SF in SA 28 (October 2016) – Is there such a thing as South African Comics?

As I mentioned some years ago on the South African Comics website, I have been on the search for South African comics for some time – and wrote about Mighty Man, the 1970s black super-hero here – who was ultimately toppled by the Soweto Uprising and the Struggle for freedom. George van der Riet is the proprietor of this website, which is a fantastic nostalgic trawl though the history of South African comics.

But what about if you’re looking for new and current South African comics? One great venue for this in Cape Town (South Africa) has always been The Readers Den. I’ve known the proprietors Mahdi Abrahams and his younger brother Nizar, since their early days, first at a flea-market in Green Point and then in their shops in Long Street, CT, in the early 1990’s. Mahdi has always been a dedicated collector of The Fantastic Four in particular, but as far as retail goes, has also always supported local work whenever he could. The Abrahams brothers have a brief history of their journey in comics here.

The two other local comic shops I supported at the time via mail order to Jo’burg were (a) Cosmic Comics and (b) Fantamania – the latter sadly no longer trading, as far as I am aware. For me, I was collecting mostly silver-age Daredevil, some Amazing Spider Man, as well as the first Black Panther and Ms. Marvel. As far as local comics, whatever I could find – sparse to come by initially – but these have become increasingly more evident as the years have rolled by, with the growth of indie publishing and web-comics.

Moray Rhoda (2014) has an article on this rise, linked to information technology access, as well as the variety of local comics here – although distribution problems and a limited readership market within South Africa significantly hamper this.

So yes, there is such a thing as South African comics – and they are indeed very diverse in both art and content, although it may be that they are still disproportionately ‘white’ in origin. (The Trantraal Brothers take an ironic ownership of ‘race’ in local comics via their ‘Coloureds’ title – for those outside South Africa, an old and still oft used apartheid label for ‘mixed heritage’ people – again a hugely diverse group on a race defying continuum between white and black. The edges of classification under apartheid used to be ‘scientifically tested’ via police inserting a pencil into the hair of the person of questionable race status – if it sticks = not white!)

So Tell Me About The More Recent Stuff

An exciting link between past and current comics is the publishing of Bitterkomix 17 recently, produced by Anton Kannemeyer and Conrad Botes. This is a comic that has been going on and off for several decades and is described here as: “Bitterkomix is a repository for an entire culture’s detritus,” wrote Richard Poplak in the Johannesburg Globe and Mail in 2008. “It’s where four centuries of Afrikaner history have been spat up for examination. … It is the (white) South African subconscious.” In full and hearty rebellion! Kannemeyer himself is interviewed here.

Bittercomix 17 is both belated and much heralded. I have The Big Bitter-Komix Handbook, with inserts and background material – and, as you can see from my picture of the front cover, Jesus is leading the rugby scrum, packing down as hooker. (A real subversion of both rugby and the Dutch Reformed Church, or NGK.)

bitterkomix

Mandy J. Watson has curated some of the more recent outputs in South African comics in an excellent series of articles dated 2013 – to date, with a cross-section linked to below:

May 2013: Coloureds, Lauren Beukes & The Passengers et al covered.
September 2013: Cottonstar and Sophie the Giant Slayer et al.
April 2014: Clockworx and Echo Gear 0 et al covered.
March 2015: South African Comics Art Showcase: Politics, Robots, Doodles, And Superheroes, Plus Stray And Fixed Up Sneak Peeks.
April 2015
: Icon by the Sea and The Modern Dragon et al.
September 2016: The Book Lounge Comics-Inspired Window for the Open Book Festival 2016.
September 2016/2: Kay’s ComicsKay Carmichael’s ‘Sophie, the Giant Slayer’ has won plaudits both local and overseas.)

And What About Other SA Comic Developments?

The Reader’s Den have moved to larger (and current) premises in Claremont and along with The Book Lounge in Cape Town are actively promoting local comic books, with an annual event now being a convention entitled FanCon since 2002, which has included such noticeable guests as Lauren Beukes and Anton Kannemeyer, (AKA Joe Dog).

Speaking of Lauren Beukes, she has been published in various comics – with her ‘Wonder Woman in Soweto’ particularly ground-breaking.

I recently bought a batch of goodies from both The Readers Den and The Book Lounge (in August) which have been good reads indeed, some listed below.

So What are Some Great South African Comics to Get Hold of?

Echo Gear by – Vincent Sammy: Vincent is a powerful, evocative artist and has written and illustrated this dark and edgy comic. As the description goes: Echo Gear is a “hybrid codex,” a mash up of imagery, text, sequential art, editorial and advertorial nodes. A story told in codes, puzzles, wordplay, and cross-referenced archaic media.

Soccer Warrior by Mambo Media: The adventures of Vusi Vuzela, from his humble beginnings growing up in a rural township, to finding success as a soccer superstar. Vusi inherited an ancient kudu horn amulet from his grandfather, which grants him the amazing spiritual powers and abilities of the ancestral guardians. Vusi accepts the responsibility of these fantastic gifts, using them to help others and to put a stop to the evil plans of the dark forces he encounters. (An intriguing adult SA variation of Billy’s Boots perhaps?)

Joe Daly – A South African comics writer/illustrator who has found, like some prophets of old, honour outside their country – published by Fantagraphics in America. Funny, surreal, smart.

Mengelmoes – about growing up in South Africa from the 1990s and onwards. This is a clever and often funny retrospective written by Willem Samuel who is, so I’ve heard, the son of the famous Afrikaans author and poet Antjie Krog.

Coloureds, The Richenbaums and CrossroadsTrantraal Brothers – ‘Coloureds’ is a beautifully moving portrayal of life on the Cape Flats with an implicit politicized edge. As a picture of the back cover to Crossroads reveals:

crossroads

Sector – “Is intended to be a bi-monthly comics magazine (think 2000AD) that will feature work in a variety of genres by local comics creators that will be presented as a mix of both chapters of long stories split across multiple issues and self-contained short stories within one issue. The first issue will feature stories by Diorgo Jonkers, Nas Who, Karl Mostert, Michael Smith, Moray Rhoda, and Daniël Hugo.” (April 2015 Mandy J Watson link above).

I have a copy of Issue 2, which includes ‘The Illustrated Guide to the End of The World; Uncharted Waters and Red Air – atmospherically set on Mars.

Zeke and the Mine Snake by Vuka Shift and Joe Dog – Adventures in Jozi and the Gold Mines.

zeke

The Legend of Blue Mamba – ND Mazin – This is a surreal surfing story and ND Mazin is an underground style pseudonym for Andy Mason, who has written a history of comics and cartoons in South Africa. I’ve met and spoken to Andy in Muizenberg, where he now lives. Andy was also part of the Durban Comics’ Collective in the 1980’s who published five issues of PAX I have collected – Pre-Azanian Comics – politically ‘subversive’ comics challenging apartheid and with some black writers included.

Finally, we started with an old black South African super-hero Mighty Man and end with an exciting new one: KWEZI This comic has been gaining strong traction and has high production values and is an exciting development in South African comics. A young local hero written and drawn by an amazing local talent – Loyiso Mkize – gathering a local audience. Local is indeed lekker! Tade Thompson has posted an Amazon review on this graphic novel here.

But what about the ‘Ordinary Super-Heroes’ in South Africa? A recent comic launch on this theme took place in Khayelitsha, a large township in Cape Town. The comic, titled Khazimla’s Adventures, is inspired by Monde Sithole, “an adventurer, educational strategist, and futurist”. Synopsis: “Themba grows up haunted by dreams of ‘otherworldliness’ and adventure, a complete juxtaposition to the limitations of the township gang violence he finds acceptance and excitement in. He will soon discover another world that lies beneath the surface of the dusty streets and enter a journey to the mountain of self-discovery and transformation. But, as with all fulfilling journeys, it will not be without turbulence, which he must overcome.”

And Finally, some South African Web-Comics:

Cottonstar (2012–present): The adventures of a ragtag group of pirates off the coast of a post-apocalyptic South Africa.

Tomica (2014–present): Tomica is an ‘action-packed sci-fi adventure following the exploits of Tomica Twim, a daring rogue with a tragic past, and Professor Ceres Twim, a former Archaeologist who endeavoured to keep him on the right path. Together they studied the secrets of their space-faring ancestors, but they soon find themselves in a universe of trouble, stranded on the edge of the unknown and forced apart by a terrible incident.’

Vibe Comics (2015-present) The Ubuntu Chronicles ‘The chronicles are a record of past civilizations and cycles of life that ended when the advancement of life and technology ultimately forced a confrontation with nature – our planet Earth – in an extinction level event known as “The Reclamation”. Billions of years of recorded life are etched in an encoded language with unique energy signatures and are found in precious metals and stones. The battle to find and access this body of knowledge is the real reason for the hidden war that has been waged to harness the mineral resources mined in Africa.’

But Where Do I Get These Comics?

Try:

Indie Comics SA
Readers Den:
The Book Lounge
Outer Limits

Isotrope ComicsTrantraal Brothers

And let us know what you think of these comics. Join the African Fantasy Reading Group (AFRG) on Facebook (if you are not already a member) and join in the conversation!

Nick Wood (October 2016)