JOHANNESBURG-In a makeshift changing room swathed with black fabric, South African Luke Andalis transforms into the burly Aratak, preparing to perform at Comic-Con Africa, the continent’s largest pop culture, fantasy and gaming festival. “There’s so much fur in my mouth,” the 32-year-old cosplayer Andalis chuckles to friends as he dons a stiff green pleather parka over his head and shoulders. This year he chose to cosplay Aratak, the  middle-aged chieftain of the Banuk tribe in the popular video game Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wild. After a two-year Covid hiatus, Comic-Con Africa’s return has been widely anticipated by cosplayers and fans.

Clad in superhero capes, colourful masks, sci-fi costumes and eccentric wigs, thousands on Saturday flocked to a vast expo centre near the FNB Stadium, which hosted the FIFA 2010 World Cup final.  Loud music welcomed the festival-goers to Stranger Things escape rooms, pop-up tattoo parlours and comic haven. This year’s festivities are star-studded, hosting fan favourites including award-winning Stranger Things and Twilight actor, Jamie Campbell Bower among others. Africa’s third edition of the comic convention is being staged at the national recreation centre, south of the economic hub Johannesburg. The festival first hit African soil in 2018.