South African comics have come a long way from being merely an insert in the Sunday papers, with many comic creators opting to publish independently online and in book form.
Loyiso Mkhize cut his teeth co-illustrating Supa Strikas before going solo with his own comic, KWEZI. “Co-illustrating Supa Strikas was great preparation for finally pursuing independent publishing. It had to come eventually because I had a wealth of ideas and stories to share,” says Mkhize.
Mkhize drew his first comic at age nine so it follows that he had a huge store of tales to tell. Also a fine artist well known for his skill in surreal portraiture, the crossover between comics and art isn’t a difficult one for Mkhize. “The two have always existed side by side,” he says. “They aren’t far apart in my opinion, because they each serve a particular purpose in my overall artistic expression.”
With KWEZI, Mkhize wanted to create a comic about a South African superhero. The “South Africaness” of the comic is tangible in the first few pages of the inaugural issue. Set in Gold City, the story refers to the spirit of “hustle” in the city. The characters refer to one another in street talk as “skhokho” (tough guy), and “skeem saam” (close friend) and make references to local jokes such as “stomach in, chest out”.
He believes that to give South African comics an edge over international comics books, creators need to use local stories and experiences more fruitfully and that that, in turn, will catalyse a more homegrown aesthetic.
He proffers: “My team and I look at this project as something that can grow into a phenomenon, dare I say.”
Mkhize feels that a project like this is long overdue for a South African audience. “We have never had a superhero that looks like us and speaks like us and shares the same experiences and environment as us.”
Launched at Free Comic Book Day last year, the comic has grown from strength to strength, establishing a readership base, distribution channels and “a genuine excitement about the comic across the board.” he reports.
Independent publishing in the comics world is a hard business. “Comic books in South Africa are still at crawling stage. The market hasn’t been tapped into and activated,” he says. He’s not deterred, though: “As someone who is passionate about comics and the power of comics I see it as a challenge to overcome.”
Mkhize wants KWEZI to become a household name, where kids nag their parents for a copy.
“I hope bigger book stores see the progress being made with projects like KWEZI and get involved in being the channel from which young readers access the comic.”