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The Detroit comic con that's changing perceptions of race in comics

Comic books at a vendor display

Comic artist Porche Johnson at MECCAcon 2015

A young comic enthusiast

MECCAcon 2015

In Detroit creative circles, you might be hearing a lot more about something called MECCA. That's because a lot more people are making the pilgrimage to Detroit this fall to attend this black-centric celebration of geekdom and creativity.

"It seems to have a lot more fans, people are sharing it all over," says founder Maia Crown Williams. "The workshops are very extensive this year, and we have more comics creators."

MECCA stands for the Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts, and will be held at the Detroit Public Library September 17, bringing together creators from the fields of comics, film, art, and music for a gathering of like minds in independent storytelling and new narratives.

It's the third year for the young convention, and Williams has been working hard to make it better than ever. There are challenges inherent in hosting a comic con and film festival on the same day in the same place. This year, she says, there's a better balance between the two.

"We're balancing the comics panels to be more cohesive with the film festival, so you can get to both," she says.

The panels and workshops at MECCA are bigger and better as well, with more creators slated for them and a wider range of discussions. If you're interested in black speculative fiction, there's a panel for that, hosted by Octavia's Brood editor Adrienne Brown. If you want to talk about women in comics, there's a panel for that too, hosted by Women in Comics NYC Collective founder Regine Sawyer.

If you want to hear creators talk about the impact of black characters and how to do representation right for various cultures in comics, there's a panel for that, lead by comics and film creator Tony Patrick. He'll also be presenting his new film, "Black Card," for the first time in Detroit, which stars Detroit-native Simone Missick (Misty Knight in the upcoming Luke Cage Netflix series), Dorian Missick (Saving Private Ryan) and Hiram Tawfiq (The Blacklist).

The comics guests have been chosen with a goal in mind, says Williams.

"I want people to leave energized, to start their own brand, comic, design, character, to have self-ownership, and to know that black people are all over the comics industry, all the way from Marvel and DC to the indie industry," she says. "Of course, we want to celebrate those who are working for Marvel or DC, but we want to celebrate the black indie community as well. It's not nationally recognized as much as it should be, and neither are women out here in the community who are also doing a lot."

If black independent film is more your thing, Williams has arranged an award-winning lineup of both short and feature films, to be shown in the library's auditorium, focusing on creators of the African diaspora. They include "The Last Days of Kartika" by Wi-Moto Nyoka, "Rise of the Orisha" by Nosa Igbinedion, "Woman Outside" from filmmaker and actress Yolonda Ross (The Get Down), and the award-winning children's animated film "The Orisha's Journey."

Comics and film are hardly where the story ends, though. There will be around 50 vendors on site from a variety of creative fields, live art demonstrations, a screenwriting workshop, and, of course, since this is a comic con, lots of cosplay, or costumed attendees.

"We're really trying to encourage cosplay," says Williams. "We want it more centered on the black community. Yes, dress as your favorite character, but also dress from African cultures or any kind of costume, period. A lot of people think cosplay is so heavily anime, and it's not. There's much more."
 
Aiesha Little, who runs the Midwest Black Speculative Alliance, will lead a steampunk cosplay workshop. She keeps coming back to MECCA because of its independent-focused energy and atmosphereoriginal to Detroit and the comic convention scene, which often focuses more on "Big Two" creators, Marvel and DC Comics.

"Last year was our first year at MECCAcon and we're coming back because I really like the vibe of the event, " she says. "Being able to interact with indie comic creators and illustrators that I follow on Facebook and Twitter without the negative 'fanboying' associated with comics created by the Big Two appeals to me.
  
In the workshop, Little will facilitate a discussion about "how people of color engage in a community whose fantasy is based primarily on a time period that was atrocious for 98.5 percent of the world's population, by creating steampunk characters with meaning and agency that shake up the established historical narrative."

Shaking up the narrative is exactly what Williams aims to do with MECCAcon and her other projects, which include the Black Speculative Arts Movement, and promoting independent creative events across the country. But for her, it all comes from a place of love for Detroit and its artists.

"The art scene in Detroit is heavily on the rise, and we have to keep uplifting the whole scene," she says.

"It would have been great to have something like MECCAcon when I was growing up, to see people who look like me creating and collaborating."


MECCA will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. September 17 at the Detroit Public Library at 5201 Woodward in Detroit. It is open to all ages, and tickets are $6 for the comic con, $6 for the film festival, or $10 for both all day, available online or at the door.

Several creators from the event will also be in town the two days prior, holding signings at black-owned bookstore Source Booksellers at Cass and W. Canfield on September 15, and at the Vault of Midnight at 1226 Library Street on September 16.

Kim Eggleston is a Michigan freelance writer and comics creator, and can also be found at this year's MECCAcon.
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