‘And now for the bad news...”
When the organisers of Comic Con Africa said this at the presser in Johannesburg on Friday, a day before the four-day event was set to start, the audience drew their collective breath in anticipation.
They were introducing the second edition of Comic Con Africa, following its successful debut in South Africa last year. This time around, it is being held at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand.
Then came these words: “Hi, this is Anthony Mackie.” The actor was announcing the cancellation of his appearance at the event. The audience sighed loudly in response; the disappointment in the media room was palpable.
And, when the event opened on Friday, fans expressed their dismay. “I’m so mad,” said Nashe, who arrived at Comic Con Africa dressed as Captain America.
This is the second year running that Mackie – who played Falcon in the Avengers movies and was confirmed by Comic Con to be the next Captain America – will not be attending. Last year, he was unable to attend because of a hurricane; this year, it is because of a delay in production on the set of his latest movie.
“I was so excited to see him; now I am heartbroken and disappointed,” said another fan, Alicia, who entered the venue on the opening day dressed as Captain Marvel.
Mackie was not the only actor to cancel. Last year, Aquaman star Jason Mamoa – who also played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones – cancelled his appearance.
And just last week, his Game of Thrones co-star, Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark), pulled out of the event, saying he was contractually obligated to attend the Emmys.
Despite the no-show by some of the invited guests (at least five this year), Alicia said she still wanted to come because “the first one was so amazing; that’s why I am here again”.
That was the general sentiment of the almost 22 000 people who bought tickets for the first day, ensuring that for the second year running, day one of Comic Con was sold out.
Carol Weaving, managing director of Comic Con Africa, said fans would have to manage their expectations – and deal with their disappointments – with regard to cancellations. The organisers were just as upset by the no-shows, she said. “[Mackie] got delayed on set. It isn’t our fault, it isn’t his fault and it isn’t the fans’ fault. But a Comic Con is not just about the international celebrities.”
True, but famous faces draw the crowds and build trust in an event.
“Daniel Gillies from The Vampire Diaries is filling in for Mackie this weekend,” said Weaving, “but we literally had tickets booked for Mackie. It’s disappointing, but that’s life.”
Judging from what I saw at the event on Friday, fans had moved on.
The venue buzzed with excitement as every second person came dressed as a character and selfies clicked nonstop.
There were freebies galore, panel discussions and workshops aplenty, and the pop-culture merchandise – from figurines and comics to branded T-shirts and board games – was selling like hotcakes.
As I passed a big, burly man dressed as the scrawny teenage Spider-Man, it occurred to me what a convention like this one really offers: it gives fans the chance to be whoever they want to be.
- Comic Con Africa ends on Tuesday