Rise of the Independents: The SA Comic Book Scene Takes OffBy Moray Rhoda 6 May 2014 | Categories: feature articles
Comic book expert, Moray Rhoda, believes now is the time to get involved in the local comic book scene.
I’ve sung the praises of SA comics in this column before, but there has never been a better time to get involved with local comics than this very moment. More local comics are being produced than ever before and at quality and production values that rival international comics.
In the last five years several new individual comic creators have come to the fore, drastically improving the range and diversity of SA comics. Gone are the days of bitter social commentary and dire political satire, replaced instead by a new generation of artists and writers exploring fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction. Comics like Wrath, Gofu (www.uocomics.com), Oneironaut & Other Tales, The Lil 5 and Cottonstar are great examples of well-produced, technically proficient and entertaining books. But these are only the tip of the iceberg, since come 3 May on Free Comic Book Day, 15 new SA comic books are set to launch.
The events are working
Over the past few years, local events like UCON, ICON, rAge and Open Book Comics Fest have helped local independent comic creators get their books out to new audiences. These kind of events are critical to the future of SA comics, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the events come with built-in audiences that are already positively primed to appreciate comics
and financially support books they enjoy. Secondly, SA comic creators are given specific dates to aim for, which encourages them to keep on producing new work, which in turn leads to constantly improved comic books. Most importantly though, these events create an environment where comic creators can see the level of work produced by their peers and it encourages networking opportunities for future collaborative events or books.
The ease of digital printing and the ability to put one’s work online has been the other major factor that has enabled local comic creators to gain a worldwide audience. Better technology and more devices such as iPads, smartphones and Kindles that can deliver books to the masses have largely leveled the playing field and removed one of
the biggest barriers SA artists traditionally faced. With these distribution issues largely erased by providers like Comixology, SA artists are getting their work seen and noticed by a much broader audience.
Internationally SA comic creators are also getting noticed, with more locals breaking through and getting publishing deals with companies as diverse as Fantagraphics, DC Comics, Dynamite Entertainment and Heavy Metal.
What has become clear is that with the sheer variety of subject matter, genres, execution of art and stories, as well as the actual print and online formats, the ever-popular “What qualifies as South African comics?”, will become a moot point. For lovers of good storytelling, this lack of homogenous and stereotypically “South African visual vernacular” is fantastic news. Ultimately it will create a breed of SA comic artist that isn’t bound by conventions and history, but is an explorer that will focus less on reproducing the past and more on creating their own unique visions of the future.
A safe prediction would be that more SA comics will be produced every year and eventually SA will have a profitable and professional comic book industry. No-one can predict the future of SA comics though, but as far as I am concerned, the possibilities are endless.
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