Amongst the media blitz and hype of the American comics and movie industry it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the medium is so much greater than the bombastic tales by the big companies. It’s also easy to lose sight of the dynamic and incredible creativity of local artists and writers. Co/Mix 2012 was all about putting these creators in the spotlight and giving them a platform to interact with each other and a public eager for more.
Co/Mix 2012 went down on Saturday 22 over the Heritage Day long weekend and was a part of the larger Open Book festival that intended to promote reading and interaction with writers. Like the Open Book Festival this was Co/Mix’s second year; although last year it was found at the Grahamstown Art Festival.
Co/Mix didn’t have the largest venue but it made up for it in the sheer volume of creativity on display. Almost every inch of the available space was filled with creators at tables and the walls were covered in artwork. Throughout the day there were panel discussions from creators discussing their process, their inspirations and answering questions from the audience. Artists in attendance also took a few minutes for a Comics Jam where each person had 15 minutes to draw one panel of a continuing story.
A considerable highlight of the talks was the last of the day; a conversation between Anton Kannemeyer (Joe Dog) and legendary French Illustrator and comics creator Jacques de Loustal. The two artists have a long-standing connection as Loustal’s architecturally detailed illustration style was an early inspiration for controversial Kannemeyer. The conversation between the two gave audience members insights into their creative processes as well as the evolution of their art.
The event was organised by South African stalwarts Andy Mason (N.D. Mazin), Frankie Murrey (Open Book Festival) and Moray Rhoda (Velocity), with Steven Harris organizing the venue. They could be seen running around making sure everything happened at the right time or at least only a few minutes late. Rhoda approached Open Book last year to set up Co/Mix but there was not enough time to integrate it with Open Book 2011.
Rhoda feels it is important to have a situation that brings artists and audience together. To do something beyond Free Comic Book Day, where people are just looking for a freebie and not interacting with the culture. “If you have a situation where all these artists are involved, with people actually sitting there doing art, doing a Comics Jam. Having talks about what goes into making a comic book, what goes into children’s illustration it gets more people involved and it gets more people talking about it; which hopefully gets more people involved in comics.”
Rhoda has also found these types of events encourage people to take the step to start creating themselves. Writer Jason Geland introduced himself to Rhoda at a Free Comic Books Day event and now has several stories in the Velocity anthology. Another example is artist Luis Tolosana who used Co/Mix 2012 to launch his first comic.
For Rhoda an event like Co/Mix is meant to bring everyone involved in the South African comics scene together. It doesn’t matter whether you are interested in intimate autobiographical tracts, political cartoons, superheroes or manga there is still a common love of the medium. Rhoda believes that the more people together under one roof the better it will be for the comics scene; “People need to experience things, you might come here to see velocity or to see the fine art guy but then you realise there is a lot more happening.”
This creed was in great evidence from Co/Mix attendees. Artists and creators came from all ends of the spectrum to produce an atmosphere of excitement and collaboration. Creating comics can be quite a solitary profession and the feeling of community that the day brought was important to many of the artists.
Warren Raysdorf (Free Beer) travelled all the way from Durban to attend Co/Mix; “It’s important for the creative to come to something like this, even if it’s once a year. It’s one thing to see a comic in a shop, it’s another to see people interacting in this space.” This sentiment was echoed by almost everyone in attendance. Creators seemed surprised at the size of the community. Gavin Thomson from Mama Taxi commented that working in comics is “…quite a solitary profession,” and it was “sobering” seeing how many people were at the event.
A mix of full-time creators and passionate part-timers made up eclectic mix of artists and writers. Some of the people would be more accurately identified as fine and graphic artists but everybody appreciated the atmosphere of creators being able to share their art. Graphic Artist Atang Tshikare believes that events like this build fantastic word of mouth for illustrative art in general. This atmosphere was also appreciated by illustrator Ben Geldenhuys (Cottonstar) who feels that it’s important for local artists to support each other and comics creation in South Africa as a whole.
And where does it go from here? Rhoda hopes that the event will grow from a single day event to three days to give creators and the public more time to interact and form relationships. “The community is very important,” says Rhoda. He was surprised by how excited creators were when they were contacted to be a part of the event. “When we work together and make an event for this (kind of thing) then the audience will come.”