Having experienced it, I can now state confidently that FanCon is South Africa’s only 100% legitimate comic convention. There may be cosplay competitions, and you may see many of the same vendors who pop up at South Africa’s other geeky cons. But with its discussion panels, presentations and easy access to local and international creators in a substantial Artists’ Alley, FanCon is a vastly different beast from the rAges and ICONs of the local scene.
A comic convention is distinct from an electronic gaming expo or a tabletop gaming gathering because at its heart is creative appreciation. That applies whether you’re talking about graphic art, writing, cosplay, board game design or sellable, handmade crafts. It’s impossible to leave a comic con without feeling inspired because you spend the day soaking up so much passion and frankly shared knowledge.
FanCon 2017 provided an all-round fantastic and fulfilling experience. It was clearly well-organised – even technical glitches were rare. At a base level, as a venue, the brightly lit and spacious CTICC is world-class and has the facilities to match: plenty of parking and seating, clean bathrooms you never have to queue for, easy accessibility to coffee and snacks, and aircon that works… too well if you’re in a skimpy costume.
Speaking of which, cosplay was a pleasure at the expanded FanCon 2017. You didn’t have to worry about being knocked into, or squeezing through crowds. Con attendees had an excellent grasp of engagement etiquette, and the cosplayers themselves – including the advanced crafters – were very pleasant to talk to. No snootiness.
This said I do find it concerning that “crossover” geeks seem to be rare. A definite split existed at FanCon. The cosplayers seemed to be present solely for the cosplay events, whereas the comics fans were there only for the comics part of the programme. This rift is a bit disappointing as attendees are clearly not taking advantage of the full diversity of the experience. But that’s a people gripe; not a con complaint.
For the record, it was difficult to gauge which of the three days was FanCon’s busiest. Personally, I thought it was Sunday (Day 2), but vendors insisted Saturday (Day 1) was when they did the best business. That was when the serious shoppers came in to snatch up special items and limited stock before it sold out.
Anyway, the absolute highlight of FanCon 2017 – and its huge differentiator from other South African cons – was the panel discussions. On the cosplay side, there were talks on things like making armour, online dangers for cosplayers and how to stage a good photo shoot. Wannabe comics creators enjoyed how-to’s like Breaking into International Comics, while there were also more analytical panels like Humour and Satire in Comics, and The Representation of Women. Miscellaneous geek talks covered vlogging, game design and RPG storytelling. Seriously, you could fill each day simply by moving from panel to panel.
Moderated discussions aside, the “good quiet” of FanCon 2017 as Chew creator John Layman called it, meant you could enjoy a helluva lot more one-on-one chatting time with comic makers at their booths. That’s a privilege you certainly won’t get at huge international cons like New York City, where you can queue for hours for a 1-minute signing. People like industry veteran Ron Marz and The Goon’s Eric Powell only do around 10-15 con appearances a year, and they’re in South Africa, filling one of those precious slots, out of curiosity. And to see lions. To talk to these big names is a unique opportunity, and I kind of wished more attendees took advantage of that.
These days on social media it seems like every other day there’s a new scandal in comics involving an opinionated figure who refuses to apologise. Exposed to that enough, your perspective of the industry can quickly warp to something nightmarish and exclusionary. So, it was the greatest, most pleasing surprise to talk to international creators who shatter that image with their humility and honesty.
John Layman is the nicest man alive, dishing out hugs and witticisms. Despite his crazy hillbilly characters, Eric Powell is soft-spoken, shy and sits ink-washing breathtaking commissions at his booth. Image and Top Cow executive Matt Hawkins is definitely not shy, but he’s approachable and open, happily sharing advice and behind-the-scenes, occasionally almost TMI, stories about artists he’s worked with.
FanCon 2017 was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage (frequently in a tongue-tangled manner) with these creators. Meanwhile, across the aisle from the big internationals were the local guys demonstrating the same level of talent and passion. Combined with the excellent cosplay, and general cheerful fanboy and fangirl giddiness of everyone attending – the Critical Hit team not exempt – FanCon’s Year 2 was an incredibly special experience. 2017 was my first, and I intend it to be an annual pilgrimage.
My personal con highlights:
1) Talking Sunstone – my hands-down favourite comic of the past few years – with Matt Hawkins.
2) Watching Eric Powell sketch X-23, have him look up and say he should be using me as a model.
3) Witnessing Darryn achieve Hot Toys levels of excitement over his Chog hat, which he will no longer remove.
This year’s FanCon lived up wholeheartedly to the promises of being bigger and better in every way, and just appears to be continuing to grow from strength to strength. But don’t just take my word for it! Here are what the other guys had to say:
Even with hype levels approaching the stratospheric, I had an absolute blast at FanCon’s sophomore showing. The bigger, better venue meant that none of the overcrowding headaches of last year’s show were to be found this time around. In fact, everything was bigger and better as promised, with the only complaint possibly being CTICC’s slightly overpriced catering (a problem we overcame by taking a walk into town and smashing our faces with the best burgers around… and then watching Noelle literally stop Long Street traffic in her Tomb Raider cosplay).
Armfuls of comic book swag were grabbed from the many varied vendors selling their incredible wares, including some amazing books/art prints from local comic book creators. Slightly distracting me from this mounting debt were the vibrant cosplayers parading through the crowds who went all out with their jaw-dropping creations.
The highlight for me though was undoubtedly the international comic book A-listers that headlined the show. These four gentlemen, along with a combination of other local talent, put on some amazing panels throughout the weekend, stuffed with intriguing nuggets and incredible revelations. Even better, these were some of the friendliest people around, letting us chat their ear off for ages. Whether it was talking shop or just talking sh*t (like teaching Matt Hawkins about “blessers”), they were a constant joy to be around. Heck, John Layman was even so kind as to record a personalized message for Chew superfan Geoff who couldn’t be there with us. So sweet.
I feel…electric. Not in the sense that I’ve been fingering a plug socket again, but rather due to the buzz that FanCon created and delivered on. On the surface, FanCon looked alright. Cosplay, comics and crafts to indulge in provided that your wallet was bulging with Randelas that yearned to be free. Dig a little deeper, and you’d find so much value inside of FanCon that was waiting to be explored.
The main draw of the convention are the comic book panels, made up of guests who have usually never set foot inside of our continent. This year’s edition of FanCon had a main event of international superstars in the industry, from Eric “The Goon” Powell, John “Chew” Layman, legendary writer Ron Marz and Top Cow boss Matt Hawkins. Great people, with so much experience and wisdom to share in their various panels.
That was the key appeal for me, a reminder as to just why comic books are the greatest thing ever as these enthusiastic guests talked your ears off. And if I got to do some shopping, hang out with the most kickass people I know and talk shop, even better. For years now, I’ve creamt of one day attending the San Diego Comic Con. At the moment however, that desire has been sated because FanCon has ticked off and all nerdy boxes on my checklist of fandom.
Even though the hype and build-up to FanCon have been enormous, I think I was mostly just looking forward to having a long weekend in Cape Town. As someone that doesn’t read a lot of comics, and nothing from Marvel or DC, FanCon was just a handy excuse to go hang out in Cape Town with my friends. I’m happy to say I’ve been converted now. I am a proper fan of FanCon.
As a Convention, I noticed just how different FanCon is to an Expo or a Festival. Sure, there’s a lot to see and buy, but there are more interesting things to keep you busy. FanCon had panels running all day, where the international guests and local talent spoke about various aspects of the comics industry. It’s fascinating to hear insider info and industry wisdom straight from the people in the know. It was also novel for me to get up close and personal with the special guests, who were completely open to just shooting the breeze about whatever topic you brought them. Having the likes of Powell, Layman, and Hawkins right in front of you and excited to talk about comics and anything in general was thrilling, and their passion was infectious.
FanCon wasn’t all panels and talking though. The cosplayers on the floor were amazing, and all the retailers were incredibly friendly and more than happy to relieve me of my money. I’m also so in love with the venue that was chosen. As a veteran of rAge, I’m not used to being in an air-conditioned venue where the air-con actually makes a difference, but the CTICC was bliss inside.
Overall, I’m unbelievably impressed with FanCon. It was a great show that was well worth the effort to get there. I’m sold on making an annual pilgrimage to Cape Town for as long as FanCon is around!
PLEASE NOTE: We will be doing a special cosplay post later today, focusing on all the incredible creations at FanCon 2017.[Video courtesy of FanCon Cape Town Facebook page]
Last Updated: May 3, 2017