ComicCon is without a doubt the most anticipated annual event in the life of any geek, but until recently only those situated in the first world were able to experience all it has to offer. That all changed in 2018 when ComicCon finally made its way to the plains of South Africa.
While I've never been to an international ComicCon, I am certain that our local version of the event pales in comparison to those hosted overseas, and still, it was miles ahead of anything else I've experienced thus far.
As you can expect from any convention, there was a sea of stands where artists could showcase their creations. I found all the usual suspects, computer hardware, geek paraphernalia, novels, art, and a few unexpected treasures which were truly phenomenal.
One such example was a company who specializes in signed collector's pieces that sell for a hefty premium, like the Nimbus 2000 replica signed by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint or Kylo Ren's lightsaber signed by various members of the Star Wars cast. Another stand that caught my attention was Mini Me Prints, where you can order a 3D printed figurine of yourself.
Among the many well-known organizations at the convention was Fear Factor. Obviously, they had some creepy crawlies locked away in glass boxes but what drew the crowd's attention was a cockroach filled case where you could stick your head in, if you were brave or insane enough. A branded hoody was awarded to those brave souls who were willing, although I feel that wasn't near enough compensation.
Hasbro made a big deal of their soon to be released Bumblebee movie by showing new teaser footage and selling some really cool merchandise including augmented reality and voice changing masks. Their biggest attraction though was a session in the program labeled "Bumblebee Transformation", which had many of us brave the scorching sun for around 45 minutes so we could have a front row seat. To our disappointment, the reveal turned out to be a Bumblebee themed, restored VW Beetle. Don't get me wrong, it was a fine restoration and the car will be awarded to one lucky Transformers fan in the coming months but it's not exactly what I had in mind when I saw the word "Transformation".
ComicCon is famous for many things and cosplay is probably one of the main attractions. Cosplay has slowly been gaining momentum in South Africa and of course having the first local ComicCon meant that participants needed to step up their game. And boy, did they. Even though the primary cosplay showoff occurred the day after I attended the event, I still came across some of the best costumes I've ever seen.
As a testament to this growing culture, the convention even played host to two international cosplay celebrities, Philip Odango and the first-lady of cosplay herself, Yaya Han who came dressed as Mulan as a homage to her Eastern heritage.
The gaming community was not left wanting this past weekend. Sony and Microsoft each had loads of consoles set up where players could enjoy some of their upcoming releases like Spiderman and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, among others. Of course, there were also several prize giveaways for those who performed best in certain games.
Additionally, there were numerous gaming peripheral stands ranging from local computer stores like Evetech and BT Games to industry giants like HP and Logitech. Finally, Telkom along with VS Gaming once again brought us some nailbiting e-sports action with the country's top teams duking it out in CS: GO and DOTA 2.
The most exciting part of the convention, for me at least, was the attendance of international celebrities, since this is such a rare occurrence in South Africa. This was also the greatest source of disappointment when the most anticipated guest, Jason Momoa, had to cancel his trip to our fair country due to scheduling conflicts. Although I haven't seen any official reports it seems that Anthony Mackie also had to cancel at the last moment.
Fortunately though, we were graced by the presence of several others including Travis Fimmel, Kevin Sussman, Yetide Badaki, Ricky Whittle and Demore Barnes. As mentioned earlier, we were also fortunate to meet some big players in the cosplay world namely Philip Odango and Yaya Han.
What really surprised me was how fantastically some of the celebrities interacted with the crowds. After Kevin Sussman's autograph session he took the time to wander through the convention and meet loads of fans. Travis Fimmel, during his short shoutout session, made jokes and gave some nervous fans, hugs and high fives. But the highlight of my day was seeing Ricky Whittle at the American Gods panel.
Almost immediately Ricky jumped off the stage and started mingling with his fans while continuing to conduct the interview. When the time came to go to the audience for questions, he even ran around and offered his mic to the fans. Someone was interested to know what it's like shooting intimate scenes on American Gods, to which he answered, "You're basically dry-humping your friend while a bunch of people stares at you. It's not sexy, it's weird. Someone else felt the need to ask a racially loaded question which raised some eyebrows but luckily Ricky defused the situation by declaring that he's a proud "mutt" from a mixed race family and that declaring himself black, as the audience member tried to do, would be disrespectful to his white mother.
Ricky was an absolute treat and while I'm sure he won't remember most of the people he interacted with, he gave each and every one of them a memory they'll cherish for a lifetime.
venue and organization
Despite this being the first year ComicCon was hosted in South Africa, there were minimal organizational issues. The biggest problem we experienced was a delay in gaining entry since we had to collect our media passes from inside the venue and didn't have pre-bought tickets to flash at the gatekeepers. The food and drinks were also ridiculously expensive but this seems to become the theme of any event nowadays.
The venue itself was laid out very well and with the help of numerous information desks and booklets, we managed to find our way around without a sinch. I do suspect though that a larger venue will be needed if ComicCon is to return next year.
Something that made ComicCon really stand out from other local events is the incredible roster of sessions. The venue had 5 zones where sessions could be held and with the exception of a few empty slots, something was happening at every zone all throughout the weekend. It doesn't matter what your interests are, you would have found something to enjoy here.
South Africa is not particularly known for hosting internationally recognized events and in the world of geekdom specifically, there are very few noteworthy events to attend. This is why I was so pleased that we are finally able to host a high-profile event like ComicCon and that the organizers managed to make such a success of it. Later this year we'll also be hosting our first TEDx conference, something else I'm greatly looking forward to.
After the incredible success of the first ComicCon Africa, I truly can't wait to see what they have planned for next year.