Design Indaba: The Secret Identity Of South African Comics

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 26 March 2014
Category: Features Comments View Comments


For the past few years local comics creators have quietly been working on publications and getting them printed, to the delight of a growing South African fan base. At this year's Design Indaba four artists took to the exhibition stage to talk about the fantastic work that is being created by a small but passionate group of artists and writers all over the country.

This year Design Indaba finally gave South African comics a chance to be in the spotlight. Four local representatives of the industry were invited to speak about their work, what has been happening in comics in South Africa, and how the industry ended up presenting about local comics at San Diego Comic-Con International last year to an international audience.

The event took place on the Friday of Design Indaba in the exhibition space, which was open to the public and which is traditionally the day that schools visit, so most of the audience comprised high-school kids that were eager to learn more about getting into the world of comics.

The presenters, Ray Whitcher, Moray Rhoda, Daniël Hugo, and Chris Beukes, each had about five minutes to talk about various aspects of the local comics industry, which wasn't nearly enough time, but they did their best to give a good overview while showcasing publications and work on a large screen above the presentation area.

Ray Whitcher
Design Indaba: The Secret Identity Of South African Comics

Up first was Ray Whitcher, who is an illustrator and scholar of comics adaptation theory, as well as one of the administrators of, an online gathering place for South African artists, comics creators, and illustrators.

Ray, along with Moray Rhoda, from South Africa, and Neville Howard, from Australia, were invited, with very little warning, to speak about comics from Southern Africa and Australia at last year's San Diego Comic-Con International and, specifically, about Velocity Anthology, the South African-Australian co-publication that Moray and Neville founded. It was a huge opportunity to bring local work to the attention of the world and the three worked very hard to raise funds to get there in time and promote the industry.

At Design Indaba Ray spoke about the Comic-Con adventure and also talked a bit about what the team had observed there. One of the takeaway points was that local work is good enough to be represented at Comic-Con. It may be a fledgling industry and most comics creators may do most of the work at home in personal time but the quality is high and we are as good as the rest of the world.

Design Indaba: The Secret Identity Of South African Comics

As he spoke the screen above him displayed examples of local publications, everything from Cottonstar, GEP Pulp, and Rebirth to Gofu, Pubcrawler, and Nero, to indicate the wide range of publications that are available.

Ray also spoke a bit about how comics, locally, are not just superhero tales and that many of the projects that have been (largely self-)published offer social commentary. The fact that we are now at a point where we can be represented at Comic-Con signifies, to many, a rebirth of the industry and I would have to agree. You can have a look at some of the comics roundups that has published (with many more to come) to see just how diverse the local industry is, how many publications there are, and how amazing some of the work is - almost all of which is produced without the backing of a large publisher.

That's not to say that local artists aren't making it big internationally at publishers such as DC and Marvel. Ray finished off his speech by specifically mentioning Jason Masters, who has been drawing Batman and has worked on Human Target and RED comic spinoffs and tie-ins for DC, and Sean Izaakse, who has worked on Pathfinder for Dynamite Entertainment. There is also Lauren Beukes, who has written for DC/Vertigo, and Joe Daly, who has had numerous graphic novels and compilations published by Fantagraphics Books. They are all examples of local creators who have succeeded overseas, which proves it's very possible for anyone from South Africa to forge an international career.

Moray Rhoda
Design Indaba: The Secret Identity Of South African Comics

Moray Rhoda, a writer and illustrator and one of the co-publishers of Velocity Anthology, spoke next about the anthology, as well as his perceptions from San Diego Comic-Con International.

He introduced Velocity Anthology to the audience and discussed how the collaboration on the project happens completely in a virtual space, as the publishers, artists, and writers are on two continents and also work independently to produce their stories before liaising with the publishers. He also said that the project gives up-and-coming creators a chance to reach a wider audience and showcase smaller works that will then give them the confidence to work on larger projects.

Moray said that his experience at Comic-Con indicated that "we are definitely good enough" and that South Africa needs more people to make that international breakthrough and that's what Velocity Anthology is all about. It is looking for people who are willing to do the work and are good enough - in return they get greater exposure and access to an interested international audience.

Moray also spoke about Velocity Anthology's history - how three editions have been published and that a fourth, Darker Forces, has been completed and published in Australia and will be launched in South Africa later this year. Darker Forces was an experiment in which two writers, one in South Africa and one in Australia, wrote the story and then 32 artists, 16 from each country, each took a section of the story to illustrate individually before the entire story was compiled by the publishers.

Moray's talk was helpful in explaining how aspiring creators can get started in the industry locally by working on a smaller project to experience the process, get feedback, and, finally, get something published, which can lead to larger things - if people are willing to put in the effort.

Velocity Anthology: Official Site, DeviantArt, Facebook

Daniël Hugo
Design Indaba: The Secret Identity Of South African Comics

Illustrator Daniël Hugo has been creating comics for over 10 years, quietly contributing to collaborative projects as they sprung up and, in between, working on his own stories initially partly as catharsis and a way to document life stories and work through them emotionally and then partly as a way to experiment with different styles of storytelling. He recently published a wonderful, high quality book, The Oneironaut & Other Tales, that chronologically collects much of his work since 2000.

Daniël told the audience a bit about his history, including how he came to create comics and what the title of the book means, as well as how he has been recording sketches of his dreams in journals since high school and some of them formed the basis for later stories after "percolating" in his head for a few years. He originally started creating comics in 2000 after needing a creative outlet and deciding that comics was the answer. Initially he didn't have story ideas and used the material in the journals as a starting point.

Daniël's talk was an inspiring tale of where ideas can come from and how anyone can use their life experiences and imaginations, whether through dreams or just the weird possibilities that they might be mulling in their heads, to craft stories and start a project.

Daniël Hugo: Official Site

Chris Beukes
Design Indaba: The Secret Identity Of South African Comics

Chris Beukes has produced a few self-published small projects, as well as done work for Velocity Anthology, and has already gained a cult following locally for his great stories and cool characters. His most notable project is Wrath, the first issue of which was launched last year.

Chris told the audience that comics is one of the few mediums left where you can just do what you want to do without corporate interference (assuming, of course, that you aren't working for one of the publishers). All it requires is putting in the work and motivation to keep going. "There is absolutely no reason why you can't be doing it," he told the audience.

He said that, much like some of Daniël Hugo's work, Wrath is a very personal story. Chris chose to wrap it in a science fiction tale because it was almost too painful to tell and this made it easier for him to communicate the story.

[ YouTube link ]

Chris concluded his talk by informing the audience about some of the upcoming comics events that they will be able to attend in Cape Town, which include UCON this weekend at UCT, Free Comic Book Day on 3 May at Stadium On Main, and Open Book Comics Festival in the city centre from 20 September.

What's Next?
Ray and Moray are hoping to represent South Africa again at this year's San Diego Comic-Con International in July but they will only be able to apply for a speaking slot later in the year so we don't yet know if they will be on the schedule. They are also looking to represent South Africa at other notable international comics conventions.

You can look out for Daniël and Chris at some of the upcoming events mentioned above, where you will be able to meet them and buy their work. Most of the publications that were showcased at Design Indaba are also available at Readers Den in Claremont and Tyger Valley and Blank Books in Woodstock, as well as directly from the comics creators.

Tags: #cape_town, #books, #comics, #speculative_fiction

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