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Q&A Sessions: South African DC Comics artist praises parents for superhero success

Loyiso Mkize talks to Bongekile Macupe about joining the DC Universe, the influence of his parents and teachers, and getting up more than falling down


During your second year at university you had the courage to walk into someone’s office and start working. Where did you get that courage?

Hahaha! It was courage mixed with a little naivety, because when you do not know the rules, you end up stumbling your way through. When you are young, you just want to get your stuff out there when you believe in it — it was also hunger to get my voice out there. Super Strikas’ studio was a few blocks away from CPUT [Cape Peninsula University of Technology] where I was studying graphic design, so I took my stuff to them and I started working the next day. 

Are you living your dream?

Of course I am living the dream. The work I’m doing now I was dreaming of as a seven-year-old, as an eight-year-old, as a 10-year-old. I used to read Batman comic books and now I’m drawing for the same comic books. So it is a full circle and it has taken years, to be honest. It has taken a decade-and-a-half to just fine tune what I want to do. The crown has been doing some work with DC [Comics]. I would not say that landed in my lap, because I had been pushing my work out to them and putting out some feelers, and now I am a contracted artist for DC, officially. 

Has there ever been a moment in your career where you felt that what you are creating is not getting through to people? A moment where you felt like giving up?

Oh yes, absolutely. But lucky for me those moments have not been more than the times when I was encouraged and empowered by what I was doing. But definitely there were moments where I felt like ‘Yoh, hayi noko ngoku.’ But also, we put pressure on ourselves: there are those internalised pressures that pressure the work, that pressure your own career.


I tried to meditate during those times because when you try a career in the arts it is never going to be orthodox. It is never going to be clear cut; it is never going to be straightforward; it is never going to follow a template that already exists. It is always going to be weird. 


That is part of the excitement as well, for me at least. Also I cultivated, from a very young age, duality in my career. I can also paint and do comic books, so my work has managed to sustain me for the longest time. That is why I say the more positive moments outweigh the “I want to give up” moments.

When did you realise that you were born for what you are doing ?

Yoh, I must have been like eight. I grew up in a home where my parents supported me; I was seriously blessed to have parents who cultivated my talent at a young age. I was told I was an artist while at crèche. I was one of those kids that used to draw on anything that I laid my eyes on. I knew as a young child that was what I was going to do. I can even remember that my parents were very clear on that and they were convinced. My parents would say, “Mtana’am we will take some of your drawings to the Grahamstown Arts Festival.” I owe my parents a lot. Their support affected my confidence and attitude. 

There is something to be said about the confidence that is needed to be an artist, because you have to trust your own voice; you have to trust what is going on in your head to put it down; you have to trust that it works. So you cannot have something that holds you back — it messes with the magic of making art. 

My father was an avid reader and our home was full of books and he intellectualised what we did; he was very keen to throw books our way. And so when he saw that I was not a big fan of reading books he bought me comic books, because he saw that I love visual storytelling. They cultivated my talent from a young age and that was priceless. I could go on forever, I swear. 

While growing up, in Butterworth, as a little boy sitting in your room going through your comic books, did it ever, even in the slightest, occur to you that you would one day be part of the DC Universe? 

You know what, I can say that it was a wish. As a young boy reading comic books was an escape: I would read about these characters with amazing power and I would imagine myself as the characters. That, for me, was coupled with the fact that I was also drawing, so I was learning how to draw and putting these stories together right to the point that when I was in primary school eGcuwa I used to sell small comic books that I would draw. I would photocopy, staple them together and sell them. 

It sounds so bizarre as I am telling you this, because no one had asked me to do that. But I just felt like, “Oh my gosh, my friends are going to find this so cool.” So I would also draw the guy we watched on a movie the past weekend who had certain moves, and my friends would also ask me:  “Mfondini sizobele uVan Damme, the Terminator” and this was happening all the time. So later on, you realise that you have been in practice since you were knee-high. 

Describe how you felt when you received the email from DC Comics asking you to draw Batwing? 

Hehehehehe. Kaloku mna, I have a delayed reaction to things. I looked at the email, literally, and I was like “Oh, that’s cool.” And it only clicked a day later that “Hayi man kahle, kahle kwenzekani?” [Hold on, what just happened?]

So typical of me, I saw it and I thought I’d come back to this tomorrow. Kanti mfondini, you got a script, ready, tight and they thought you were the guy to do it best. And I was like “Okay, that is what I’m talking about. Let’s go.” 

The person who wrote that episode [that landed me the position] is Camrus Johnson and he plays Batwing, the character I drew in this episode, so it was nice synchronicity.

To have somebody who plays the character and also work off his script was just that much better to get an interesting or unique take. 

What I was doing was watching some of his footage on the series, following up on his mannerisms and thinking about how I would approach the character from that point and how I would lay out the story. It was a dream to draw all these characters that you get to watch in DC movies.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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