Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday celebration, set on the third Monday of January each year, is an evolving event. This day off from work has become a touchstone in the Black community for volunteering, social justice actions, and artistic festivals. On both coasts, in New York City and San Francisco, the long weekend was a reason to celebrate and share the work of Black creators in popular culture’s latest favorite: comics and graphic novels.
It was a beautiful day for a comics festival in San Francisco — by which I mean it was cool but not raining after a long lazy weekend, so I was completely in the mood to be surrounded by hundreds of other Black fans of comics and other graphic arts. The event, the Black Comix Arts Festival, was held at the San Francisco Public Library on Sunday and The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Monday, both in the middle of downtown and free to the public (yay FREE!). Sunday’s library events centered on talks and Q&As with several Black Speculative Fiction authors, including Ayize Jama-Everett (author of The Liminal War), Nalo Hopkinson (author of Falling in Love With Hominids and editor of Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root), and Nnedi Okorafor (author of Lagoon).
As if the comics convention had been split in two, the open hall of artists and vendors was on Monday at the Center for the Arts, where it was blended with other MLK Day events, including a small Black Lives Matter neighborhood protest. The artists and vendors were scattered through two buildings, upstairs and down. Between the panels and artists being highlighted on separate days and the venue being spread out, it made for a diffuse setting for a convention and generally lacked the high energy fan-feeling I’ve had at other events.
That being said, the folks I met with were great. First up was Bill Campbell from Rosarium Publishing home of the anthologies Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond and the just-released The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia. Bill pointed me to Jaymee Goh, one of the editors for The Sea is Ours. I’m already a fan of the work they publish, so it was engaging to get to speak with them about their work.
My big thrill was visiting with Nalo Hopkinson at her table in the vendor’s hall. I’ve said before that I’m an utter fangirl for her work; it was a classic nerd moment to get to meet her. I’m committed to letting authors know how much their work impacts our lives, which I did by standing there and shaking her hand for about 10 minutes, realizing I’d left her book a home so I couldn’t get her signature, then re-realizing that she could sign my program book. Like I said, fangirl.
There were quite a few independent creators of not just comics, but also decorative postcards, posters, t-shirts, and buttons. Other tables in the two buildings included a booth selling children’s books with Black characters, both fiction and non-fiction, and a Black Panther Party booth with pamphlets and awesome posters for sale — we were just across the bay from Oakland, after all.
The Black Comix Arts Festival is in its 3rd year, and I’m hopeful that it will only continue to grow. There was a good sized crowd, consisting of people of all ages. One hall had video showings and we were entertained by a Black choir in one building and a radio station DJ in another. All of that plus the art exhibits that were scattered throughout and the fest provided plenty to do for a couple of hours. No, it wasn’t a large event, but it was an ideal opportunity to meet some of my personal favorites and to support Black businesses and Black creators. There’s so much talk about how we can support our own producers, this was a perfect time and place.