Basi Affia’s Sensi’il Studios is Iowa’s first African American comics publisher
Des Moines, Iowa, resident Basi Affia founded Sensi’il Studios in 2022 as a multimedia publisher of comics that center characters of African descent and “Pan-African Storytelling” in science fiction and fantasy, as the company’s website calls it.
Besides print comic books, Sensi’il Studios has a motion comic (a comic in the form of a video with limited animation) for free viewing on its website and YouTube channel.
Affia’s groundbreaking company has been covered in media ranging from local Iowa television to the national magazine Black Enterprise, so this reporter sought to have Affia (BA), the father of two children, talk on a deeper level about himself, his company, and his vision.
MSR: Beyond the usual and valid answers (we need Black representation, etc.), is there a specific personal reason why you started this company?
BA: One of the personal reasons is professionalizing my craft… To go from somebody who, “Yeah, I write stories and it’s fun, it’s a hobby” [to] “I was the first Black comic company”— That’s professionalizing…
Another thing is that…the main character of my main comic series was named after my daughter… It’s very objective when you say, “Kids read this,” but it personalizes this a lot when my kids are going to be reading this.
They’re going to see themselves in this and be represented in this…and to be an example for my kids as well, to say, “Hey, you can do whatever you want to do.”
MSR: As a born-and-raised Des Moines resident, is some of your motivation wanting to create something very Brown, very Black, in a predominately European American city?
BA: My target audience is Black people, and then a wider target is just minorities in general, but one thing that I didn’t think about is…there’s a lot of allies. There’s a lot of European Americans that love [reading work by BIPOC creators]. And they will read it just because it’s like, “Oh, this is [from] an underrepresented [group]; let me see what this is like. I want to know what they can do.”
It’s interesting to see—because I get reports on who buys stuff and who donates to our Kickstarter—there’s definitely a lot of support from the European American populace in the city and the state.
MSR: Talk about your pen name, Basi Affia.
BA: My legal name is Aniekanabasi. It is a Nigerian name of the Ibibio language, so “Basi” was derived from that. My last name is White, which basically translated to the same language as my first name. and so white in Ibibio is “affia.” So “Basi Affia,” I liked that; it has a nice ring to it. So, it was kind of a reclamation of my identity.
MSR: Talk about the name of your company, Sensi’il Studios.
BA: “Sensi’il” is an Ethiopian storytelling art… The storyteller would draw pictures on folded pieces of paper, which is basically the earliest form of a comic book by our modern understanding. With that, Sensi’il Studios, first of all, had a nice ring to it, but it also feeds into that Africanization of a craft. The Japanese have mangas; in America we have comic books.
MSR: Let’s talk about the online comic, “Lost with All Hands.” I read that, and I also saw that the online comic and the motion comic are about providing something for our youth who may not have the money to buy some expensive graphic novel.
BA: The different barriers that the African American community faces already, it doesn’t really jibe with me to have a financial barrier to be able to consume content that is edifying. It’s like gatekeeping good things… So, I do make stuff that is free to enjoy… Also, that gets them invested in the company as well…
It really builds that sense of community, which is needed especially in Iowa where there’s not as many of us [African Americans], and generally in the Midwest… There are different industries that can rally us together… I’m cutting out my slice of the pie in the comic industry to be the Black comic company for the Midwest.
Basi Affia and Sensi’il Studios will have a booth at Twin Cities Con, to be held Nov. 3-5 at the Minneapolis Convention Center; for more information, go to www.twincitiescon.com.