Fun for comic geeks

When brothers Mahdi and Nizar Abrahams held their first comic event at their store in the city centre more than 20 years ago, barely 100 people attended.

Now, the event has grown into FanCon, the biggest comic and “geek” event held in Cape Town so far, and they say the scene is growing every year.

“Last year, we held the inaugural FanCon at the Lookout in the Waterfront, but the event was so packed that we were forced to close the doors because it became too full.”

This year’s event was held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).

“In the first few hours on the first day, it has already filled up nicely. We are excited,” said Mahdi.

FanCon, held last weekend, is South Africa’s first convention that focuses primarily on the comic book industry, in addition to all related pop culture and geek interests.

Stalls at the FanCon exhibited items such as comic books – local and international – board gaming; cosplay competitions and comic character paraphernalia.

The FanCon’s theme was Wonder Woman, a warrior princess character which was created by the massive DC Comics group and celebrates her 75th anniversary this year. The organisers also roped in renowned international guests for the ultimate experience.

“Comiccon happen all over the world, but not in South Africa. We used to hold Free Comic Book Day at our store, Reader’s Den in Claremont, but the event became so big that we decided to make it bigger and more formal,” said Mahdi.

Mahdi said he and his brother, from Rondebosch East, had been interested in comics from a young age.

The brothers started off selling comic books at a flea market, and when people kept asking for more, they opened their first book store in Long Street in 1992, one of a few stores that sold local comics.

The demand grew so much that they expanded, and now they own two branches – one in Claremont and one in Tyger Valley.

“This year, we invited international artists to the convention, and incorporated talks and workshops about the comic industry,” said Mahdi.

“The costumes are also getting better. Live Action Role Play (LARP) and cosplay is becoming more mainstream as well.”

Eric Powell, a renowned American comic book writer and artist, best known as the creator of The Goon, said it was great to see people so excited about the
comic industry and coming together for a common interest. “It’s very exciting to see so many writers and artists, especially the local ones and to be able to engage with them.”

Mr Powell, who is from Nashville, Tennessee, and has been in the industry since 1992, said contrary to belief, there isn’t a large comic book scene in his town.

“The majority of my work is sold in the east, and in Tennessee it’s mostly based around college towns.”

Marcus Smit, a comic book writer and artist from Durban, recently moved to Cape Town to further his studies. He started his comic, called Element of Eve, but work on it’s slowed down a bit due to his day job.

“My newest comic is debuting today, called Fifth Ace,” he told CapeTowner.

He said the comic scene in Cape Town was bigger than it was in other parts of the country. “I think its because the city attracts an international market more than other cities.”

He said the popularity of FanCon was testament to the growth of the comic industry in Cape Town. “This is only the second FanCon and it’s very big so far,” he noted.

Grant Charlton, from Johannesburg, opened his first comic and geek interest store, the Outer Limits, in the CBD more than 25 years ago. Mr Charlton said he had been instrumental in growing the comic book industry since then, recalling that 25 years ago there had only been three comic shops in the city.

He said his store in Johannesburg was doing well, he had recently started a gaming convention called ICon, and also regularly participates in Live Action Role Play.

However, he said, “I haven’t heard of any Larp groups in Cape Town yet.” And while the industry was growing rapidly, he noted, there was still lots of room for growth.

Commenting on industry trends, he said board gaming was very popular and “comics have also matured, and the artists are getting better and better.”

CTICC’s CEO Julie-May Ellingson said this was the first time the CTICC had hosted an event dedicated to enthusiasts and fans of comic books.

“Comic-cons have become mega events internationally and the CTICC is very proud to host this inaugural event which we believe will grow from strength to strength.

“The creative community in Cape Town, the attractiveness of the city as well as the flexibility of the venue have played a key role in attracting this event to the Western Cape. We are also particular pleased to see women playing a key role in this year’s event.