Comics: South African Roundup

Posted: 3 May 2013
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Ahead of this year's Free Comic Book Day festivities, here's our roundup of the most interesting comics, graphic novels, and zines that have been produced by South Africans in the past few years.

There have been all sorts of exciting local independent comics and publications appearing in the past few years and I've picked up a few here and there but until last year's Co/Mix festival, which was held as part of the 2012 Open Book Festival, I wasn't really aware of how much has been happening, and who has been involved.

Earlier in 2012 I had attended my first comics convention, the 2012 Stumptown Comics Festival in Portland, Oregon ('s Pinterest board), and then I also attended some of the Free Comic Book Day festivities at various comic shops the week after, also in Portland. It was inspiring to see the talent and creativity in the Pacific Northwest and meet some of the people producing everything from zines to full-colour independent publications.

Back in Cape Town, wandering around the much smaller, but equally passionate Co/Mix event, I realised the wealth of talent that we have right here at home, much of which has been in hiding (unintentionally, I am sure), and it's time that changed.

The Cape Town Zine Project also kicked into action last year and some of the output from that project has been fantastic. (Some of it has also been very strange but it's not a good mix if there isn't some truly weird stuff too!) The project offers everyone the opportunity to join in on a Make Zines At Night workshop in Observatory to make a zine and then print it on the group's Risograph printer. The Book Lounge in Cape Town has subsequently held two zine market nights during which much of the Cape Town Zine Project's publications have been made available to the public.

This article is my roundup of some of the best of what's being produced by South Africans now. It ranges from Lauren Beukes' international successes for DC comics to zines printed in a limited run in Cape Town that you've never seen before but hopefully will now seek out.

The Big Chillum Book 1: The Dreaded Sub-Urban Man-Thing
The Big Chillum Book 1: The Dreaded Sub-Urban Man-Thing A Comic (1987, reprint 2013)
By: ND Mazin

I was delighted to find this among the offerings at the second zine market. It's a contemporary reprint of an underground/alternative black-and-white comic by Andy Mason that first appeared in segments in 1985 to 1986 in PAX (Pre-Azanian Comix), and then was collected in this edition in 1987.

The comic is full of silly puns, sex, adultery, and drawings of naughty bits that I imagine must have been quite shocking to people of the 1980s who weren't exposed (har har) to anything beyond benign newspaper cartoons. The art is dynamic and quirky and there's a lot that can be learnt about illustrating movement just by reading this publication.

Being a product of the turbulent 1980s there's also political subtext built into the humour (of course) and nearly 30 years later it remains an entertaining, fun publication. I hope he will reprint more of his work as this is part of local-comics history and there's a whole new generation that would be enriched by getting a chance to read it.

Coloureds No. 1
Coloureds A Comic (2010)
Stories: Andre Trantaal, Charmaine Trantaal
Pencils, Editing, And Backgrounds: Nathan Trantaal
Colour And Backgrounds: Andre Trantaal
Additional Pencils And Backgrounds: Ashley Marais

I was in two minds about including this comic - not because of its contents but due to a post that the creators, the Trantaal brothers, posted in their Facebook feed that is disparaging about some big names in international comics. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and many would agree with the sentiments, but they were expressed using unnecessarily offensive language (and I am not easily offended). I think that's counter productive to the spirit of trying to grow a creative field and an industry (locally and internationally) - and to existing within that industry. It makes me not want to spend time with their work, of which this publication is just a small sample.

Nevertheless I bought and read Coloureds a few years ago so I'm including it here to be as comprehensive as I can (although I have missed many publications by local creators, including a graphic novella, Stormkaap, by the Trantaal brothers, and there are a few items in my collection that I need to read again before I write about them).

Coloureds is the first issue of a series that didn't seem to have happened. I think the intention was to produce an inexpensive comic (though it's beautifully full colour) that kids could resell to generate some income, which would also foster literacy in townships, on the Cape Flats in particular. The comic is mainly in Afrikaans, an under-served language, and is a selection of vignettes about a Coloured family that tackles issues of family violence, alcoholism, and poverty as seen from a young girl's perspective. It's an extremely important publication, notably produced by the culture that it intended to serve, so I'm sorry that there aren't more issues in print.

The Trantaal Brothers: Facebook, Twitter

Pissed Off
A Mini Comic/Zine (2010/2012)
Pissed Off

By: Mogorosi Motshumi

Pissed Off is a mini comic that Mogorosi Motshumi, an artist and activist well regarded by those who followed the work and exploits of underground artists in the 1980s, drew in 2010 in Durban but which was printed last year as part of the Cape Town Zine Project. The title is a play on words referencing attitudes towards public urination during and after apartheid - I can't say much more without retelling the entire comic, which would spoil it.

Buy it - you should be able to get it through the Cape Town Zine Project, as well as at The Book Lounge.

All The Pretty Ponies From Strange Adventures #1
Strange Adventures #1 A Comic (2011)
Writer: Lauren Beukes
Artist: Inaki Miranda
Colours: Eva de la Cruz
Letters: Sal Cipriano

Strange Adventures #1 is a comic-anthology one shot published by Vertigo that collects new short work from artists and writers all over the world (some of which is good and some of which... isn't). This issue is notable because it contains the international comics debut of writer Lauren Beukes.

To produce All The Pretty Ponies she worked with Spanish artist Inaki Miranda. It was a partnership that proved so successful that they teamed up again for a six-issue run of Fairest (see below). All The Pretty Ponies is a science-fiction story set in Brazil in which the rich, for a fee, jack in to the brains of "ponies" to experience their lives as if they were that person.

You should be able to order a back copy via your comic store, and, in Cape Town, I think that Readers Den still has a few special signed issues in stock.

The Man Is Disappearing
The Man Is Disappearing A Zine (2011)
By: Sebastian Borckenhagen

Sebastian Borckenhagen is one of the organisers of the Cape Town Zine Project and The Man Is Disappearing is one of his early zines that, I think, predates the project. This is an eclectic, interesting mix of art, short stories, and comics, as well as poems by guest contributor Geoffrey Brink.

Do I understand all of it? No.

Does that matter? No.

Cape Town Zine Project: Facebook, Tumblr
Sebastian Borckenhagen: Blogger, Tumblr

Velocity Graphic Anthology
A Series Of Graphic Novel Anthologies (2011 onwards)

I haven't been able to afford copies of this South African-Australian co-production when I could find it (see my update note in the second Lil Five entry further down) and when I could afford it I haven't been able to find copies. I'm going to do my best to get hold of volumes 1 and 2 (volume 3 will be available at Free Comic Book Day in Cape Town and volume 4 will be launched later this year in Johannesburg) - even if I have to borrow rather than buy - to write about them in a future roundup as this project seems to be going well: it's giving new local talent a worthy outlet, guided by Moray Rhoda.

Velocity Graphic Anthology: Official Site, DeviantArt, Facebook
Moray Rhoda: DeviantArt, Facebook

The Lil' Five Adventure In The Vine Forest / Park Life
The Lil' Five Adventure In The Vine Forest A Comic (2012)
By: They Did This! (Karl, Ryan, Moray, Mike, and Andrew)

This is a special-edition double-sided full-colour preview comic that They Did This! launched at Free Comic Book Day 2012 to introduce its two properties: Park Life and The Lil' Five, both of which are designed for kids but with adults in mind.

The Lil' Five is a group of anthropomorphic young animals (hence the "lil'"): Leo Proudmane, Kitty Goodspot, Hoofer T Hornboggle, Rocko "Rox" Longhorn, and Ellie Pureheart, each of whom is one of the big five. The seven-page story sees them on a forest adventure foiling bad guys to save a professor who's in trouble. It was a bit thin on story due to the space constraint but there's potential here in the characters and their group dynamic, plus the adventures they could conceivably embark on (see later in the article for more on this).

It's a good, affordable introduction to the characters and a great comic to purchase for kids.

Flip it over and you'll find Park Life, about a group of kids who rule a playground. In this preview comic there are two two-page stories and, to be honest, I don't get it. In the first story the group foils the park's groundsmen - I don't know why the groundsmen are the terror of the park (I would think neatly trimmed lawns are preferable to foliage anarchy) - and in the second they scare off a new political contender vying to rule the park by threatening him with... the groundsmen.

The art, on the other hand, has a lovely quirkiness to it but the stories, in this comic anyway, just don't work.

The Lil' Five: Official Site, Facebook

The Passengers
The Passengers A Graphic Novel Compilation Of An Ongoing Web Comic (2012)
Story: Marc Dey
Art: Anthony Hodge

This volume collects the first two issues of The Passengers, a free black-and-white web comic. It's a speculative-fiction story set in Cape Town in which a group of angels and demons, working together, are sent to Earth to possess seven humans in order to save the world.

Both the story and art need a little refining but I think as the creators gain more experience it'll get there. Right now the story is a bit convoluted, probably because they are full of ideas and want to express them all at once, and the art needs a bit of fine tuning, notably in depicting expressions, but it's a great comic and the passion comes through on every page. I really enjoyed reading it.

Unfortunately the web comic seems to have stalled after completion of issue two. I hope it starts up again soon as the story has lots of potential and I want to see where they are going to take it.

The Passengers: Official Site, Facebook

Philo's Wish
A Mini Comic (2012)
Philo's Wish

By: Luis Tolosana

This full-colour mini comic was my favourite discovery of Co/Mix 2012, so much so that it was one of my picks for our end-of-year gift guide, and therefore there's not much more to say. I love the intricate art and all the background detail. I love that an entire story is conveyed without a single word being used - just a few pictograms that you can choose to decipher if you want to. Buy it!

(If you can't buy it, you can read it here.)

Philo's Wish: Full Comic Online

CottonStar Chapter 1
CottonStar Chapter 1 A Print Compilation Of An Ongoing Web Comic (2012)
By: Ben G Geldenhuys and Danelle Malan
Cover: Dorianne Dutriuex

CottonStar, a "post-global-warming pirate adventure", is an ongoing web comic set in an alternate future Cape Town in which much more of the world is covered with water. This compilation is a beautiful full-colour print of the first chapter's pages.

In the story we meet protagonist Renier du Preez who is on the run from an entity known as the Corporation. He ends up on the CottonStar, a pirate ship helmed by a no-nonsense female captain and a motley crew of fun characters. Not much of the larger world has been revealed yet but there still seems to be electricity, though not necessarily computers, and most characters seem to favour swords.

This is one of my favourite local comics and I'm looking forward to reading it further in print. The Chapter 2 compilation, comprising both a normal edition and an artist's edition, will be launching at Free Comic Book Day this year at Readers Den.

Ben G Geldenhuys: DeviantArt, Livestream, Tumblr
Danelle Malan: DeviantArt, Livestream, Tumblr

Agenda 2
Agenda 2 A Mini Comic (2012)
By: Alastair Laird

Agenda 2 is a second compilation of black-and-white cartoons and comics by Durbanite Alastair Laird, most of which are political in nature. It's all over the place. There are some that are really good, such as a piece about Zapiro that references his controversial rape-of-justice cartoon and a story about "Dr. Kill", a parody of Dr Phil's TV show, but others just seem to be an attempt to shock - the satire is lacking - or the point just doesn't come across at all.

There are also more penises in these 34 pages than you will probably see in 24 hours on TopTV's new channels and a few moments that resort to unnecessary bathroom humour, which cheapens the entire publication.

I haven't been able to track down the first issue but this one is available at The Book Lounge. It's well priced and therefore worth investigating, though it definitely won't be to everyone's taste.

Free Beer Issue #8, September 2012
Free Beer Issue #8 A Mini Comic Anthology (2012)
Contributors: Dave Querido, Warren Raysdorf, Monde Klaas, Manuel James, P April, Marco McLaughlin, Dave & Marco, Fossil Soul, Natasha April, and some anonymous contributions

Free Beer is an ongoing collection of short pieces, some amusing, some dramatic, and some offensive, by both local and international artists, spearheaded by Warren Raysdorf, with Alastair Laird when they were both in Durban (Warren is now in Cape Town). It seems that the project's heyday was in 2011 and it has now slowed down as only two issues were published in 2012, and none in 2013, which is unfortunate.

I found and read issue #9 first (see below) and have been trying to find the earlier issues but issue #8 is the only one that still seems available in print, although you can scroll through the blog to find examples of earlier work published by the project. Issue #8 is a very strange mix and a bit of a hit and miss - the art of most of the submissions is very good but many of the stories lack purpose and, in some cases, don't make sense. I'd still recommend buying it, though, because it's inexpensive and the issue definitely showcases some great local artists - they just need to be paired with people who can write.

Dave Querido: Behance

Free Beer Issue #9, September 2012
Free Beer Issue #9 A Mini Comic Anthology (2012)
Contributors: Warren Raysdorf, Ash, Johnson & Smith, Peter Moerenhout, Mattias Uyttendaele, Jeroen Steehouwer, Claude Chandler, Sam Boock, Dave Querido, Maia Machèn, and an anonymous contributor

Free Beer issue #9 is a fantastic issue, starting with the eye-catching cover by Warren Raysdorf. The art inside is wonderful and there are some great stories, although some of them, unfortunately, end on a "to be continued...". As this has been the last issue published so far, it's quite frustrating to be left hanging, so we're stuck not knowing what happens in Warren Raysdorf's The Kolmannskuppe Job (the cover illustration is for this story), which seems to be a horror Western, and in Ash's Sparrow, which is a space adventure with lesbian-pirate (the robbing kind, not the "arr!" kind) protagonists (or perhaps they're antagonists - it's too soon to tell) and robots.

Nevertheless, if you can still find a copy of this issue, grab it. (You might be able to spot one at the next zine market at The Book Lounge.)

Dave Querido: Behance

The Lil' Five And The Secret Of The Black Cave
The Lil' Five And The Secret Of The Black Cave A Large-Format Comic (2012)
Story: Franz Scholl and Michael Crafford
Art: Karl Mostert
Inks: Michael Crafford
Colours, Lettering, And Layout: Andrew Cramer
Colour Assists: Jarred Cramer of Kaos Production Studios
Production Assists: Ryan Carolisen and Moray Rhoda

I'm going to jump right in here with my biggest concern: this comic costs a fortune, especially considering the number of pages you get. It's high-quality full-colour printing on thick, glossy paper stock, which looks great, but that makes it expensive. It's aimed at kids but at this price I'd hesitate to let any even touch it.

The Lil' Five And The Secret Of The Black Cave is the first full-length adventure of The Lil' Five (see above). It's a self-contained story, although as it ends it indicates strongly that the larger story of which this tale is just the first part will be continued, which I don't think was necessary and it annoyed me.

The story itself, which has strong nods to Indiana Jones (...including the boulder...), is full of action, with adult adversaries and obstacles that the team of five anthropomorphic young animals need to overcome and problems that need to be solved, all of which is done with good humour and a sense of adventure. The group is well balanced - it illustrates how different viewpoints and personalities can exist harmoniously in a team and the story emphasises the resulting team work but also celebrates each team member individually by using each character's strengths, skills, ideas, or contributions at some point in the story.

I think it's a great start for what is to be an ongoing series for kids and I'm confident that it's going to keep getting better and better - I just wish it didn't cost so much.

Update: I met the They Did This! and Velocity guys at this year's Free Comic Book Day event in Cape Town and subsequently discussed this pricing issue with them via email as the cost for this comic, in particular, at their stand was nearly half the price of what I've seen in stores, and quite affordable considering what you get. While small-print-run costs for quality full-colour printing are high in this country, which is where the problem begins, the excessive pricing is inflated by distributors and retailers adding in their profit margins. The result is a comic that costs too much, so people don't buy it, which means that the creators can't afford to continue with the project unless they really don't mind it being a loss-making passion project (and not many people have time for that). It's a horrible spiral and right now there is no solution.

The Lil' Five: Official Site, Facebook

Yummy Lemons
Yummy Lemons A Mini Comic (2012)
By: Tyron Love

Yummy Lemons is an autobiographical comic series that collects the first eight comic pages of the story of the birth, and first few notable moments, of his son Emmett's life. It's an endearing piece of work full of dad anxiety and humour, as well as lots of love. This mini comic is a full-colour "pocket size" compilation that Tyrone Love printed to give away at Co/Mix 2012 in exchange for anything, from something interesting in your bag to a hug.

You can see black and white examples of some of the pages in the archives on the Free Beer blog.

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom
A Six-Issue Comic Arc (Fairest Issues #8-#13) (2012-2013)
Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

Writer: Lauren Beukes
Artist: Inaki Miranda
Colours: Eva de la Cruz
Letters: Todd Klein
Covers: Adam Hughes

This is the big one - author Lauren Beukes' six-issue story arc for Fairest, the spin off from Bill Willingham's award-winning series Fables, both published by DC Vertigo.

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom is a prequel to the events that began with the first issue of Fables and therefore those unfamiliar with that series will still be able to enjoy this piece as a stand-alone story. It follows Rapunzel's quest to find her long-lost children and sees her heading to Japan to face her past. Yokai and Japanese myths and culture are woven into the story, widening the Fables universe in the process, and a handful of familiar Fables characters make cameo appearances in the story, which is a treat for fans of the series.

The art, by Inaki Miranda, is wonderfully detailed with at least one spread per issue that just forces you to stop and catch your breath. The story is rich and the pace, which is set by a combination of the text, the art, and the panel layouts, is swift and punchy.

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom is a series that everyone should have in their local-comics collection. You can ask your comics store to order back copies if it doesn't have any more in stock or wait until July for the graphic novel compilation to be released. Either way, make sure you get it.

Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom

Revenge Comix
Revenge Comix A Mini Comic/Zine (2012)
By: Guy Thomas

Revenge Comix, another product of the Cape Town Zine Project, is a short tale of a romance that blooms and then declines. The art is a bit raw, with a few panels that seem rushed, but the story is both poignant and amusing - and there's a devious cat involved.

Revenge Comix: Cape Town Zine Project

Grassy Knoll Anthologies
Grassy Knoll Anthologies A Mini Comic/Zine (2012)
By: Gina Viglietti

Here's another zine with a cat, who is less devious but just as cool. The short story is about a guy trying to quit smoking but it's fun and in a very short space of time introduces five interesting characters that I hope we will see more of. The zine is printed on newsprint but the illustration style, which is like a comic's pencilling stage that is just waiting for an inker to finalise the artwork, suits the medium perfectly. The art is great and infuses the characters with personality even when they aren't saying a word.

Be sure to scroll through Gina Viglietti's Tumblr posts to see more of her art.

Grassy Knoll Anthologies: Tumblr Post, Preview
Gina Viglietti: Behance, Tumblr

Rebirth A Graphic Novel (2012)
Writers: Josh Ryba and Daniel Browde
Art: Josh Ryba
Lettering: Thenjiwe Nkosi and Daniel Browde

Rebirth, by a team from Johannesburg that launched the publication earlier this year, has been billed (by some) as South Africa's first graphic novel. Whether it being first is true depends on what you consider a graphic novel to be, I guess, but this is definitely an ambitious contemporary attempt at producing one.

The story casts Jan van Riebeeck as a vampire and places a secret council of vampires at the heart of the Dutch East India Company. It's a good start but I then found that the character (who in real life had a substantially interesting life and career beyond his stay at Cape Town, much of it open to interpretation as not much is well documented of his life bar the places to which he travelled) was wasted.

Skip forward to the present and you have AIDS subtext (the few remaining South African vampires are quarantined in the country to avoid the spread of an AIDS-like pandemic that afflicts only vampires) and a human protagonist searching for meaning and purpose in his life.

The art has a dreamy quality about it that's very noticeable in print, less so in the digital samples you'll find online, due to Josh Ryba's colouring style, that I don't think quite matches the mature themes and violence, even if vampires are involved, but examined separately from the story there are some beautiful panels that have been drawn masterfully. His inspiration is Disney animation and this is directly reflected in the work, which also doesn't quite work for the tone of the story - it needs something grittier.

The story is a bit thin, for all the rich art that, at times, overpowers it, and the pace is slower than it should be, so I have mixed feelings about this graphic novel - while it's not bad and I would definitely recommend buying it, it didn't wow me the way that it seems to have wowed others, but then I didn't think Fables was that great either until some surprise moments occurred in the second storyline set on The Farm. There's potential here in Rebirth, and lots of talent, so it's up to the creators to continue by making more of what they've got. I hope they will.

(If you want to meet the creators they will be at Cosmic Comics in Johannesburg tomorrow for Free Comic Book Day.)

Free Comic Book Day 2013
Free Comic Book Day is tomorrow. Comic-book stores all over the world will be participating and handing out free comics published for the day by some of the industry's biggest players. In Cape Town, Readers Den will be having a huge celebration at Stadium On Main in Claremont at which a number of local comics producers, some of whom are highlighted here, will be launching new titles, as well as work completed especially for the day.

The festivities begin at 09:00 and it's going to be a really fun day. See you there. (Bring lots of cash - you'll need it!)

Tags: #books, #cape_town, #cats, #comics, #horror, #lauren_beukes, #lgbti, #pirates, #speculative_fiction, #team_scripticon, #vampires

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