Tuesday, September 24, 2019

TV CRITIC's NOTEBOOK. 2019's muted 2nd Comic Con Africa: How the Reed Exhibitions Africa organisers and South Africa's TV biz again failed to do any real local sci-fi-fantasy show-and-tell showcase.

2019's just-concluded second Comic Con Africa in Johannesburg once again displayed a disappointing lack by the organisers Reed Exhibitions Africa and ReedPOP to try and involve South Africa's TV and film industry - and locally available TV channels - in any real or meaningful way to give their science fiction and fantasy content a platform through panels or screenings.

While more parking and better spacing were improvements following the move from Kyalami in 2018 to Gallagher Estate in 2019, Comic Con Africa 2019 was mostly characterised by come-look-see cosplayers milling about while gamers stared at screens and some people played board games.

Oh, and don't forget the replica of an old sitcom celebrating its 25th anniversary. That was there too! That was there too!

While Viacom International Media Networks Africa (VIMN Africa), M-Net through M-Net Movies, and Fox Networks Group Africa (FNG Africa) had a sliver of a presence at Comic Con Africa 2019 through some marketing activations like a Friends couch replica, zombies and who-really-knows-what else, only Fox managed to issue a media advisory that it would have a presence at the fan convention and what its involvement would entail.

No-one else bothered.

The lethargic and lukewarm "we're there but don't care" attitude from Viacom Africa, M-Net and Fox was matched by the Comic Con Africa organisers and this year's PR agency (switched from last year but without telling a lot of the relevant media) who didn't appear to either want media coverage or involvement, or appeared to want to put effort behind telling the press how or why it would matter to attend.

Missing in action at this year's second Comic Con Africa in South Africa were video streaming services Netflix South Africa, and MultiChoice's Showmax who at least had a semblance of a presence in 2018 at Kyalami with a Disenchantment jumping castle and a Doctor Who activation and pop-corn machine.

Once again several of the organiser-promised (yet faded) overseas talent on the already small list of fly-in stars who were billed to make an appearance at Comic Con 2019 cancelled - some at the last minute. Talk about amateurish and unprofessional.

Star Trek captain William Shatner was a good addition to Comic Con 2019 and did show up, and he was and will always be a proper A-lister draw and highlight.

However, D-lister drawcards from over-and-done series like The Vampire Diaries and others were once again foisted onto South African Comic Con-go-ers who had to pay for expensive tickets, expensive food and drinks, for the "privilege" to mostly get access to look at other visitors' costumes.

It's worrying that Reed Exhibitions Africa and ReedPOP, as well as TV channels and channel suppliers still don't care about doing actual screenings and panels about TV shows, especially ones filmed and produced in South Africa.

Is it too much to ask or too difficult for M-Net (DStv 101) to have organised a panel discussion and a screening of the first episode of its new drama series Trackers, filmed in Cape Town, and starting in October? Why couldn't some of the cast and crew be at Comic Con Africa 2019?

Attendees at Comic Con Africa 2019 would literally have shown up just for this if M-Net did a "panel session" where it just showed trailers and talked about its upcoming science fiction and fantasy-related programming on the M-Net and M-Net City (DStv 115) channel for the next few months that it acquired like HBO's His Dark Materials British fantasy series.

But again - a complete lack of vision or wanting to on M-Net side.

Is there literally nothing remotely done in terms of a snippet, rough trailer or 2-minutes of footage that Netflix South Africa and Pearl Thusi could or wanted to show off at a Comic Con Africa 2019 panel to tease the in-production Queen Sono spy drama series? Ridiculous.

And what about NBCUniversal's Vagrant Queen science fiction show made for SYFY and adapted from The Vault Comics book that is still filming in Cape Town and which will be shown on NBCUniversal International Networks' Universal TV (DStv 117)?

Is one day off over a weekend too much for some cast members, some crew, and someone to press play on a teaser trailer for Vagrant Queen to give to Comic Con Africa?

It's utterly mindboggling that Disney Africa and FNG Africa couldn't bother to do at the very least a screening of the first episode of the upcoming War of the Worlds live-action science fiction drama series (and then maybe even a panel session) of its second-ever commissioned series by Fox Networks Group Europe & Africa for the region.

Why did WarnerMedia do absolutely nothing at Comic Con Africa 2019 around its Batman 80th anniversary and Batman film festival on TNT (DStv 137), instead choosing to do a light show on The Leonardo building in Sandton? Doing something like this at Comic Con Africa would have been much more in-theme.

Google South Africa and YouTube South Africa couldn't bother to do a panel about Origin and maybe showing the first episode of its YouTube Original spaceship-set series that was filmed in Cape Town) to make some noise for it, and Showmax - that literally just added the Spanish dramedy Los Espookys - was hauntingly absent.

Why not show the first episode as people are strapped into beds?

Huge, unrealised and once-again wasted potential existed and exists for both Reed Exhibitions Africa and ReedPOP, as well as TV channels in South Africa, to build an event like Comic Con Africa into something special with panels and screenings for the press and fans around current and upcoming shows.

Sadly, no-one bothers and nobody cares. There doesn't seem to be any willingness, initiative, cooperation, vision or the drive that you find from true fans of genre content.

The result is that Comic Con Africa 2019 in its second year was once again filled with people forced to pay astronomical prices to basically come see cosplayers wandering the hallways like its an end-of-the-month Teletubbies-appearing-in-the-food-court promotion, taking place at a 90s mall that's seen better days and is desperate to try and appear relevant to passer-by shoppers.

How difficult (apparently very!) is it for Comic Con Africa 2019 organisers to keep tabs on what's going on and coming soon to South Africa, to liaise with a pay-TV operator like MultiChoice or individual local and internationally supplied TV channels, and to create a few choice panels and screening around that?

For now, Africa Comic Con 2019 remains a very watered-down and disappointing version of what's done and provided in the United States.

When an orange replica of a couch from a 25-year old American sitcom as a nostalgia activation is one of the biggest TV "draws" to your 4-day event, then you're not relevant, you're not in-touch and you're lame and old.

Best to just sit down - or start putting in actual work to collaborate and to make something passé like Comic Con Africa what it can and should be.