Almost 50 years ago, the first ever Comic Con was held in San Diego, California to bring comic book, movie and science fiction fans together. Since then,Comic Con has spread to cities and countries all over the globe. The first Zambian edition of Comic Con, called The Lusaka Comic Con (or ‘LsCon’), was held in May 2015 and has been held every year since, inspiring Zambian comic book creators.
Lusaka Comic Con was founded by Sing’ombe Mweetwa and “is a pop culture convention in Zambia. It’s a gathering of art, movie, music, games, comic, digital art and creative enthusiasts”. It is also an opportunity for comic book creators to interact with their readers and has provided inspiration for Zambian comic creators in particular. Bwanga Kapumpa, or ‘Benny Blow’, as he is known in writing circles, is the co-founder of The Mundane Kid, a comic strip that is released weekly through a dedicated Facebook page.
Referring to Lusaka Comic Con, Benny said, “Lusaka Comic Con moved us to get a bit more elaborate with our creation. We got a life-size correx cut-out for the second event (the 2016 edition) as we wanted people to see a different aspect of the Kid. We were selling copies of Pocketbook Heroes, an anthology put together by a small printing press in the states, and sold at San Diego Comic-Con. We didn’t realize that there was a big ‘nerd community’ in Zambia and that people actually made and printed their own comics. It made me want to do even more Mundane Kid stuff, including merchandise. We also met fans I didn’t know we had! One defining moment for me was when someone recognised me as Mundy (I’d gone dressed as our own character for LsCon haha). That was pretty sweet”.
Duncan Sodala, founder of The Time Machine Zambia, a company that sells comics, figurines and vinyl, echoes Benny’s sentiments about LsCon saying, “The hosting of Lusaka Comic Con has inspired Zambian Comic Creators because since its inception we have seen a number of writers and illustrators that are creating and publishing their work”. Mwelwa Musonko of Foresight Comics used LsCon 2018 as an opportunity to distribute his Fifth Element Comic for free. According to foresightcomics.com, “The book was received with love from the fans and began a dialog about climate change”.
London Kamwendo is co-founder of The Mundane Kid and is also an illustrator of Bantu CLAN, a comic by Muma Seketa that features a crime fighting group made up of 10 characters from the 10 provinces of Zambia. About Lusaka Comic Con, he said “LsCon is proof that Zambia can develop a comic book industry! Seeing just how many people love comics, read comics and actually make their own comics is incredible! On top of that, The Time Machine Zambia SELL comics! Before that there was nowhere to get comics. And we still want more.
“It’s inspired me to keep making comics and really pursue the creation of an African comic book genre. One without superheroes but regular Africans doing awesome things. Telling captivating stories like the ones we would sit around the brazier and listen to our aunties and grandmothers tell. Let’s tell OUR stories”.
Despite the presence of Lusaka Comic Con, Benny is quick to mention that there isn’t a defined comic industry in the country. “I wouldn’t say we have an industry yet. You don’t see any comics on book shelves, let alone Zambian ones. People are into comics, but only a select few. It’s more of a niche audience, but we have been getting loads of requests for a Mundane Kid book”. Mwelwa Musonko of Foresight Comics mentioned in an interview with Creative Hustle ZM that “there is no comic book industry in Zambia and yet, there is so much talent. The current economic state of affairs isn’t favorable for the artist, much less the comic book artist. It feels a lot like baptism by fire every step of the way but I am striving to create an industry”. London Kamwendo agreed, stating “the Zambian comic book industry is still in its infancy stage. We know people are reading and buying but we need more material to be pushed out and on a larger scale. We need to grow the audience and tap into neighboring markets until the whole of Africa is reading! And the rest of the world of course.”
In order to further the comic industry in Zambia, Duncan Sodala started the Comic and Literary Arts Day in May 2017 as an annual event. It featured book expos, live graffiti and panels such as a workshop for comics featuring Benny, Kasonde Mukonde and Chimora Chinene of Zed Visual Arts. Sodala also hosts a podcast called Timecast which discusses the latest movies based on comics such as The Avengers and more.
Benny sees the future of the Zambian comic industry as bright. “Judging from the turnout at LsCon and the number of artists I’ve met, there is a future for the medium. We’ll definitely need more programs in schools and encouragement for the kids. Comics are a great way to tell stories and combine visual and written aspects, the art and literature scene here could gain from this format”. In an interview with Creative Hustle Zambia, Musonko believes that collaboration is key in improving the comic industry saying, “Mixing with others, sharing ideas and looking at things from other people’s point of view is vital if we want to see the comic industry grow, we can achieve so much more that way”. London Kamwendo states, “the future for Zambian comics first of all is there, it’s possible to develop it. But like anything worth doing, we need resources. Digital comics are great but I prefer the aesthetics of a hard copy comic book. We need to print more world class comics and we need money to do that. We need sponsors. And even if we don’t get that, we will push our material out however we can. More and more kids are pursuing the comic book path and it’s inspiring me as well to put out more work as well. At this past LsCon, I bought three comics from Black Hut Comics as well which is run by a group of young guys and girls. They currently have three different titles on sale. BlackRose the Artist also dropped a comic at LsCon this year”.