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AfroComicCon: Oakland’s newest comic convention

AfroComicCon, a new comic convention dedicated to celebrating people of color in the entertainment industry, debuted for the first time in Oakland, bringing artists, speakers and patrons to a bustling interactive showcase of an evolving art form.

Event organizers BLAM – short for Black, Latino, Asian, Manifested – hosted this two-day comic convention on Oct. 21 and 22. The main convention Saturday was at the SAE Expression College in Emeryville, and Sunday’s community youth day was at SoleSpace in downtown Oakland.

Its goal was to “open doors for everyone, but especially for people of color, in the arts, and media professions that have not been adequately inclusive,” the mission statement said.

“We want to throw something for people of color,” convention organizer Shante Neely said. “We want to have a safe and great con.”

During the first day of the convention, panels and workshops were held on topics from “Cosplay Film Making 101” to “People of Color in Entertainment.” Among the featured speakers was Mills College English Professor Ajuan Mance, who was a panelist in “Women in Comics” and lead a workshop on writing autobiographical comic books.

“I always want students to understand that people will say, ‘Oh art, it’s not practical, it’s not something that you can do as a career,’” Mance said. “It absolutely is. You can make an incredible life as an artist.”

The convention featured Bay Area artists in styles ranging from minimalist prints to detailed sketches. Some artists presented new takes on classic characters, while others presented their own original designs.

“I like that it’s a focus on local artists and local independents,” said Joseph Thompson, co-founder of Fracture Comics.

The vendor and artist section of the convention also included local comic book creators promoting their works. Among the local comic book authors was Jaimel Hemphill, editor-in-chief of National Press Comics and a featured speaker at AfroComicCon.

“There’s a certain aspect to the fandom that’s been very unwelcoming to diversity,” Hemphill said. “I think events like AfroComicCon allow people to experience their fandom in a more inclusive environment.”

The second day brought a whole new side to AfroComicCon as the convention hosted their Youth Community day in downtown Oakland’s SoleSpace. Children of all ages gathered to meet local comic book artists, experience workshops and enjoy the world of comics. Among the proud parents was Rachel Willis-Henry, alumna of Mills College class of 2015 and mother of two.

“I think like this is a great event for children of color to see images like them,” Willis-Henry said.

The children were given free AfroComicCon T-shirts and their choice of costume pieces. From Spider-Man to Disney’s first African-American Princess Tiana, kids ran around as their favorite characters and made friends with others from the community.

“It’s like a reunion, except we’ve never met,” 9-year-old Bilal Cotter Norwood said.

The children also had a chance to meet cosplayers dressed as their favorite characters. This especially excited Ramses Shabazz, a 6-year-old Spider-kid enthusiast who got to meet a local Spider-Man cosplayer.

“I can shoot a web at anybody…on purpose,” Shabazz said.

For many parents, like Ramses’ father Ahmad Shabazz, the youth day was an opportunity to introduce their children to people of color in the comic book industry.

“I wanted to introduce him to people who look like him,” the elder Shabazz said. “We have powers too and I want him to be proud of who he his.”

The workshops helped kids learn varying skills from the basics of comic book creation to using marketing strategies towards personal success. Among the speakers were National Press Comics’ Jaimel Hemphill and Tevah “The Idea Man,” a marketing and branding strategist from Nspired Media.

AfroComicCon plans to return again next year. Though some people hope that the convention remains small, Neely said, the coordinators aim to house the convention in a larger space in 2018.