Comic Con SA looks to be kind of ‘meh’

If the organisers were hoping to build hype around the event, they underestimated the type of fans they were dealing with – smart, net-savvy and not easily, ahem, conned.

By Friday morning Lazygamer had thoroughly debunked the rumours of a mind-blowing geek culture con headed for local shores, with writer Gavin Mannion saying: “Virtually everything you think you know about this event isn’t true.”

The Comic Con name raises the prospect of attending discussion panels featuring stars from beloved science fiction and fantasy genres, be they in the form of comics, books, television series or movies.

But it was the old Charlie Brown football gag all over again.

The local version, to be held at a venue that caters for between 150 and 200 people, would feature local comic artists and distributors, a competitive LAN, and a sketchathon.

Mannion pointed out that the directors of the companies behind the convention, Tlou Ramatlhodi and Mzingaye Dube, “both show no relation to events, comics or the general geek culture in any way”.

When I spoke to Ramatlhodi on Thursday, he was evasive about who was running the show.

 “We're not allowed to disclose who our client is,” he said.

“Officially, we're having a comic con. There are going to be number of local vendors that are going to participate: Zombiegamer, Outer Limits comics, and a number of other distributors and local comic book artists. Our clients, whom we cannot disclose, have told us that what we're officially allowed to say is that we're priming the Marvel Superheroes Magazine.

Comic Con International has said that it is in no way associated with the local event. When asked about the use of the Comic Con label, Ramatlhodi said: “It’s legal.”

“All comic cons are independent, you acquire your own sponsors, copywriter, and licensing with the idea in mind that comic cons have a certain benchmark that you have to live up to."

Despite the talk of benchmarking, Ramatlhodi seemed unaware of what exactly makes a comic con. His description of comic cons merely as a “platform where people who are interested in comic books and associated entertainment can come and get the skinny on the games, the titles coming out in terms of movies and the likes, and can dress up and have a good time” seemed to miss the mark.

Beyond the cosplay and the artists' alleys, the cornerstone of any comic con is the panel discussions by stars from the comic and broader entertainment spheres such as artists, writers, directors and actors.

The international San Diego Comic Con draws the top stars in pop culture but even the most humble comic cons make some attempt to put on a show for those attending, whether in the form of sneak previews, talkshops or authors’ readings.

In recent years Wales Comic Con has been heavy on guest speakers from the Game of Thrones television series while the Chicago Comic while Entertainment Expo recently featured Audrey Niffennegger, author of the Time Traveler's Wife, as a literary guest – an apt selection as Niffennegger's book is set entirely in Chicago. When India held its first humble, comic con in New Delhi in 2011, artists conducted academic and practical workshops.

But Ramatlhodi described the April event as “more of a networking event than anything else”.

Networking might be the reason many artists descend on comic conventions but for the majority of fans who attend these events, it’s the guest speakers that are the main drawing card. As a result, organising a comic con should be less like organising a networking event and more like organising a literary festival.

If one were to launch a comic con in South Africa, it would make sense to approach someone like homegrown sci-fi author Lauren Beukes, a Cape Town resident.

I asked Ramatlhodi if there were any special guests from the film, television or comic book industry that fans could look forward to hearing from and whether there were any panel discussions planned, but he seemed genuinely perplexed by the question.

With a mere three weeks to go before the event, there is no official schedule yet. Ramalthodi said the organisers would be releasing all the details in a couple of days and that these would be listed on the website. Entrance would be in the region of R150.

Ramatlhodi said the organisers were looking at this first event as “a way of getting our sponsors to give more of their resources to us next year.

“Right now it’s more networking, meet and greet, having people there to show our sponsors that the community is serious,” he said.

But South Africa has a longstanding tradition of genre-inspired festivals. Icon, which has been going small but strong for over two decades, is an annual event in Johannesburg dedicated to role-playing and fantasy war games.

Meanwhile, rAge – predominantly a gaming expo but one which is steeped in geek culture more generally – is now in its 11th year. Last year almost 30 000 people attended over the October weekend in which it ran.

The idea that sponsors don’t already know that there is a hunger for a comic con-styled exhibition in the country seems misplaced.

What’s really needed is an organiser who understands the format and the fans, and who has the skills to pull in the writers, artists and actors needed to headline the event.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Two dead in new ANC KwaZulu-Natal killings

A Mtubatuba councillor and a Hammarsdale ANC Youth League leader were shot yesterday near their homes

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Press Releases

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations