AfroComicCon, Oakland’s Black and Brown Comics Event, Returns In Person at New Parkway

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Five people pose and smile at camera in cosplay costumes
Attendees dressed in costumes at AfroComicCon 2019. (Adam Turner)

When Theo Hollingsworth arrived at AfroComicCon in 2019, he was dressed as a character he’d written himself — a bold move for the convention newbie. In a sleeveless white lab coat and a futuristic pair of neon green shades, wielding a pair of nunchucks, Hollingsworth stumbled around the spacious venue, marveling at the number of Black and Brown artists, filmmakers and fellow comic-loving nerds gathered together. Many were dressed as heroes from iconic series like Black Panther and Spiderman. “Who are you?” someone asked, brushing past him at the cosplay contest. “Don’t worry about it,” Hollingsworth responded. “You’ll know soon enough.”

Hollingsworth, a department manager at Pixar and an independent filmmaker, still remembers how excited he felt that day. “I was just like, ‘Whoa, this is amazing.’ I had never met so many indie comic book artists. I got to see so many cool panels,” says Hollingsworth. “I didn’t expect it to be this level. There were people that traveled from out of state to come to this thing. I felt late to the game and I was really excited.”

This weekend marks AfroComicCon’s first re-entry into in-person programming since 2019, with a Youth Community Day on Oct. 23 and a film festival award ceremony on Oct. 26. While the return is long-awaited, it’s happening on a ‘much smaller scale’ due to a lack of funds, says co-founder Hally Bellah-Guther.

Black man in AfroComicCon shirt looks to left
AfroComicCon co-founder Michael James at the awards ceremony in 2019. (Adam Turner)

This year’s AfroComicCon will forego the convention component but attendees are still encouraged to dress up and come together at the two events, where a number of panels will be held and short films will be screened. Youth Community Day features a discussion with members from the Story Xperiential program as well as a screening of the 2020 Pixar short film Loop, while the AfroComicCon International Film Festival award ceremony will showcase and honor a selected number of finalists who submitted films earlier in the year.

Now an AfroComicCon organizer and film festival judge himself, Hollingsworth stresses the importance of having a platform that not only bolsters the work of Black and Brown independent creators but also helps them discover broader audiences. “The more that we can kind of help to promote and acknowledge their work, the closer they get to being able to get to an even larger stage and even bigger budgets and bigger distribution,” says Hollingsworth.


AfroComicCon was born from a simple desire to see more BIPOC stories in the media. “We got to own our own identity,” says AfroComicCon co-founder Michael James. “To teach people how to make their own stories and use different tools — that’s how it all started.” Prior to launching the first convention in 2017, James managed the Digital Underground Storytelling for Youth program and directed the nonprofit Oakland Technology and Education Center: both homegrown efforts to provide local community members STEM literacy and creative resources.

View of person drawing with a checklist of AfroComicCon by their side
An AfroComicCon attendee works on a figure drawing. (Adam Turner)

After years of mentoring various students, he was determined to create a space where Black and Brown folks could convene, find community and discover pathways into art. Most importantly, he wanted to empower them to share the fullness of their lives on their own terms. “I felt that we have to determine our narratives,” says James. “We can't let other people write our narratives for us.”

AfroComicCon’s reach is far and wide: it encourages Black and Brown comic and cartoon lovers of all ages and experience levels to experiment with storytelling through its workshops and by connecting industry professionals with local Bay Area residents. With an emphasis on accessibility and community, AfroComicCon’s main mission is to bridge the gap between the daunting fields of animation and art with the desire to fully express oneself.

Organizers hope to convey to young people attending the events that they can strive to create art professionally if they want to. “We need to start as early as possible, right,” says Hollingsworth. “Getting kids of color to realize that they can do this profession of filmmaking, and giving them the tools so that they can start early.” And for adult attendees, it’s never too late either.

“As older people too, we dream,” says James. “I’ve always had stories in my head or stories that were shared in my family that I would love to see on screen somehow. I want to encourage not only just young people, but also older people — that they still can give something.”

AfroComicCon’s Youth Community Day takes place Sunday, Oct. 23, 12:30–2:30 p.m. and the film festival award ceremony takes place Wednesday, Oct. 26, 6–9 p.m. Both events are free at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland.