On April 25, 2015, more than 50 people gathered in Harare’s Goëthe Zentrum Institute to attend the country’s first-ever Comexposed convention. All of the other people at the convention were dressed as anime characters from the anime and manga series, “Bleach.” Only one person at the convention had dreadlocks and was wearing a white short-sleeved T-shirt and jeans as Kevin from the “Ed, Edd, and Eddy” show.
Organised by Tinotenda Zambe Makoni and Eugene Mapondera, the convention brought together creatives who wanted to grow this industry in Zimbabwe and make money from it.
“It was exciting and thrilling; we were scared, hopeful, and nervous,” said Makoni, of that first key event.
“We had no idea how it would turn out because nothing like this had been done in the city before. Fortunately, people turned out in their numbers and made the event a success, showing us that we were going in the right direction, “he explained.
Today, Comexposed wants to rebuild and shape a new narrative of Africa by Africans. They do this by putting together, promoting, and exhibiting digital art and pop culture that tells new African stories.
Makoni and Mapondera are creating an industry they want-and need-in order for them and an untold number of their countrymen and women to build careers. Comexposed 2015 was the start.
“I had always wanted to work in the animation industry after finishing my degree, but when I returned to Zimbabwe, I soon found there was no market for someone with my skill set. So I had to network with people who had similar interests to create the industry together, “Makoni says.
The duo met up with like-minded people like Bill Masuku and James Magwenzi, who were also striving to build an ecosystem that could provide creatives with careers, and realised that what was needed was an event that brought the community together.
With limited resources but with goodwill from organisations like the German Society, Makoni and Mapondera were able to gather enough volunteers to make that first Comexposed Convention a reality. Volunteers were inspired by the convention’s goal of making their love of animation and comics into a full-time job.
The first convention did more than that.
It created one of the few authentic melting pots where Zimbabweans gather to have fun and laughter, regardless of background and have grown into a network that brings together all creatives.
One of the stalwarts of Comexposed is comic book author James T. Magwenzi. The most well-known of his comics is SunBlast Red, which is based on superhero cartoons that he used to watch while growing up on Zimbabwe’s only broadcaster at the time, ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation).
“Being a comic book artist in a country like Zimbabwe has its challenges. At the moment, I’m building myself up to pursue it full-time because that is my passion, but I do graphic design work to stay afloat financially, “said Magwenzi, who left full-time employment in 2020 to make more time for his cartoon work.
“Not having consistent work can be frustrating because you always think that I could have a normal job and receive a steady salary. But I am moving towards my purpose, and hopefully, I’ll be a comic book artist full time in the upcoming years, “he continued.
Currently, Magwenzi is working from his home studio.
Others have managed to build full-time comics and animation careers. AfroTokyo is an initiative of three brothers—Elisha Ngundu, Rodney Ngundu, and Kudzai Ngundu—who are now sought-after as accomplished comics and animation creatives.
For them, Comexposed presents a platform for them to sell their work, market their talents, and meet with their audience. Also, business training provided through Comexposed has helped the trio grow their business, and they are currently working on an animation project with Netflix.
“We never thought that we would have a career in manga and animation. Comexposed not only showed us it is possible but encouraged us to make a full-time career of it, “explained Ngundu, spokesperson for the group.
While comics and animation are multi-billion dollars global industries, Africa has been a late entrant.
Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya lead the way when it comes to the size of their animation industries. Africa’s animation and comics landscape is changing fast, however, with significant animation successes also coming from countries like Uganda and Tanzania, while comic events are a Cape-to-Cairo affair. Many fringe events have turned mainstream, with comic festivals taking on the better-known Comic-Con label, including Lagos Comic-Con and Comic-Con Africa, which have been held in Johannesburg since 2018 and Comic-Con Cape Town, held in December 2021. Naiccon has been held in Nairobi since 2014, and Cairo’s EGYcon has also been going since 2014.
The publicity around these events is not only helping to showcase local talent but is also providing young people with the confidence to move into the industry – an “if you build it, they will come” approach.
In Zimbabwe, Comexposed has branched out into hosting a series of engagements like the Comexposed Comic Book Day and has also introduced talks and workshops. People who work for Comexposed also make a YouTube web show and post a lot of content on their website and social media.
The industry may still be in its infancy, but passionate stakeholders like Makoni and Mapondera are looking to the future with optimism.
“Even though it’s been difficult over the years in such a volatile economy, we have still managed to see progress in Comexposed and in the lives of the people that attend our events and interact with us,” Makoni said.
Photo/Story Credit: Tanatswa Taruvinga