It’s hard to be objective when you’re covering an event such as Comic Con Africa. I may have hopped on a plane that could give a dodgy rollercoaster a run for worst turbulence of the year just so that I could be in Johannesburg to get some work done at the premiere pop culture event of the year, but attempting to do so while divorcing myself from my various passions that the convention caters towards? Damn near impossible.
If Comic Con Africa’s debut at Kyalami was a sign of the potential that this event had to cement itself as the best celebration of comic book, toys and gaming culture on the continent, then the sequel was that idea dialled up to 11. Everything was bigger, everything was more ambitious and having a location to reflect that was a godsend. Even though Midrand may be a brown hell that looks like the bastard child of late 2000s video game design and Mad Max: Fury Road, the Gallagher Convention Center was the ideal spot for Comic Con Africa 2: Comic Con Harder.
It’s the fact that this year’s edition of the convention allowed itself to be more focused than ever before, taking to heart last year’s criticisms of throwing multiple cultures into one melting pot, and rather keeping them separate of one another. If you wanted to spend an entire day watching sports of the electronic variety while watching our Checkpoint Chat pals Matty and Alessandro wax lyrical about Super Mario Maker 2, you were sorted in Hall 2.
Prefer to browse dozens of fine comic book art while hearing the so ridiculous but it’s actually awesome origin story of your favourite new comic book character from an international guest? Artist’s Alley had your back. Just there for the merch? Another hall that was filled to the brim with vendors who were peddling all kinds of goodies (I still need to get that medieval helmet for a costume I have planned for next year) were more than willing to help you out and chat shop.
Focus. That’s the keyword here for Comic Con Africa in 2019, a show which improved in leaps and bounds over its maiden voyage through Kyalami. There’s still some work to be done, as certain guest cancellations (Thank Odin for William Shatner, who is an unfiltered delight on stage) and Reed Exhibitions need to flex their muscle to allow some outside catering in to combat Gallagher’s atrocious food choices for the next event.
But if Gallagher is going to be the home of future conventions, I think Comic Con Africa is definitely going to become my new favourite destination for a quick annual working holiday. Friends, comic books and cosplay. What more could you ask for in life?
Running up to Comic Con Africa, the headlines were all about the big name cancellations as Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Anthony Mackie bailed on us. Quite honestly though, they were barely missed. Comic Con Africa’s sophomore event was bigger and better in just about every way, with so much to see and do that I actually only got to experience some of it across the three-ish days I attended.
Outside the boundaries of Gallagher Estate may have looked like a charred hellscape nightmare (seriously, why is Midrand like this?), but inside the crisp logistics and organization meant that everything ran like a dream. There was literally something for everybody, including even a first-time KidsCon that focused exclusively on the little ones (more on that later this week). With six different halls, each with their own themed content, attendees could geek out just the way they wanted, whether it be over boardgames, comics, art, gaming and more. Hell, you could even chill on the couch from Friends or pretend to be a WWE champ!
The highlights though were easily meeting and chatting to the international comic book writers and artists and then listening to an uproariously entertaining William Shatner. The screen veteran regaled audiences with tales of working with Leonard Nimoy, doing whale song poetry, updated on a kid that had been stuck in an escalator back on Rescue 911 (you had to be there) and more. He stole the show for me.
The only downside was nothing to do with geekery, but rather eatery as the organisers were only allowed to use Gallagher’s own caterers. Waiting in painfully long queues for overpriced, under-quality food was a far cry from the wide variety of food trucks from last year. It was a minor hiccup though (and one you could avoid by getting food at the much less crowded KidsCon section) in what was otherwise a fantastic event that has now seriously raised the benchmark.
Noelle and Tracy
In its second year, Comic Con Africa experienced a venue shift that was almost entirely for the better. The inaugural 2018 convention at Kyalami racetrack and convention centre felt improvised and make-do. That year’s con was a smash-hit, but there were 2km+ walks from the venue to parking that was more about cramming people in than organisation. The event also took place in a hodgepodge mix of buildings and marquees up and down steep banks (causing serious accessibility issues), and there was zero shade outside for attendees.
The 2019 shift of Comic Con Africa to Gallagher Estate rectified all of those issues. Traffic may have congested around the convention centre at peak times, but the parking was located right there; people could easily move about the stair-free venue with prams and wheelchairs; and there was loads of foliage and shaded cool-down spots to escape the brutal African sun. As a side note, Gallagher provides more interesting backdrops for cosplay photos.
The trade-off of the venue change was that all convention catering was provided by Gallagher itself, which meant a perfunctory selection of burgers, hotdogs, pizzas, sandwiches and the like. No intriguing food trucks and vendors like last year. This entirely “in house” approach was also a little odd seeing as KFC was a primary sponsor of CCA 2019. You just couldn’t buy their chicken anywhere.
This gripe aside, Comic Con Africa 2019 was extremely enjoyable for the most part. The gaming hall was well-spaced out with loads of hands-on experiences and a dedicated esports stage, the tabletop gaming section received a welcome boost in prominence – and became an excellent chill spot – and the debut Kids Con was clearly a big drawcard for families. Although the crush of bodies meant Hall 4, containing Artists’ Alley, Cosplay Corner and the crafters, consistently felt hotter than anywhere else, the standard of work there was so high it was possible to blow your entire con budget on local art and hand-made geeky goods.
Meanwhile, we’re pleased to report that despite alcohol being served again at CCA 2019, there were almost no reports of cosplayer harassment this time around.
We also want to give a special shout-out to Floridian DJ Elliot and local comedian Mojak Lehoko, who made fantastic main stage moderators, and hosts of the to-the point Championships of Cosplay Finals. In 2018, there was more of an emphasis on big name funnymen taking the stage as opposed to hosts with genuine warmth, graciousness and a more appropriate self-deprecating sense of humour. Elliot and Mojak belong in the second group and were a welcome presence.
Our advice for future con attendees is to skip the first day unless you absolutely have to be first to check out a certain vendor or international guest. The sold-out Saturday was overwhelming from about midday to 3pm. Around that time, congestion built up in certain areas and suffocating food and drinks queues were taking an hour to navigate (not helped by the World Cup Rugby screenings in the same area). Sunday was busy but manageable, the work day Monday was the quietest – making it ideal for shopping, and parents with young kids in tow – and the final Day 4 was another bump in busyness, although not quite to the same extent as Sunday.
Comic Con Africa 2019 may have suffered from a high percentage of celebrity guest cancellations but it didn’t matter when you were there. For one thing, there were still all the highly-accessible international comics guests to chat to. Even more important than that, the convention’s greatest strength is the excitement and communal good spirit it generates around the various aspects of pop culture. Getting to share that passion and jubilance for a few days with friends and like-minded people is what makes it so special. And helps to restore your faith in humanity.
Comic Con Africa was by far my favourite convention since I’ve been attending them. The layout was incredibly well done; Gallagher as a venue blows all the others out of the water.
The stalls and what brands put out on display shows Comic Con Africa is gearing to be the premiere gaming convention in the country. Esports ZA was also out in full force, with some entertaining games and a lavish stage. The biggest surprise was definitely Energy Esports coming out on top in the VS Gaming Masters CSGO, having knocked out everyone’s top pick Goliath Gaming in the process.
The only criticisms I’d have are the seemingly routine process of international appearances dropping out last minute. Otherwise, this is a great convention and I have to give props to everyone behind this spectacle.
Last Updated: September 26, 2019