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Comic book culture takes over South Africa

2019-09-11 11:00

September is a busy month if you enjoy comics, graphic novels and all its related paraphernalia.

For one thing, Comic Con Africa is back, following its successful debut in Kyalami last year, and will now be an annual event. This year’s convention, which takes place over the Heritage Day long weekend – from September 21 to 24 – has been moved to the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand.

In addition, fans can visit the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), which will be hosting The Art of Comics exhibition from September 19 to November 18.

While fandom and comic culture – which includes the associated creators, artists, outfits, games and celebrities – are not new to South Africa, these have become a lot more mainstream over the past few years.

“The success of Marvel movies, along with the revival of the Batman movies in 2006, has resulted in an increased interest in comic books which keeps growing,” says Thabani Zondo, the marketing manager of Heroes of Games and Comics.

This is why, he explains, the company has opened stores in malls across the country, with one situated in Sandton City, one in Melrose Arch and one at Bedford Centre.

Zondo says that with the release of each new superhero movie, public interest grows, and many movie fans enter the store to look for new heroes and villains to read about.

Zondo himself has amassed 300 comic books as part of his personal stash. Most are collectables and are encased in glass covers to keep them pristine. “That is my retirement fund,” he says, adding that he’d bought a new comic book for less than R100 and, after two months, the value had jumped to about $400 (about R6 000).

But it is not only the comic books and graphic novels that have captured the imagination of young and old alike; it is all the related merchandise. We’re talking costumes, board games, trading cards, figurines and even key chains, sales of which continue to climb.

In recognition of this cultural phenomenon, the exhibition at JAG will focus on “contemporary South African comics and graphic novels that explore themes related to history, folklore, science fiction, autobiography and new developments in the field, such as augmented reality comics”.

Local artists will feature, as will their counterparts from Réunion Island, and there will be a special section on the French comic style known as bandes dessinées.

Sean Izaakse, who created this piece, is one of artists that will be at Comic Con Africa. He works for Marvel drawing the Fantastic Four comics. Picture: Sean Izaakse/Supplied

The works of local artists Loyiso Mkize, who designed JAG’s promotional poster; Mogorosi Motshumi, the first black South African to publish an autobiography in a graphic novel format; and Naz Hoosen, who will launch Meanwhile... Short Stories About Everyday Queer Life during the exhibition, will take centre stage.

There will also be workshops and panel discussions focusing on “techniques around comics, animation and augmented reality”.

Exhibition co-curator Tara Weber says the gallery is hosting the comic exhibition to promote the abundance of local talent and their contribution to the art world.

“Comics are usually the first interactions people have with art and storytelling. It is a great entry point for a younger audience to explore the world of museums and art,” she says, adding that families should attend too, as many parents grew up reading comics.

The exhibition will have an augmented reality section called Accused #2, which uses audio recordings from the Rivonia Trial. It promises to be an immersive virtual reality experience that takes you into the courtroom to hear the testimony of struggle icon Walter Sisulu.

“The recordings were digitised in France and from that, French film makers Gilles Porte and Nicolas Champeaux created the documentary The State Against Mandela and the Others. This is a great way to make archival material more engaging for today’s audiences,” Weber says.

. Comic Con Africa takes place at the Gallagher Convention Centre from September 21 to 24

. The Art of Comics exhibition is on at the Johannesburg Art Gallery from September 19 to November 18


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November 10 2019