Utah artist Emmanuel Makonga is hoping that his talent, coupled with the right marketing strategy, can strike a blow for the environment and help cripple the illegal killing of animals in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
Makonga, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo who now calls Utah home, intends to use his self-published graphic novel, Africa's Poachers: Tanuro and Environmental Protection , as the primary tool in his fight.
"Ecological issues always have been of deep interest to me," Makonga said. "With this book I hope to open the eyes of young people to the problem of poaching and the conflicts that need to be addressed in trying to stop the illegal killing."
The main character in Makonga's hard-cover work is Tanuro, a student of ecology at the Universite D'Afrique.
Using his insight and knowledge of how people can inadvertently find themselves in conflict, Tanuro helps create understanding between police bent on eradicating poaching and tribal elders who recognize the need but aren't receiving the respect their culture suggests they deserve.
Makonga, who informally goes by Emmany, said he chose the comic book format because of its appeal to a younger audience. "It is the young who will be taking care of the future of the world when we are gone."
He vowed to donate any profits to organizations that fight poaching, but recognizes that in marketing his graphic novel, finding the right audience will be key to its success.
"The idea is to reach people who are willing to participate in this campaign against poaching and disseminate its message worldwide," Makonga said, pointing to environmental groups in general and anti-poaching groups in particular as potential allies in his marketing effort.
He also hopes to attract the interest of individuals and companies who may be willing to buy and send copies of his book to schools in poor countries. "And public and private schools in this country may be interested in acquiring some copies for their libraries."
His path will not be an easy one. Authors who self-publish can have a particularly tough time selling their works, said Bill Cutting, a principal at TWIO Brand, a brand management and marketing strategy company based in Salt Lake City.
"It is difficult even for authors who have major marketing muscle behind them," said Cutting, who also teaches business strategy periodically at the Gore School of Business at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.
Cutting said it will be critical for Makonga to identify where his most strategic opportunities lie, agreeing that given the nature of Africa's Poachers, a good place to start might be school libraries and environmental groups that specifically have an interest in combating poaching.
Makonga already has taken the first tentative steps in that direction.
Earlier this month, he was invited to talk about his work at Realms of Inquiry, a small private school in Salt Lake City.
"Our [high school] students were just fascinated with his book, and we ended up buying a set for the school," said instructor Rachael McKeen. "And what they [the students] came to understand was that people who share common interests often have conflicts with one another."