possibly the absurd, more than a little drug-inspired adventures of Mecha-Gurnalon—across the country. It was a perfectly ridiculous proposal, but Peter and Philip seemed to be deadly serious. “The children of Ghana need comics,” Peter kept repeating in his heavily accented baritone. Despite the financial loss of giving away all those books, we accepted grudgingly.

Nothing happened. The Expo ended and my friends and I returned home to Erie, Pennsylvania and our drawing tables and lousy day jobs. In the months that followed, there were no orders from the Dark Continent, and no replies to inquiries sent to the email addresses Peter and Philip gave us. After two years we forgot about the Ghana incident, except as a story to tell at parties. Then one day a letter arrived, written in English in a shaky hand, from a kid and his dad thanking us for our wonderful stories, offering the blessings of the Lord Jesus Christ in all our future endeavors. The letter was from Ghana.

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