Sunday Times

TO GEEK AND NOT TO YIELD

Africa’s first Comic Con was a dream come true for lo­cal geeks — some of them, any­way

- WORDS BY Nikita Ramkissoon Entertainment · Comics · Geek Culture · Video Games · Gaming · Mark Zuckerberg · World of Warcraft · Harry Potter · Harry Potter · Star Wars · Timely Marvel Comics · Washington · William Shatner · Star Trek · United States of America · Jason Momoa · Game of Thrones · self-publishing · Damian Wayne · Harley Quinn · RPG · Bill Gates · Warcraft · Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi · Consequence · Fun (band)

Ionce went to an event where the en­trance stamp on my wrist read, “The geek shall in­herit the Earth”. It was cute and funny, and it made peo­ple gig­gle. But the truth of it re­ally hit home when some­one pointed out that Bill Gates and Mark Zucker­berg are the geeks that re­ally did in­herit the Earth. Geeks are not just the so­cially in­ept kids in your class who bury their noses in World of War­craft and Dun­geons and Dragons. They’re the ones who code. The ones who in­vent. The ones who draw fan­tas­tic art­works and make them real in 3-D ren­der­ings on a screen that even­tu­ally come to life when some­one de­cides to turn your favourite book into a movie.

They’re also the ones who see the magic where ev­ery­one else can’t. They make the magic real by cos­play or Larp­ing.

Sure, geek cul­ture en­tered the main­stream a long time ago, and the stereo­type of the shy and nerdy in­tro­vert has been re­placed with ob­nox­ious in­ter­net trolls. From the cast­ing de­ci­sions of Harry Pot­ter and its Aw­ful Stage Se­quel to changes to the es­tab­lished canon in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, geeks rally around one com­mon thread: they be­lieve in magic. The stead­fast be­lief in their cho­sen faith, whether it’s Marvel, DC or Star Trek, is not just an es­cape from re­al­ity. It’s a path they chose to which they hold true.

South African geeks have had to spend thou­sands to go to the US to see their favourite fan­doms on display at Comic Cons. So the cov­eted event com­ing to our shores was a dream come true.

For the ca­sual observer, there could have been more in terms of the big acts. Ja­son Mo­moa, aka Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones, can­celled and there was no real draw­card.

But for the sea­soned geek, the ex­hibits were some­thing to behold. Comics, which is where most geek­dom be­gins, were avail­able ev­ery­where.

Usu­ally we have to go to artists and writ­ers di­rectly to get lo­cal comics, but at the event there were stands with self-pub­lish­ing artists who we could speak to about their work.

The comic scene here is so tiny that peo­ple some­times think it doesn’t ex­ist, and lo­cal comics are hard to track down. But we got to see Kwezi, SA’s first black su­per­hero, the leg­end of Shaka by artist Luke Molver, sculp­tures, jew­ellery, paint­ings, and cre­ativ­ity all round.

The cos­play was off the charts. One man dressed as Bat­man for char­ity. A cou­ple of friends made their out­fits the night be­fore. Every­body tried to do some­thing even if it was just rock­ing up in a fan­dom T-shirt or a store-bought cat suit.

Even the peo­ple who are not ded­i­cated geeks were in their el­e­ment. Kids were be­ing in­tro­duced to fan­dom in ways we never had grow­ing up.

Ev­ery­one got into the spirit of things. Not all cos­play was per­fect, but you could see the ef­fort that had been put in and it was di­verse and in good faith that no­body would cause any trou­ble. There was even a cos­play sta­tion where there were peo­ple with sewing ma­chines to help fix out­fits that were fall­ing apart.

There are in­evitable is­sues within geek cul­ture. It’s mainly white and male, and toxic in some spa­ces.

The is­sues with race are said by some to be mainly so­cioe­co­nomic in that many black peo­ple sim­ply can­not af­ford how ex­pen­sive geek­dom re­ally is. The ex­penses are be­yond what­ever is within the grasp of kids from pub­lic schools. But there is also the is­sue of hav­ing to qual­ify your geek­dom. Mainly di­rected at brown-skinned kids and women, this is an age-old fight that we have had to en­dure through the toxic mas­culin­ity on display since the dawn of comic books.

It’s not just be­ing called “fake geek girls” or be­ing asked “what does a black per­son know about X fan­dom?” It’s real and rears its ugly head when geeks hide be­hind key­boards and body-shame fat peo­ple for cos­play­ing as Har­ley Quinn, or call­ing women who Larp “girls try­ing to be boys”.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, sex­ism in gam­ing came to a head in

2014 with Gamer­gate, in which the ugly re­al­ity of gam­ing for women, both in the in­dus­try and as play­ers, was laid bare.

Gamer­gate was the re­lent­less tar­get­ing of cer­tain women gamers and game crit­ics over the per­ceived fem­i­ni­sa­tion of the typ­i­cally male world of gam­ing. It con­sisted of death threats, rape threats, and real-life in­tim­i­da­tion. Some of the vic­tims even had to go into hid­ing. It’s not all sun­shine and “pew pew”.

Even so, these things were not ap­par­ent at Comic Con Africa. And there is hope yet for geek cul­ture in SA, where geeks just want to have fun. Af­ter all, when re­al­ity is so de­press­ing, who wouldn’t want to be­lieve in magic? LS

GEEKS RALLY AROUND ONE COM­MON THREAD: BE­LIEF IN MAGIC

BUT GAM­ING IS NOT ALL SUN­SHINE AND ‘PEW PEW’

 ?? Pic­ture: Neil­son Barnard/Getty Im­ages ?? A New York cos­play fan.
Pic­ture: Neil­son Barnard/Getty Im­ages A New York cos­play fan.
 ?? Pic­ture: Neil­son Barnard/Getty Im­ages ?? Cos­play fans at New York Comic Con in 2013.
Pic­ture: Neil­son Barnard/Getty Im­ages Cos­play fans at New York Comic Con in 2013.

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