Comic Con Africa: More SA comics please

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San Diego Comic Con began in 1970; a humble affair originally called “Golden State Comic
Convention” that drew 300 people at the US Grant Hotel, San Diego. That’s a paltry amount compared to Comic Con Africa, which drew thousands this year.

Comic Con was founded by a bunch of guys who just loved comics – the reading kind, not
the stand-up kind, of course. And it began at a time when comics were much more of an
entertainment staple than they are now. Back then, comics would sell in the hundreds of
thousands or even millions. In the US alone, the Archie and Superman titles were selling
over 500 000 copies each.

Archie’s jalopy at Comic Con Africa, courtesy of Comic Warehouse.

So, Comic Con came at the right time. And it grew every year. In 2018, SDCC attracted over 130 000 visitors and it’s had even bigger years before. Its East Coast counterpart, New York Comic Con, saw 250 000 visitors burst through the Jacob J Javits Convention Centre’s doors last year.

When I visited NYCC in 2015, it was 170 000 and even that was quite overwhelming. Now,
there are Comic Con events all over the US and the world. And South Africa just had its
second, which turned out to be a huge success.

Internationally, Comic Cons have become more commerce than comics. Every event is a
niche shopper’s paradise that could break even the most steadfast wallet or credit card
balance with geeky trinkets, sparkly toys, mind-blowing games and tantalising tech. At the
recent Comic Con Africa, 71 000 people turned up at Gauteng’s Gallagher Convention
Centre between Saturday the 21 st and Tuesday the 24 th of September 2019.

The crowds at CCA were spoiled for choice, with seven halls to choose from, 300 exhibitors
international celebrity guests, including the legendary William Shatner, one renowned
international cosplayer and two international DJs. It was a lot to take in, and Africa’s biggest event of this kind ever.

Comic book cosplay was on top form.

Rose Van Staden, custom cosplay costume creator, gamer and all-round self-confessed geek said, “Comic Con was super busy and there were so many things I wanted to experience that clashed, so I had to make some choices. I loved Artists’ Alley and meeting the international stars. The cosplayers were just lovely.”

It was all quite a spectacle. But as I waded through the crowds, I found myself gravitating
towards the real reason Comic Con began in the first place. It wasn’t about Funko Pop vinyl
figures, Fortnight, LEGO (although LEGO is amazing), or eSports. For me, it’s always been
about comics, and about meeting people who create them.

Artist’s alley, where visitors came to meet their favourite SA comic artists.

A momentary digression: In 2015, I met Kevin Maguire in New York. As a lifelong fan of his
work, I probably came across as a gushing fool. He was exhibiting alongside Deadpool co-
creator, Fabian Nicieza. I saw the names, Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire on the table
cards and one person standing behind the table.

Now, I hadn’t seen many photos of Kevin Maguire at this point, mostly just his artwork. And for some reason, I assumed that the person behind the table was Fabian Nicieza. I said, “Hey, Fabian. How are you? I’m a huge fan of yours and Kevin’s”. He responded, “I am Kevin”, and I quietly died inside.

Nonetheless, meeting Kevin and seeing his incredibly detailed original artwork close up was
an unforgettable honour. And though I’m sure he’s long-since forgotten me (probably a
good thing), meeting an artist I’d idolised since my pre-teen days was something really
special.

The thing is, even though Kevin Maguire helped create one of the most loved versions of DC Comics’ Justice League and the man sharing his table was instrumental in bringing one of today’s most popular movie and comic characters to life, here they were, with minimal
fanfare, right at the back of the convention centre, selling artwork to the public and handing out signatures.

Artist Kevin Maguire. Photo: Luigi Novi and Wikipedia.

Comic Con Africa featured 12 international comic artists and writers, 12 local comic creators and a host of other South African artists in Artists’ Alley. These exhibitors may not have been the major drawcard that all the sparkly commercial stuff is, but they put in a lot more work behind the scenes than any marketing managers do, perfecting their skills and working tirelessly for very little reward.

Many South Africans may be surprised to learn that there is a close-knit community of South African comics enthusiasts and creators who write, draw and tell world-class stories that deserve to be out there, being read and being shared.

Among the most prominent and successful examples of South African talent making it big
include author, Lauren Beukes, international comic artists, Jason Masters and Sean Izaakse
and Loyiso Mkize – all of whom made appearances at Comic Con Africa.

Also in attendance was creator collaborative, Legion Events who get together various creative exhibitors under their umbrella, the Godfather of the SA Comics scene, Moray Rhoda, and local comic publishers, Rainbow Nation Comics.

Moray Rhoda has been a vocal comics scholar and “instigator” of independent comics since the early 2000s. He’s a talented writer and artist who also happens to be the head of animation for City Varsity Cape Town. Moray flew all the way from Cape Town to brave the heat, the crowds and the Johannesburg traffic to promote his anthology comic, Sector, which he co-created with fellow artist, Daniel Hugo.

Moray said, “Over the last four years, my “Sector” co-creators and I have realised that most of the successful promotion of our product happens at events. Even though the comic book shops do take our stuff, the support is mostly in places where you can meet people and interact face-to-face.

The full anthology of Sector is available on their Facebook page.

“Sadly, though, this is the end of the line for Sector. There’s a chance we may pick it up again in a few years. But in terms of the industry, we need more support, from people like
publishers and bookshops – not just comic shops, who do support us already.”

“SA comics could really benefit from the support of South African publishers and their
distribution networks.”

Phemelo Dobodu, co-creator of Young Nelson for Rainbow Nation Comics said, “Comic Con
has been phenomenal feedback-wise. We weren’t sure what to expect with creating a South African superhero. There’s a hunger for South African heroes, especially in this socio-
economic climate.”

Rainbow Nation’s debut issue, Young Nelson: An Act of Kindness, is out now.

One South African comic that’s received some support is Kwezi by Loyiso Mkize. In 2015,
Kwezi became the first South African superhero comic book to be made available at a major retailer, when Exclusive Books picked it up. Mkize was formerly the Head Illustrator on popular South African comic series, Supa Strikas.

Loyiso Mkize at Comic con Africa 2019.

He founded his own visual arts company, LMArt, which not only published Kwesi, but has
also done work for Archie Comics, MTV and several big corporate clients. Mkise was also at
Comic Con Africa – another representation of the great talent we have living right here.

South African storytellers like Moray, Phemelo and Loyiso have the talent, motivation and
work ethic to tell great stories and promote literacy with beautifully illustrated stories that
are relevant to our audience. Perhaps it’s time South African publishers and distributors
started giving them more support.

Loyiso Mkize at Comic Con Africa. It’s exciting that an event like Comic Con Africa is able to attract such incredible numbers.

LEGO is always a treat. The Kids’ Hall was a refreshing and happy place. The Gaming Hall was a gingerbread house for gamers and the main floor was full of eye candy of all sorts.

But for me, Comic Con means comics. I say let’s bring them front and centre again, just like that small group of fans did way back in 1970. And let’s not relegate the artists to a quiet room or alleyway at the back. Swing by Artists’ Alley at the next Comic Con. What you find there may just surprise you.