Africa’s top pop culture festival showcases homegrown superheroes

Africa’s largest pop culture festival opened this week with a spotlight on home-grown superheroes including a black knight battling South Africa’s rolling power cuts and a warrior inspired by the legendary Zulu king Shaka.

Clad in superhero capes and sci-fi costumes, thousands of people flocked to a vast expo center south of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday for the first day of Comic Con Africa, which runs until Monday.

The festival, in its fourth edition, has a dedicated ‘Afro Geek’ pavilion, showcasing comics reflecting African heritage and society.

“The cartoons we used to watch, particularly Tarzan, had this colonial mentality around Africans… it would be a character in Africa but the Africans would be invisible,” Trevor Ngwenya, an artist, told AFP. “It didn’t sit well with me”.

Ngwenya’s latest project is a superhero inspired by King Shaka, the 19th-century leader still revered for having united a large swathe of the country as the Zulu nation.

Other ‘Afro Geek’ offerings include a paladin fighting the relentless power outages that have battered South Africa in recent years and a comic series inspired by African mythology.

“Seeing superheroes that I look like brings more of a relatability to me. It makes me want to read the comics a little more,” said Ethan Msithini, 26, an animator promoting the Kidwiz Inc. series featuring the blackout-busting hero.

The festival has been praised for opening doors for cosplayers in a country and continent where the industry is not as established as in more developed parts of the world.

“I just really love that people of color are taking back ownership of certain things like fantasy and sci-fi,” said Abigail Backman-Daniels, a festivalgoer dressed as a Valkyrie from the Thor movie franchise.