Let’s shed a tear or two for the youth of today.
They have no action heroes on the living page. What they have are fleeting images on television, film and on the flimsy social media platforms.
In my time, we celebrated our heroes on the printed page. The action pictures stayed with us for years on end.
There was Fearless Fang, but today I want to dwell on the inimitable Lance Spearman.
Children of today do not know anything about the look-read photo-magazine African Film, starring the dapper Lance Spearman, alias Spear.
The magazine was quite popular during my post-Biafra-war growing-up years.
As a primary school pupil I devoured African Film and the other photo-magazine Boom, starring Fearless Fang.
Spear was our darling crime-buster per excellence, a cigar-chomping champion who was a serial lady-killer in the mold of James Bond 007.
Riding in his Stingray coupe with his trademark panama hat on his head, Spear showcased the urbane and the modern.
Talking through his walkie-talkie and drinking scotch-on-the-rocks, Spear was indeed the toast of the generation.
The breath-taking car chases were grist to the Spear mill that kept us hooked. The modernity of technology added cubits to the appeal of Spear as the role model of the new age of ultra-modern architecture, sharp women and sharper criminality.
Given the anti-apartheid politics of the era no mention was made that the magazine originated from South Africa. A Lagos-Nigeria address was ready to hand as the place of publication.
It was much later that one learnt that African Film was originally produced out of South Africa via the legendary publisher of the influential Drum magazine, Jim Bailey.
In the manner that Drum offered fledging writers such as South Africa’s Can Themba, Nat Nakassa and Nigeria’s Nelson Ottah their break in magazine writing, African Film provided work for about 25 writers, some of whom were students of the University of Lesotho.
Initial photo shoots were undertaken in Swaziland, and the strips were then sent to London for mastering before the eventual transnational distribution all over Africa.
The leading man who starred as Spear was a fellow named Joe Mkwanazi, a former houseboy who doubled as a nightclub piano player. He was said to have been discovered by the white photographer Stanley N. Bunn.
Spear had for ready company Captain Victor, the police honcho who forever wore his uniform. Spear’s swanky lady assistant, Sonia, was a study in independent womanhood. The young sidekick of Spear, Lemmy, lent to the cast a measure of precocity not unlike the role of Jim Hawkins amongst the pirates of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Spear could get out of all troubles, given that Captain Victor, Sonia or Lemmy would pull a string or two on their own to stave off the barricades.
The dialogue was hip and contemporary, in the manner of racy thrillers. The lines were indeed riveting such that one readily committed them to memory that lasts to this day.
For instance, the thug bearing down on Sonia gets the following words from Spear as he steps forward for a fight: “Woman-beater, try me for size!”
Before the hoodlum can get to the races, Spear lands him the sucker-punch, saying: “You have a glass jaw!”
The fallen thug cries: “Aaaaaargh!”
Lemmy then congratulates the victorious Spear thusly: “Attaboy, Spear!”
The archetypal antagonist of Lance Spearman was Rabon Zollo who lost an eye and thus bore the hideous black eye-patch. Zollo was menace in overdrive.
There were other villains like the Hook-Hand Killer who as the name suggests kills with the evil hook on his hand.
The criminal mastermind was known as Dr Devil. There was Mad Doc with the bespoke serum that had the power to shrink people.
Who will ever forget the antics of Professor Thor who could read the thoughts of people through his vile machine? There was Professor Rubens who used the organs of animals to produce the werewolf.
The cosmic, end-of-the-world wars of Spear reverberated and resonated with us because the action hero stood as the positive force to save humankind. And he was black like us!
It was in the course of 1972 that the supply of African Film stopped with no reason whatsoever. We were not abreast with the high-wire politics of Apartheid, the Cold War and suchlike.
The rumour was that Spear had died. Spear can never die, we told ourselves because “Actor no dey die!”
We had to make do with smuggled back issues of African Film dating back to the 1960s and even the years covering the 1967-70 duration of the Nigeria-Biafra War.
We devoured the back issues, waiting for the inevitable day that the unbeatable action hero would make a triumphant return, because for us, the death of Spear was impossible to contemplate.