Comics: South African Roundup #4

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 30 April 2014
Category: Features Comments View Comments


Some very good South African comics were launched last year and the quality just keeps getting better. Here is a roundup (mainly) of some of those books, which feature office high jinks, mind-bending existential mashups, and dramatic speculative fiction, as well as an in-depth review of a collection of an impressive body of work that spans more than a decade.

As Free Comic Book Day is just a few days away it's time to get excited about our local comics creators and all the great comics that are going to be launched this year. This roundup, the fourth in's continuing series, primarily features creators who are likely to be at the celebrations in Cape Town on Saturday. If you haven't bought their work, now is your chance. Read on to help you decide which publications should be on your shelf.

Clockworx An anthology comic; early 2005; 40 pages; colour
Contributors: Moray Rhoda, Daniël Hugo, Brendon Hayes, Kian Eriksen, Nicolas Rix, Clowey Matrimoney, Vincent Sammy, Rob Hooper, Mark Rust
Publisher: Insurrection Studios
ISBN: 0620322047

Clockworx was one of the many failed attempts to get a local-comics publishing scene going in South Africa in the mid 2000s. I say "failed" because unfortunately it was ahead of its time and back then the public wasn't interested in anything South African (remember the "local music sucks" and "local film sucks" culture that went on for a few years?) and assumed the quality to be rubbish, even though there is some really good work in this anthology. Excitingly, for those who are fast becoming scholars of the local comics industry, it features early work by people who are now self publishing and gaining a following of their own, some of whom are featured later in this roundup.

Many of the contributors have now also had multiple short pieces published in Velocity Graphic Anthology and Clockworx really is a precursor to that series. It follows the same format of full-colour short comics, none of which are related to each other, by a collection of creators who are experimenting and honing their craft. Here and there, of course, it's a bit hit and miss but it does feature one of my all-time favourite short comics, Perspective, by Moray Rhoda and Daniël Hugo (see below), which, to my mind, questions the futility of war and examines the cycle of life in a very graphic and compelling way.

Perspective is the first story in the anthology and gives it a strong opening. It is followed by High Octane by Brendon Hayes, which features a white-trash "oke" from the suburbs in Durban, who has an ice-cream-truck business, and his employee-friend "Geelbek". The pair spend a final day in Durban enjoying some of the sights and sounds before embarking on a big adventure. There are sections where it's hard to follow the order of the dialog and the ending, if I understood it correctly, is very much a non sequitur, although if you go back and re-read it there are signs in the story that point to what the ending is going to be - they just don't really make sense at the time. The comic is a bit of a mess, including some errors in the text, but it's still fun.

Up next is a very provocative one-page comic by Kian Eriksen, called Electric Soda, that's presented as a safe-sex advertisement. It features robots instead of humans but some of the panels are still quite explicit. It's really hard to know whether one should be shocked (given the context of the more conservative time in which it was published) or amused. I think a combination of both is warranted. Nevertheless I like it. It's unapologetically naughty.

The Way Of Death, by Nicolas Rix, is a battle of good and evil that's based in Japan so, unsurprisingly, the art style borrows generously from anime and manga. The comic ends in such a way that it makes you feel as if there's another story somewhere that you should have read at some point. It makes sense but it feels as if there's a whole history you should know and therefore it weakens the ending. It's not quite a deus ex machina technique (if you can even call that a technique, rather than a cop out) but it comes close. The text also has some spelling and punctuation errors but the art is good and very dynamic.

I suspect that George The SS Fighter Pilot, by Clowey Matrimoney (obviously a pseudonym), was just an excuse to draw swastikas although the humour is quite zany and the art style is definitely influenced by The Beano comics (or something similar). George is a neo Nazi who goes to a genealogy lab to have his ancestry traced back to Nazi Germany, with unsurprisingly surprising results but the punchline is amusing.

Nomenclatorque, by Vincent Sammy (who also did the cover art), is particularly interesting as you can see the beginnings of what is becoming a trademark style of "idea collages" (for lack of a better phrase, although there is actually a better way to describe it, as you'll see in my Echo Gear Issue 0 review below). His work is a mix of text, typography, art, and photography that has a poetic stream-of-consciousness feel about it. I've read Nomenclatorque a number of times and I can't really explain what it is about - I think it has to do with the nature (and pointlessness) of identity and the impermanence of life. You have to work hard, and it is often difficult to understand, but I like that he does this. Not everything has to make sense and you are free to interpret it for yourself.

Oscar And The Genie, by pin-up artist Rob Hooper, is a lighthearted tale that jabs at the human predilection for greed and corruption. It features a (literally) brainless protagonist who stumbles upon a genie in Iraq and he is then granted three wishes. The art is cartoonish but appropriate for the story and there are some spelling mistakes (not counting the intentional misspellings to indicate speech patterns). It's probably my least favourite story in the collection but that's personal preference more than anything.

The final piece is Asphinxiate by Mark Rust. It flips between two interconnected stories, one featuring an excavation in Egypt and another featuring a drop ship heading to the surface of Mars to drop off scientists that intend to run experiments. The art, notably the characters, is primarily rendered in 3D, with what I suspect is a bit of photography that's been digitally manipulated to look like painted art for some of the backgrounds. It's sometimes difficult to follow the flow of the text boxes - in some cases even reading them in different sequences I wasn't sure which order was correct - and there are far too many punctuation errors and spelling mistakes but the ending is very good and a great way to conclude this anthology.

Clockworx is printed on glossy paper stock using what looks like colour halftoning (the dots are only really visible in gradients) but it's still pretty good quality, although the registration on a couple of pages is slightly out, making the text look a little fuzzy. The cover - of my copy, anyway - wasn't quite cut to the same size of the pages (it's slightly larger) and the paper is the same thickness as the interior pages so it's prone to getting a bit damaged on the corners, although the spine stapling is still intact (because I look after my copy - others may not be as fortunate).

There are a few copies left of this anthology but it is becoming increasingly hard to find. It's good to see early work by people such as Daniël Hugo, Vincent Sammy, and Mark Rust so grab one if you can, while you can.

Gofu Part 1
Gofu Part 1 Comic; 7 September 2013; 16 pages; black and white
By: Deon de Lange
Publisher: UO Comics

This is part one of a planned six-part series featuring a giant four-legged, two-armed beast named Gofu. Gofu, guided by his friend Tatsu, who is a small creature who lives in a house that's strapped to Gofu's chest, may be the last of his kind and certainly is on the run from as yet unexplained forces who are intent on exterminating him.

Gofu is set in creator Deon de Lange's Unknown Origins (UO) universe, his speculative-fiction universe that is home to a number of other comics he is working on, including the web comic Tomica, which he recently launched.

The comic features a laminated colour cover and black-and-white interior pages comprising thick, glossy stock. For the most part the print quality is good, although thinner lines and some of the text suffers very slightly from what I assume is halftone printing struggling to keep lines very crisp.

Gofu Part 1 features a fantastic opening sequence that caught me by surprise even though I had seen some spoiler artwork at the comic's launch at the Open Book Comics Festival last year. The story is told mainly through the art, with just a small amount of text here and there (and a couple of punctuation errors). Deon's black-and-white line work is very beautiful, detailed, and intricate but this does unfortunately have the effect that at times it's difficult to distinguish the foreground from the background in panels that are particularly busy. You end up rereading sections and paging back and forth as tight closeups make way for wider framings that give you better context to understand what was happening in the close-up panels.

Gofu Part 1

I still really love the art, however, and Deon is an exceptionally skilled colourist (see the 1920x1200 wallpaper here for reference) so I imagine (or perhaps hope) that if this series does well we may see it in colour in the future (black and white printing, of course, is much cheaper). I expect then the foreground art will be much more distinct.

The comic ends with a gallery page of sketches that show character and object development, which will particularly be of interest to people who are learning how to illustrate or who are interested in how characters are designed and constructed, and the back page has teaser art for the Unknown Origins universe.

Although the story is the first part of a series it is also self contained and can be read independently of what is coming next. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the continuation of the series.

Gofu Part 2 will be launched on Saturday as part of the Free Comic Book Day celebrations in Cape Town.

UO Comics: Official Site

Echo Gear Issue 0
Echo Gear Issue 0 Comic; 7 September 2013; 16 pages; black and white
By: Vincent Sammy

Echo Gear Issue 0 is by Vincent Sammy who has contributed to comics projects for over a decade (see Clockworx, above) but is probably best known for his work as a speculative fiction cover designer and illustrator for projects such as the Something Wicked magazines and anthologies and some of the publications by Jurassic London, including Reading Between The Lines. Echo Gear Issue 0 is an introduction, or a prequel, to a larger project that Vincent will be launching at this year's Free Comic Book Day in Cape Town.

The "echo gear" of the title seems specifically to be referencing listening devices, one of which you can see illustrated on the cover. Inside, there are adverts for listening, recording, and documenting devices including, most notably, the Grey Noise Construct, which looks like a parabolic listening device and which "can be utilised in any mdn (memory/dream/nightmare)".

The comic features numerous pages, which are similar in style to Nomenclatorque in Clockworx, that comprise collages of obscure text, photography, and illustration. The iconography includes Morse code, a frequency, a UPC number, an NDC number, bar codes, and circuit diagrams, some of which is relevant to the publication (I decoded all the Morse code but I'll leave that to individual readers to figure out for themselves) and some of which may, disappointingly, only be decorative devices, such as the UPC number, the NDC number, and the bar codes, although perhaps they could have a future meaning once more of the world is developed. (The UPC code is for a 300mg dose of a drug called Gabapentin, which is used to treat seizures and certain kinds of nerve pain, among other things. There is no record for the NDC number in the FDA database.)

There is also a more traditional multi-panel comic that takes up six pages but it is wordless and as cryptic as the rest of the publication, although its basis seems to be horror and speculative fiction.

Echo Gear Issue 0

Echo Gear Issue 0 is printed on newsprint, with a cardboard cover, but the newsprint doesn't have much effect on the print quality, and the final product looks good - I think newsprint was an excellent choice. The edges of the text aren't too crisp but you really have to look closely to notice it. In contrast, the detail in the illustrations is well reproduced and some of the art is fantastic, which is no surprise considering that Vincent is starting to be nominated for international awards for his cover-design work.

Whether the "echo" of Echo Gear means "sound", "ghost"/"residual presence", or "fading image from a dream or memory" remains to be seen and I don't yet know what's going on. This is the best I can piece together from what's there and I don't know how accurate I am as much of it seems to be open for interpretation. I'm intrigued, however.

The Echo Gear series, in Vincent Sammy's own words, 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". I couldn't describe it better myself. Even though it's confounding Echo Gear Issue 0 is beautifully presented and worth adding to your collection.

[ YouTube link ]

Echo Gear Issue 1 will be launched on Saturday as part of the Free Comic Book Day celebrations in Cape Town.

Echo Gear: Facebook, Wordpress

Project Tilian Rep
Project Tilian Rep Mini comic; 7 September 2013; 16 pages; black and white
By: Luis Tolosana
Publisher: Falcon Comics

Project Tilian Rep is a really cool little mini comic by Luis Tolosana, who created the full-colour, beautifully illustrated "silent comic" Philo's Wish, which is one of my favourite local comics.

This short story, which is based in a post-apocalyptic setting, features a homeless man with a dark secret who is given the opportunity to uncover answers to questions he has about his past and who he is.

The black-and-white art, with one tone of grey for shading, is great and typically detailed, even for such a small format. The comic is stapled and the centre is well utilised with a one-panel spread that serves as a dramatic highlight in the story and an end to the "first act". It's really well done. The panel arrangement elsewhere is sometimes quite complicated but you never have a problem figuring out where to go next, nor are the text elements confusing to follow. There are only some very minor errors in the text (a missing full stop and ellipsis dot, for example).

Project Tilian Rep The entire comic, including the cover, is printed on newsprint and I love it. I think the size and the choice of paper is perfect and I hope that other comics creators who are perhaps hesitant to publish something will utilise this format, which is inexpensive to print, to test the waters.

The story is both self contained and ends on a cliff hanger so I hope that Luis will revisit it at some point as there's lots to explore. I really want to know what happens next.

Luis Tolosana will be launching a new comic, The Way Of Tao And Zen, on Saturday as part of the Free Comic Book Day celebrations in Cape Town.

Falcon Comics: Facebook

The Oneironaut & Other Tales
The Oneironaut & Other Tales An anthology of comic work; 7 September 2013; 132 pages; colour
By: Daniël Hugo
Additional Contributors: Amanda Cooper, Jason Gelund, Grant Muller, Moray Rhoda, Christo van Wyk
ISBN: 9780620578462

The Oneironaut & Other Tales is a glossy, high-quality compilation of the comics work that artist Daniël Hugo produced between 2000 and 2013. Some of the stories are pieces that he wrote and illustrated alone and others are collaborations with writers that appeared in anthologies such as Clockworx (see above), Igubu, and Velocity Graphic Anthology.

The anthology starts with Daniël's collection of tales featuring his character the Oneironaut, which manifested as a result of a dream he had in 1997. The Oneironaut is so named in reference to the character being a "dream traveller" who is the focus of these stories that were, themselves, partly based on dreams Daniël had that he sketched in notebooks and then later turned into comics when he was looking for subject matter for his new chosen creative outlet of being a comics creator.

As they are based on dreams the Oneironaut tales are very surreal and open to interpretation but they are wonderful - they traverse science fiction and fantasy, some stories continue later on, other stories stand alone - and are all bound together by the Oneironaut character (who, in one instance (pictured below, left), is a woman instead of a man). Some of the work has been published in other anthologies so I've seen some of it independently of this book in a rather random fashion and it was great, finally, to be able to read all of the stories in chronological order. If I'm not mistaken all of the stories were also originally produced in black and white and then coloured either for this book or, occasionally, for anthologies they appeared in and, although the line work is detailed and lovely, I think the stories (except, perhaps, Eye and Equilibrium) benefit from being in colour - it adds a whole new level to the world(s) that Daniël has created.

The two The Thing From There stories - Incident At Devil's Peak and Tale Of An Aardvark - are next. Both stories are graphic reinterpretations of harrowing events from Daniël's life, narrated by an otherworldly creature named The Thing From There, that he completed as a cathartic way to work through the experiences. The stories were originally in black and white and have appeared elsewhere in that form, including on Daniël's web site (where you can also find the Oneironaut tales in black and white, as well as some of the other stories in this anthology) and GrafLit, in the case of Tale Of An Aardvark. For this book, however, they have been coloured. In contrast to the Oneironaut tales, where I think most benefit from colour, I prefer the The Thing From There stories in black and white as it really emphasises the traumatic events that unfolds, whereas the colour seems to mute the impact. Nevertheless, both are very personal stories - you feel it as you read them - and it's very unlikely that you will come away unaffected. I think they are exceptional examples of the kind of storytelling that comics can be used for when the theme is not politics or speculative fiction.

The Oneironaut & Other Tales

In between the two The Thing From There stories is Perspective, a collaboration with Moray Rhoda that was published in Clockworx (see above), and then next is The Clandestine Revolt Of Leyla Nagast, which is a tale of rebellion set in a futuristic dystopian Cape Town. This is another story that I think originally was produced in black and white but I love the colour version, which really brings the science fiction Cape Town to life. The colour is also used effectively to convey day and night, as well as a beautiful blue hour sunrise in the first panel that illuminates the horizon behind Devil's Peak and Table Mountain.

Next is Darker Forces, a collaboration with Moray Rhoda and Christo van Wyk that was published in Velocity Graphic Anthology 1. It is set in the future on a planet ravaged by war caused by an invading alien force that's intent on wiping out the humans, and the protagonist is a young boy who gets caught up in the middle of an assault. The version in Velocity Graphic Anthology 1 featured very dream-like colouring, predominantly in yellow to emphasis the alienness, I presume, but this version has gone back to a more stark presentation featuring grey tones and selective colourisation. I don't know which is better - I think they are both terrific - but it's interesting to see how colour work can affect storytelling.

Finally, we have Imaan September, a collaboration with Amanda Cooper and Grant Muller, and A Genesis, a collaboration with Jason Gelund. Imaan September (pictured above, right) imagines an alternate South Africa (set, I think, around 1905, although the vehicles seem to be closer to something from the 1930s) in which apartheid didn't happen so in Cape Town, where the story is set, the population is predominantly Muslim and elsewhere in the country "Shaka III" is making newspaper headlines. Cape Town's citizens aren't faring too well, however, and the story features an act of rebellion against an oppressive regime. Unfortunately the last panel is marred by too much text that should have appeared before the panel as it destroys the visual impact of what is a very strong climax to the story but otherwise it's an interesting alternate world that i very much enjoyed being immersed in.

A Genesis (pictured below) is scheduled to be published in Velocity Graphic Anthology 4 (which may or may not be out in July this year) but Daniël has included it here already, which I'm extremely pleased about. The story is complicated to explain (much of it, itself, involves exposition) but it is set on an alien world and concerns another rebellion, this time against a hive queen who expects unquestioning loyalty from her brood.

The Oneironaut & Other Tales

The book ends with a selection of art from Daniël's sketch books and a long interview conducted by Moray Rhoda, which is fascinating if you're interested in understanding more about Daniël's history, work, and processes, but which does need some copy editing (as does the text in many of the comics - there are spelling and punctuation errors that still, even after multiple appearances in publications over the years, haven't been fixed). The interview is illustrated with more work-in-progress and development sketches of some of the work that's in the book so they are interesting to reference after you've read the stories and are familiar with the final art.

The last few pages feature pinups that appeared in various Velocity Graphic Anthology issues, as well as Twisted Vixens And Book Of The Dead: A Digital Fantasy Art Anthology. Each image is well executed as a piece of art and a single image that tells a detailed story but most feature women in borderline male gaze armour or attire and presentation, which leaves me uneasy. I'm not going to delve further into this, however, for two reasons. First, Daniël and I have previously talked about this and I think that some of what I've said has resonated with him, therefore I want to see what he produces next - this is, after all, a compilation of work that goes back to 2000. The second reason is because I'm saving this topic for exploration in a future roundup in which I will be looking at Velocity Graphic Anthology in depth - both the comics and pin-up art that appears in each issue.

This has been a very long review but I think it's warranted, given the body of work, and the history, represented in The Oneironaut & Other Tales. This is a fantastic compilation - it's coffee-table-book quality - and I highly recommend it.

Velocity: Darker Forces, which is being launched at Free Comic Book Day this year in Cape Town, features 34 artists from South Africa and Australia/New Zealand, including Daniël, tackling a story written by Moray Rhoda and Neville Howard that is based in the Darker Forces world that appears in Daniël Hugo's book.

Daniël Hugo: Official Site, DeviantArt
Darker Forces: Facebook

Week Daze Volume 1
Week Daze Volume 1
A print compilation of a web comic; 7 September 2013; 28 pages; colour
By: Andrew Cramer
ISBN: 9780620581615

Week Daze Volume 1 is a compilation of the first 25 strips of Week Daze, a web comic published by Andrew Cramer mainly in 2008 and 2009, plus two bonus strips that weren't published online. The book was launched at last year's Open Book Comics Festival in Cape Town.

Week Daze features the misadventures of Johnson Jones, a digital artist, and Puck, a music engineer, as well as their colleagues at Swindle Studios, a multimedia company. Johnson Jones's cat also has a starring role in a few of the strips. Most of the strips, which feature two rows and multiple panels per row, are self-contained stories but a few run over more than one strip.

The beginning of the book has a page that introduces all the characters, which I initially liked until I started reading through and discovered that much of the character-description information comes directly from introductory moments in various strips so it has the effect of diluting the organic experience of character discovery that's a natural result of storyline progression. (Or, in plain English, you read something in a strip and you go "ergh, but I knew that already" and feel disappointed.)

Andrew Cramer is the brother of Jarred Cramer, the creator of Juvies, and you can clearly see how they share similar senses of humour and art styles, and likely influence each other with their work. I really love the art of Week Daze - Andrew is very good at infusing his characters with personality and movement and it's all lots of fun - but, for the most part, the humour doesn't appeal to me. I don't think the punch lines are strong enough but I do think there is a lot of potential in the characters and settings he has created, which were a progression of a strip he experiment with while in college, called School Daze.

Week Daze Volume 1

The strips are beautifully produced in full colour on decent glossy-paper stock. It makes the colours vibrant and the black line work a deep, reflective black. The presentation is excellent. There are (mainly) visual pop-culture references everywhere, which are really quite fun to discover (although I don't know if they're legal), and they also have the effect of forcing you to slow down and pay attention to the detail in the art. More than once I paged back to look for something I had missed because I was too focussed on the text.

The online Week Daze comic fell into a bit of a black hole as Andrew's time was increasingly taken up with freelance projects but I hope he will get back to it sometime. He put in so much effort to develop these characters and build their world that it would be a shame to see it end so abruptly.

Andrew Cramer: Blog, DeviantArt, Pinterest, Twitter

The Number 1 Game Episode 2 - An Offer You Can't Refuse
The Number 1 Game Episode 2 - An Offer You Can't Refuse Comic; 22 March 2014; 12 pages; black and white
Text And Art: Archie Birch
Lettering: Alex Kopiyo Alaka
Assistant: Simphiwe Magobiyane
Editor: Matthew Kalil
Publisher: Isotrope Media

Episode [sic] 2 continues the story of teenager Joseph Khunga, who has crossed the waters of True Bay, the old Cape Flats area of Cape Town that is now under water, to seek his destiny on Cape Island, which is one of two islands that have now formed from what is left of the Cape Peninsula. This part of the story is narrated by Nestor, a Rasta and bergie who Joe met in the first issue. This issue finally throws in a bunch of teasers, both in the background art and as brief mentions in the storyline, about Number 1 Game, which seems to be a gaming tournament connected to a corporation called LordCorp. Considering the type of story that this is, I can't imagine that LordCorp is a benevolent entity.

In this part of the story a gang that operates on Cape Island starts to put Joe's programming skills to good use for bookkeeping purposes but his choice to work for them comes at a cost. His skills also bring him to the attention of LordCorp, which can't be good for Joe but presumably is related to his destiny. The bergies don't play much of a part in this issue but I imagine that they will be back. They are interesting characters that I would like to see more of.

Each black-and-white interior page contains four rows of one to three panels, which makes it seem very dense at first glance but works perfectly for the flow of the story when you're reading. Larger panels the size of half a page are interspersed here and there and, bar breaking up the routine of the smaller panels, serve as establishing shots to show off more of the world and the environments. I immediately noticed the difference in the print quality of the black-and-white pages of this issue in comparison with the first one, so I'm glad to see that the publishers have chosen a better printing company or print method. The intricate, detailed line work is produced much crisper here and this really is more respectful of the effort that Archie Birch put into the art.

I am glad that Archie Birch and Isotrope Media are continuing with the publication of this series. Bar the occasional punctuation mistake it's a professional piece of visual storytelling and I hope the quality remains this high as the story continues in future issues.

The Number 1 Game: Facebook
Archie Birch: Official Site
Isotrope Media: Official Site, Facebook

Most of these comics creators will be at Free Comic Book Day in Cape Town on Saturday 3 May 2014, which is being hosted by Readers Den at Stadium On Main. They will be selling these comics, as well as new titles. If you're in the city this will be your best chance, for a while, to meet the creators - Deon de Lange especially - and ask them to sign your copies.

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

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