/ 18 April 2024

Bringing Comic Con to Soweto

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Fantasy fare: Tapelo Zama at the Afrogeek stall at last year’s Comic Con. On Sunday, he and partner Neo Mothoagae will bring the colourful world of comics to Soweto at the Uncle Tom’s Hall in Orlando West

If Tapelo Zama has a superpower it must be perseverance. One of the brains behind this weekend’s first ever Afrogeek Festival in Soweto, he has been trying since 2022 with his business partner, Neo Mothoagae, to establish a comic festival in Soweto, but with no luck.

He says some people in the geek community were reluctant to showcase at their festival and that never materialised, so they were unable to bring comic enthusiasts together in the township.

“They did not see the whole value at first. We had to beg and plead with a few of them to be a part of it,” Zama tells the Mail & Guardian

“What eventually happened is that Comic Con reached out to us to be a part of their event in 2023 so we sort of put a pin on the Afrogeek fest. We worked with Comic Con and had a pavilion where we invited eight artists to exhibit.” 

Comic Con, short for Comic Convention, is an annual event that celebrates various aspects of pop culture, including comics, books, movies, television shows, video games, cosplay (where children and adults, from casual to professional, dress up as characters, including weapons and accessories) and more. 

It typically features panels, exhibits, screenings and opportunities for fans to meet creators, actors and other industry professionals. Comic Con originated as a comic book convention in the 1970s but has since grown into a massive gathering that attracts fans from all over the world.

For the Soweto business partners this is a labour of love. Zama, 38, works in digital marketing, and Mothoagae, 32, is in insurance. They wanted to bring a similar concept to townships for people who enjoy comics, cosplay and other activities that may be found at a Comic Con event. Having not been successful in 2022, Zama and Mothoagae are giving it another go this year by hosting their Afrogeek Festival at the Uncle Tom’s Hall in Orlando West on Sunday. 

The festival is open to enthusiasts of comic culture as well as those who may just want to pop in and see what this world encompasses. Those in attendance can expect original African comics, indie video games, hand-painted custom art and gaming geek merchandise that will be on sale as well as cosplay. 

“For us, it’s about making this more accessible for the attendees and people who are in the township because I also spent most of my life in the township,” says Zama. “I know for a fact as a person who grew up in the township that there is a market for these types of things.

“These communities do exist and there are a whole lot of people who are interested in the geek culture. So, the audience is there whether it be in Soweto, Tembisa or Alexandra— there are geek communities that are thriving out there,” he says. 

A geek community is a community of people whose interests lie in tech, comics and cosplay, to name a few. They meet to teach each other about the latest developments in their world. Zama says the community has no place to gather as the smaller comic events never make. This is the gap they are trying to bridge by having this Afrogeek festival.

While the inclusivity of South African geeks is the vision that is unfolding for them now, Zama says that they are actively working on creating a pan-African geek culture. 

“Rather than complaining about the lack of this or that, we should ask what can we do about it. That is why we decided to roll it out in communities that we grew up in,” he says ahead of Sunday’s festival. 

Cape Town geeks of all shapes and ages are preparing their costumes for Comic Con Cape Town and the International Animation Festival from 21 April to 1 May at the CTICC.

Philosophy goes beyond superheroes and special powers

Are you a comic book collector? If so, when did you start collecting? 

Tapelo Zama: I wouldn’t call myself a collector per se. I do buy comics on occasion but I do not buy them frequently enough to call myself a collector. I am more of a casual buyer of comic books. However, I have been buying comics for a very long time, back when CNA used to sell comics and that was way back in the mid-1990s.  

What was the first comic book you’ve ever received/read? 

I believe the first comic I ever bought was a Superman comic. I was not loyal to one particular superhero and as a child I always tried to mix it up. So sometimes I would buy Superman the next time I would buy Batman, the next time I would buy X-Men just to see how they are different from each other and to explore all these different worlds out there.  

Who’s your favourite comic character of all time and why? 

My favourite comic book character is quite an obscure one — a character known as Doctor Manhattan in the Watchmen graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. The graphic novel for a long period of time was a stand alone story that existed outside of the DC universe which was a more “realistic” look at superheroes and was a lot more philosophical, a lot more mature and gritty and Doctor Manhattan existed in this world as the only being with superpowers. 

Do you have a South African favourite comic book/character? 

I am going to say Captain South Africa and the Captain South Africa comic by Bill Masuku. It is a very interesting story, and it is well written and the world is very thoughtfully put together. It also touches on politics and themes that are very topical and relevant that a lot of South Africans can relate to. 

What should one look out for when buying a comic book?

If someone is looking to buy a comic book, especially if they go to a comic book store, my suggestion would be to tell whoever is at the store what you like, but to also keep an open mind — you may be surprised at the variety that is out there. There is more to superheroes than Marvel and DC comics.