Local artist Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell grew up in Norwood inspired by a comic book world that he aspired to one day join as a professional. LSU professor Isiah Lavender is a latter-day prophet and scribe who melds race, science fiction and historical fact vs. fiction. Together they presented "Welcome to Wakanda: Intro to Afrofuturism and Afro-Fantasy," one of many topics that took center stage when East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library transformed into a small comic convention.
Mid City Micro-Con: Welcome to Wakanda was the parish library system’s launch party of sorts in preparation for the release of Marvel’s "Black Panther," which debuts later this week.
The micro-con on Saturday had a Black Panther theme highlighting a range of comic styles and fandom groups. It featured discussion panels, a comics and arts marketplace, cosplay, workshops, film screenings, games and competitions.
Special guests included the creators of Tuskegee Heirs, comic artist and illustrator Marcus Williams and children’s book author Greg Burnham; prolific comic book inker Roland Paris, who has worked on Marvel and DC titles, including the 2008 Black Panther annual; and many more professionals and experts from the comics and cosplay communities.
Lavender, one such expert, is the author of "Race in American Science Fiction and Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction." He explained to his audience that Afrofuturism involves the past, present and future of race in sci-fi.
“Science fictional blackness comes into being, dating back to the enlightenment era that remains as a part of the world into this contemporary age,” Lavender said. “I mean science fictional in a sense that these flights of fancy have used science to create a fiction of race as it is applied to black people, indeed, all people of color.”
“Now Afrofuturism has emerged to understand the science-fictional existence that blacks have always experienced living in the new world, an unreality driven by economic demands, would-be science and skin color.”
Lavender’s panel mate, Mitchell, explained that Afrofuturism, as what is seen with Black Panther and Wakanda, does not mean the setting is in the future, but that it employs futuristic technology in the current time setting.
Mitchell is developing his own comic called "Sankofa’s Eymbrace" that he hopes to finish by the end of this year. He calls his concept “Afrofantasy.” He employs fantasy settings, but the characters are black people.
“I’m taking elements of different African spiritualities and ways of life and building something imaginative from that much like what JRR Tolkien did with the 'Lord of the Rings,' taking a lot of Norse mythology,” Mitchell said.
The Tuskegee Heirs comic, which attracted much attention at the micro-con, was co-created by Burnham, a graduate of Bossier High School and Grambling State University. He said Tuskegee Heirs is a futuristic sci-fi that takes place about 80 years from now in a time when man-piloting is illegal. All air flight is remote or with the use of drones. “These five teen pilots are learning how to fly in the old P-51s that the Tuskegee Airmen flew,” Burnham explains.
Another Louisiana Legends panelist Derec Donovan was thrilled to see the emerging comic con interest in Louisiana and close to his hometown of New Orleans. He has been drawing comics since 1994 and has worked for almost every major publisher, including Marvel, DC, and Image Comics.
A comic book convention or comic con is an event with a primary focus on comic books and comic book culture, in which comic book fans gather to meet creators, experts and one another. Commonly, comic conventions are multi-day events hosted at convention centers, hotels or college campuses.
Samantha Belmont, event coordinator from the EBRPLS Adult/Community Programming and Outreach Division, said a public library was the perfect venue. “Libraries and comic book conventions are a natural match,” Belmont said. “Libraries provide access to both literature and visual art in their communities, and comic books combine both in an exciting and accessible package.”
Belmont said the event drew around 400 participants and is already scheduled to return next year. “Mid City Micro-Con was also a wonderful opportunity for us to connect our patrons with local and independent artists, as well as some of our library resources like our graphic novel collection and the on-demand video streaming service Kanopy.”