In 2014, Loyiso Mkize created Kwezi, a 19-year-old city boy who discovers he has super powers.
Together with colourist Clyde Beech and writer Mohale Mashigo, they collaborated to bring South Africans their own superhero. At this year’s Comic Con Africa, Lebohang Mosia sat down with the Kwezi team to discuss creating Kwezi (and other possible titles), its critical acclaim and superhero culture.
Who does what in the creation of Kwezi?
Loyiso Mkize: The creation is very organic, the process is more about creative people coming together and throwing what they’ve got onto this project. I created the comic book, but I realised very quickly that I couldn’t do it alone so Clyde Beech joined my team of one.
We were colleagues at Supa Strikas, I was head illustrator and he was head colourist. Fast forward a couple of years, then Mohale came in as someone else who could throw in some weight particularly to the structure to the story we’d developed. We’re the dream team who succeed individually and then come together for Kwezi.
Clyde Beech: I work on the digital side of things, I ink, I colour, I co-develop. Basically colour is taking a 2D image and trying to create 3D space including light, effects and distortion – and making it aesthetically pleasing.
Mohale Mashigo: He’s also downplaying that he’s one of our story developers, we all develop the story together.
CB: We sit together, we develop it, we have long brainstorming sessions. Everyone plays an important role in developing every part of it.
LM: It’s important to have different voices because the characters themselves have different voices. We throw as much into it then sit down and sift the best out of it.
MM: It’s difficult to say I’m just the writer because we develop the story together. One thing I do very well is to poke a hole in the big ideas and go: Plot-wise, where does this go?
Did you think that the comic would be so popular around the world even though it’s set in a South African context?
LM: I played it up to myself before anyone even knew about it. You have to because you have to believe it. The intention was to get it out there. If it doesn’t exist and when it does exist, it’s going to blow up because someone out there was longing for this content. Just like I was when I was 16.
CB: If we can watch a movie that’s from Ireland and they speak in Irish, we can still follow the movie. A lot of us enjoy Bollywood movies for instance and we read the subtitles. We don’t always understand the culture but we still latch on to it. Same with Kwezi, we did try to write it clever where we wrote vernac where there is an English sentence and there is a word in the context you will understand it. I’m from Cape Town so when coloured people in the book talk, it’s like what I hear.
MM: I don’t know who said this but the universal comes from the specific. When you read 'The Kite Runner', you’ve never experienced the ravages of war but somehow it touches you. If we had tried to do a Clark Kent, there would have been nothing specific and human about it.
LM: One of my inspirations to get this started was 'District 9'. It was a huge inspiration because we had never seen aliens in Johannesburg. The first shot is the Johannesburg skyline and over it is hovering this alien spacecraft. The nuances are something only a South African would know to put into that story.
MM: That’s what we call a moment. 'District 9' was a moment. Kwezi is a moment. Anyone who disagrees with that can meet me outside.. I can’t wait to see what and who is bringing the next moment because all the moments give birth to each other in small ways. All we need is moments and sometimes it is a moment of bravery.
If you could give some advice to young people who want to create content, what would you say?
CB: Put something on paper, create something digitally. The beginning is always at the start.
LM: Play on your strengths. That’s where your best stuff will come out of because it’s natural. If that’s writing, illustrating, painting then power to you.
CB: Don’t overthink the content. Create stuff that you would want to create for you. Create what you want and you’ll find that people will feed off the energy.
LM: A lot of creators are so self-defeating. You have a glorious idea and you’re so excited and yet you’re the same person that will knock yourself down.
CB: As you’re making a piece of art, you’re learning and becoming better. By the time you’re done with it, you look at it and you’re a better artist than when you made it.
MM: Just start, don’t look for perfection. There is no perfection.
Who are your favourite superheroes and why?
MM: Mine is Rorschach from X-Men. I want to be the Rorschach that I want to see in the world. His sense of justice is seen by lots of people as wrong but his one line is, “Never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon”. I love his sense of justice, the fact that he is out of mind.
LM: Wolverine. Apart from the backstory, he was just the first character I fell in love with. The first character I started emulating from the comic book artists who were creating at the time. The idea of someone whose claws come out was fantastic.
CB: Mine isn’t that fancy, I like Superman. Growing up I’ve always loved Superman. I like the symbol of justice. I like someone who has got unwavering morals. It’s got a caveat though and it’s twisted. Superman is the most humane of all human beings and he is the most alien. Everything about him is alien but he has appropriated himself to have humanity.
Final word about being at Comic Con:
LM: We are right where we need to be. It’s the perfect timing. We created the first South African superhero and within that lifetime Comic Con happens. There is something in the water. I can’t explain what it is and why. I can’t explain why Black Panther happened and it’s the biggest thing and it’s related to Kwezi. Something is happening and we will only realise what it is later.
MM: It’s the moment. It’s a big deal because I am a girl from Soweto and who would have imagined that girls from Soweto can write comic books? I mean I am still in shock. This is, wow, I can’t believe it.