‘We’re not Freaks’: Tales of a Kenyan Geek


‘We’re not Freaks’: Tales of a Kenyan Geek

How does the Kenyan mainstream hivemind treat people who are into comics and animation? Horribly. Excuse me for being salty, but I have a bone to pick with you all.

I’ve been walking around with snow white braids for the past one month because convention season was upon us and I was going to cosplay some white-haired characters (Gojo Satoru from Jujutsu Kaisen, Killua Zoldyck from HunterxHunter and Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter, for the curious).

For the uninitiated, comic conventions are gatherings for geeks who are enthralled with fictional worlds whether it be from books, animations, TV shows, movies or comics. And there are two such conventions in Kenya – Nairobi Comic Convention and Movie Jabber Expo. Conveniently this year, they were two weeks apart. So I decided to go all in and install the peculiar colour.

It’s my first time doing something so dedicated for a cosplay – cosplay being the act of dressing up as a fictional character – but this is hardly the farthest people have gone to resemble their faves. I’m not anywhere near as creative as some of these amazing people. Contacts, body paint, fake fangs – you name it, someone’s done it. 

The oldest of the two conventions were celebrating their 9th annual event this year and I’ve been in the community from those early days when the local dailies would hear there’s a (peculiar, hard-to-understand) event happening at Sarit Centre or Village Market and come a-calling. 

The condescending articles that would result made me cringe as a member of the media fraternity in the country. There was nothing outwardly condemning us, but there was a certain tone of voyeuristic fascination. Like, why are these grown-ass adults dressing up as comic book characters?

Well I’m here to say that there’s nothing as satisfying as embodying a character that only exists in our collective imaginations. Want to be a superhero? Or a villain? Or the god of dreams? Everything becomes possible.

And it’s not just about the clothes and the makeup (though it is about that too. More in a minute). It’s about becoming that character in every way. Haughty or sexy or wild and adventurous. It’s intoxicating.

I’ll never forget the day Tamerra Griffin wrote about the Nairobi Comic Convention in 2017 for Buzzfeed (number 18 will shock you!). She’s American so she was approaching this from a background where people dressing up as treasured TV characters is not strange. I shared it all around because for once the community was being recognized for their ingenuity, ability to sew and build swords and countless other accessories from scratch. That takes skill.

And that brings me back to the clothes and makeup. I know people who have learned how to sew, how to operate a hot glue gun (ouch! If you know, you know), how to make prop swords, and scythes and guns. The craftsmanship needed to successfully look like Dr Strange von Doom is not a joke. These same skills applied in any other context would be praised from here to Ohio. Please, can we acknowledge the workmanship, artistry and mastery being exhibited in this niche space?

But it’s not just the cosplayers who receive flack. Even if you mention that you read anime or play video games, people will quickly profile you as a loner, an introvert or worse, an anti-social outcast. And that has really made people fear revealing that part of themselves. So once we find each other, such as at a convention, we go all out. It’s like coming home. Imagine traipsing through Junction Mall with a head-to-toe yellow and red leather ensemble and a mask on your head? The stares. Kenyans are professional starers. We even stop on the road to do it, so what about a relaxed in-door setting such as a mall? Random mall-goers usually leave with their jaws dragging on the floor when they encounter us.

But it all becomes worth it once you enter the convention hall and someone shouts out, “Oh! Kid Flash from DC Comics, right?” It really is like coming home.  You realize they get it. And that means they get you. That part of you that the rest of the world judges you for.

And we’re not all hobbit-dwellers. All sorts of people are part of the community. 10-year-olds, 20-year-olds, 50-year-olds. Extroverts, introverts. Movie-lovers and manga-lovers. And everything in between. And the friendships you make are sweet, because you already have this shared secret thing you both like that bands you together. The community is by far the biggest plus side of being a geek. You can imagine anyone who is willing to dress up as a powerful anime arch-wizard must be interesting to talk to, right?
So the next time you see a brown-eyed military general with spiky shoulder guards and spikier shoes on a visit to a mall near you, just remember, we’re not freaks, we’re just passionate.


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