Comic Con Africa 2019 // Travel

For Journalism, I wrote a travel piece on my experience at Comic-Con this year. I really loved writing it and I thought that I could share it here. 

Beware: this is super geeky and also a little sentimental. 

I’m ready for Comic Con. I have my cash, a backpack for merch and my Star Wars shirt on.

My outfit is plain compared to what some of the Con goers will be wearing, but I can remember the previous year with clarity, the press of sweaty bodies and a supressing sense of heat stroke. Shirt, jeans, vans. For me, going to the Con is all about comfort.
I sit in the parking lot, too nervous to even switch off my engine. I’ve had this excited anxiety in my stomach since I left home. Why am I this nervous? I deduce that it can be one of three reasons; large crowds, excitement, or the fact that I am at a large event surrounded by thousands of people, by myself.

The sound of the Death Note theme song has me stepping out of my car. I blink as my eyes adjust to the red clouds of dust that gather, and I feel like I am on Yavin prime. Perfectly in sync with my Star Wars reference, Bobo Fett and Leia Organa lookalikes, walk past holding hands.

I am spurred on by the fact that I am already later than I planned. Last year was the first ever Comic Con Africa. There was electricity in the air as everyone gathered for the geeky historic event.

This year it is the second Comic Con Africa. There isn’t the same uniqueness to the feeling. The repetition takes away from the excitement, but nevertheless there is a hum of anticipation as hundreds of feet move towards Gallagher Centre.
I am standing at the gates, a Naruto is in the line behind me, a Michonne in front of me. I am surprised when security doesn’t ask Michonne if they can check if her Katana is fake. It dawns on me that Comic Con can be a dangerous Con to attend. Everywhere I look there are bows and arrows and daggers and swords and axes, but not a single person (including me) feels unsafe surrounded by all this weaponry. I don’t even consider these weapons dangerous, because their wielders would not use them to harm another person. Perhaps a tree or a target but there is an unspoken rule of non-violence in the heavily armed crowd. But I am being dramatic because a lot of the weapons are foam and duct tape. But the few real weapons don’t feel like a threat.

I walk 10m into Gallagher Centre when a sense of disappointment fills me. I am here all alone, and the sense of unity that filled me last year is diminished by the rush and push of the crowd.

There are a lot of Cosplayers, I eye a particularly well-formed Ragnar Lothbrok. I take out the event pamphlet book and look up the map. For a whole 10 minutes I try and find the Auditorium. I promised a friend I would meet her for the Harry Potter fan meetup. Not finding it anywhere, I choose a path and just start walking.

The dramatic, electro mix of the Marvel Theme song plays as it takes me an hour of wrong turns and wrong halls and wrong buildings to find the undisclosed location of the auditorium. I did think about asking someone, but everyone walked with purpose and I didn’t want to halt them mid-task.

I walk into the auditorium, frustrated from the pushing and bumping of the huge crowds. There is only 10 minutes left of the meetup and audience members are on stage acting out a scene from Harry Potter – badly but with spirit. I take a seat and ignore the irritation growing in me. When an actor shouts, “RONALD WEASLEY! HOW DARE YOU STEAL THAT CAR! I AM DISGUSTED IN YOU!”

There is a general mumbling as the actor gets the words wrong. Everyone was speaking along with her, and the mistake becomes obvious as the right words from the audience interferes with the rest of the scene. Even I mumbled ‘I am absolutely disgusted’ under my breath. I overhear some talk about where to go next. The pink haired Slytherin wants to get a Katara art print but the Harry Potter lookalike wants to go to the Funko store.
I feel a sense of safety surrounded by my people. It’s an odd term isn’t it? ‘My people’. I say it often when I speak about geeky things. Last year on Instagram I even said, ‘I have finally found my people’. As if the only identity I cared about was based on the things I loved. And no matter how often I have said it, geek is the right word. Nerd and geek are not synonyms. A nerd is extremely intelligent in specific fields. That girl who got 100% in Matric for Maths because she simply enjoyed the pleasures of studying it. A geek is enthusiastic about a specific topic, usually comic books, movies, or anime. It’s not easy being a geek. People tease and smirk in our direction. I know what people say. I know what an article said about last year’s Comic Con. The offensive article which was full of body shaming, stereotyping and a general sense of dislike for all geeks made me ask myself if the author had asked a single person why they were there. Why they dressed up and pretended to be the characters they idolised. Perhaps if he had asked me or any other Con goer, he would have gotten the sense of love and community that we share.
There is a call for volunteers for the last scene – the one where Bellatrix kills someone (Spoilers, Sweetie). Looking at the mostly full rows, I think about the reasons why all these people are here. I know my own reasons. But Harry Potter meant something important to every single person here. JK Rowling is a genius and although there are great fantasy writers, in my opinion there is no author who lives up to the brilliance that is Rowling. She put one sentence in Philosophers stone that is the smallest clue to a major event that happens in Deathly Hallows. These books were published 10 years apart, but the clues are always there for us to see. I have reread Harry Potter 5 times through and through. But I digress – as I usually do when I think or speak about Harry Potter.

The skit ends and I briefly speak to my friend before leaving to get food. The food line is long and there is not much to do other than people watch. Not many people dressed up this year. I wipe sweat off my brow and I know that it is because of the heat. That is why I am not wearing my thick Ravenclaw robe. Standing near the LARPers (Live Action Role Players), is Daenerys Targaryen, looking like an 80s hipster with her red John Lennon sunglasses. At the drinks counter, there is someone in a full Iron Man suit. I study his well-made costume, and laughed when I realise, he is wearing crocs.

My laughter reminds me of why I love it at the Con. I feel so open. I don’t have to censor my laughs or my random comments to passers-by. My family don’t listen when I talk so I am used to speaking to empty air. But at the Con there is always someone listening. I would say something (usually to myself) and someone would agree or answer me. I had this strange feeling of being seen. At Comic Con I get the sense that there are others in the crowd, listening to neighbouring conversations, smiling to themselves at their thoughts. In this space, they are the ones who get to speak louder than usual, they emerge from their quietness and make geeky references that others understand. They don’t get judged for speaking about the importance of fantasy or explaining a theory about Kylo Ren.

Standing in the food line, I feel that sense of longing again. A longing for the previous Comic Con, but I can’t pinpoint why. The atmosphere is the same, the people are the same. But where is my Fellowship? Where are my rebels and Potterhead’s? Perhaps I am missing the companionship of a friend who would explore strange topics with me. I need a bestie to listen to my theory about Jack the Ripper being a wizard and that the breading of Dementors was the cause for the heavy fog in London at the time. I want to get excited about cute, unlikely cosplay couples like the Severus Snape and the Tenth Doctor who hold hands.

The rest of the day feels like I am simply going through the steps. I walk through artist alley, usually my favourite part of any Festival. I sit at the main stage, waiting for William Shatner to come on. I am not a Trekie, so I google who William Shatner is, and what he’s been in. A gender swap Pennywise sits next to me, looking great in her ruffled white dress. She turns to me and starts a conversation. We talk about It and the extreme attractiveness of Bill Skarsgård. I am 22 and thus teenage hormones have not fully balanced out yet, so our conversation about Bill is not exactly appropriate. We speak about upcoming movies and tv series. Fangirls have this way of getting more and more excited the more they have in common. We start speaking over each other, getting louder the more we fangirl about tv series and actors and movies and Harley Quinn. Eventually an MC comes on stage and our excited squeals quiet.

I am smiling and I think that perhaps it is my first genuinely happy smile of the day. The MC asked the crowd who their favourite Star Trek characters are, some people stand up and wave their hands so that they can answer. After a few people talked about their love for Star Trek the MC gave the mike to a guy 2 rows in front of me.
“I’m more of a Star Wars fan and my favourite character is Luke Skywalker” there are groans from the audience – 1 person cheers. I turned to Pennywise, “Nah, Han Solo is the best.” She smiles, “Agreed, Luke is too whinny”.

I sit and listen to Willian Shatner speak. When he leaves, we get a surprise appearance from Daniel Gillies, the gorgeous man who plays Elijah Michaelson in The Originals. I cheer and scream along with the other ladies in the crowd. It reminds me of last year where Ricky Whittle was the main attraction (yes that was a pun). I had asked for the mike and my question was more of a request. I asked him to take his shirt off and almost fell off my chair when he did it and proceeded to wink at me.

Even though the celebrity panels are the best part of the Con, they’re not exactly unique. Celebrities at Cons are normal. You can YouTube millions of videos of celebrity panels. But in person, there is an excitement when you are so close to someone famous. The atmosphere is charged, as if at any moment something amazing is going to happen. Even if that something is just a Q&A session.

After Daniel Gillies leaves, I longingly look after him, not just because he’s attractive but because of his fame. My inner Slytherin appears as I remind myself that I will be famous one day. I will be a famous author on the same level as George R R Martin or JK Rowling or Stephen King, where fans will recognise me in the streets (or rolling around in a plastic bubble – that is directed at you, George R R Martin).

I go back to Comic Con on Tuesday. I feel better this time around. I can get excited with my best friend and fangirl with my brother-in-law. Having a best friend, a sister and her fiancé by my side has me in better spirits.

My best friends and I are sitting at the main stage, waiting for Nolan North and Troy Baker. Out of sheer curiosity I asked her why she is here. Why does she love the fandoms and franchises that are celebrated at Comic Con?

“When I was little, my mom would just leave me and my brother at home with the tv on. My brother was a geek so naturally, he forced me to watch his shows and movies. After my brother moved out, I kept watching on my own. I realised I loved these characters for all their faults and flaws. And no matter what happened to them, they got back up,” then she smirked, “that’s why I love batman so much.”

I roll my eyes dramatically; she knows I hated batman and it is one of the only things we ever disagree on. She asks me the same question, and this is a version of my answer.
My Dad was a huge geek. Star Wars and LOTR (Lord of the Rings) being his favourite universes. He took me to watch LOTR when the movies came out (I was 4 and the Nazgul gave me nightmares for the rest of my life). We watched Star Wars Episode 2 in theatre too. The whole family (since being attracted to men was everyone’s main sexual orientation) believed Hayden Christensen was the most attractive person alive. I spent my childhood playing sci-fi games with my Dad on his laptop. I asked him often to tell the story of watching the premiere of A New Hope in theatres. We spent hours talking about our shared love for these fandoms. I would never say parents have favourites, but I knew that he did. I was his favourite because I was just like him.

When I was 16, my mom died. And for the first time in my life I voluntarily picked up a book. I was sitting on the floor of my garage looking through the cupboards for the cut-up wedding photos of my mom and dad. My sister had taken the scissors to them after their divorce 15 years earlier. Mom’s side of the pictures were in the garage, Dad’s side were in the house. And it just so happened that Harry Potter sat under the box of pictures. My mom had died less than 24 hours before and opening Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone had me smiling for the first time since. I sat on the dusty floor and read half of Harry Potter right then and there. I don’t remember the exact events of the next few days. There were things we had to sign, and we had to go to the morgue, but my Dad let me sit in the car the entire time, reading Harry Potter. Although some would say escapism does not help grief, I know JK Rowling got me through the next few months. There were low moments where l’appel du vide was strong. Harry Potter was the little thread keeping me living.

Then two years later my Dad committed suicide and I felt completely lonely.
Star Wars Episode 7 came out that December. I was walking into the movie when my sister turned and said, “I think Dad would have loved this,” indicating to everyone who was dressed up. It was the premiere and as the lights went out, every person in the audience put up their light saber’s and started chanting the theme song. Even though Harry Potter had been there through all of it, there was a sense of community that evening and for the first time in months I was not alone.

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