The fotoverhaal phenomenon


Do you know that fotoverhaal is one of the most-searched for keywords on bidorbuy? Month after month, it’s up there among the top fifteen or so, rubbing shoulders with high-tech products such as newest models of smartphones.

So, what is so special about fotoverhaals? And what is a fotoverhaal, anyway?

Fotoverhaal is an Afrikaans term meaning photo story. It refers to graphic novels that use photographs instead of drawings or illustrations for the images. Photo stories have been often used to adapt popular film and television works into print, as well as to tell original stories, usually melodramas. The photographs are as a rule of real people and scenes, although sometimes these can be replaced by posed dolls and toys on sets.


Other Afrikaans terms for fotoverhaal (or fotoverhale) include fotoboek, fotoboekie and fotoroman. In English, they are usually called picture-stories, photo-stories, look-books, photo-books, photo-novels, or photo-comics.

Photo stories were born in Italy in the 1940s and became all the rage in the 1950s. They spread to Latin America and found fertile ground there, remaining popular in Mexico even in the late 1980s. The rest of the world was much less captivated by photo stories, with the notable exception of South Africa. Some attribute this to the fact that television programmes started airing in South Africa much later than elsewhere.

Published both in Afrikaans and in English, fotoverhaals were popular between the 1950s and the early 1980s. They typically had 80 to 100 pages illustrated with black and white photographs with the characteristic speech bubbles, while the front page was in colour.

At the height of their popularity, fotoverhaals were so much in demand that the publishers could hardly keep up with it. One of the biggest fotoverhaal publishing firms used to produce twenty different titles per month.
However, as other forms of entertainment (especially television) took hold in the county, the interest for fotoverhaals dwindled. Once a highly sought-after light reading material, fotoverhaal become a highly sought-after collectible item. In the words of one aficionado, “considered as disposable at the time of their publication, photo-stories today are viewed as Africana in their own right”.

The best place to find some of the surviving gems is bidorbuy. Keep visiting the fotoverhaal selection on bidorbuy. Who knows; one day, you may chance upon a very rare issue.