Since 2016, and buoyed by the recent runaway success of Black Panther, creators, readers, gamers, and cosplayers in Afrofuturism had the desire to gather together and learn from one another. But what con could accomplish such a monumental task? Enter Blacktasticon.
Blacktasticon is a science fiction conference with an eye toward Afrofuturism that is held biannually in Atlanta, GA.
If you don’t know what Afrofuturism is, you can find many definitions online, but I like to define it as a cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, history, and myth to examine, revise, and create the past, present, and future experiences of the African diaspora.
The conference was hosted by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade on the Georgia Tech University campus. Blacktasticon 2018, held June 15-17, brought together many special guest actors, artists, authors, and cosplayers, as well as a host of panelists. Featured events included author presentations, film showings, panel discussions, martial arts instruction, and a gathering at Battle and Brew—an eat-while-you-game restaurant (The entrance to the bathroom was painted like the TARDIS!).
The conference offered a variety of panels, including “From Book to Screenplay,” “Women in Science Fiction,” “World building,” “Blacks in Anime and Manga,” “Making Video Games,” “Cosplay Your Way,” and many more. On display was such an array of talent and skill, you couldn’t get to it all. So much knowledge had been condensed in so short a time, that you had to clone 4-5 copies of yourself to take it all in. With 3-5 choices of panels or presentations per session, the conference offered a smorgasbord of information to process and digest.
As an introvert, I had to take breaks to decompress between sessions, and I wished I had the Teacher from Star Trek (TOS: Spock’s Brain) to instantly download all the program content directly into my brain.
Of course, the conference also afforded a chance to meet new friends, reconnect with old ones, and network. I finally met Milton Davis, Gerald Coleman, and Balogun Ojetade, whom I’d been interacting with online for years. I met up again with authors extraordinaire, Linda Addison, Valjeanne Jeffers, Nicole Givens Kurtz, and Sheree Renee Thomas, as well as design innovator, John Jennings. Some new friends include Troy Wiggins, coeditor of FIYAH magazine; Lisa Yaszek, professor of science fiction at Georgia Tech; Barr Foxx, professional cosplayer; and Donovan Vim Crony, producer/director.
All of these extraordinary talents are helping to take Afrofuturism further, beyond what our collective imaginings could have thought possible 10 years ago. From moderating the “Cyberfunk” and “Dystopian vs. Utopian Futures” panels, I learned Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed used utopian satire to deconstruct Western society; and John Jennings has developed a visual essay, Cybertrap, set in a dystopian Jackson, MS, that blends elements of the trap culture to comment on resource depletion and discrimination in funding in the South.
The DWASF-sponsored panel (Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction), “From Romance Writer to Vampire Huntress: Celebrating the Brilliance of L.A. Banks,” centered on the evolution of vampires from two-dimensional villains to fully fleshed-out beings with desires and goals, buttressed by complex magic systems. The panelists noted Ms. Banks’ books not only featured these evolved creatures, but also strong Black women of agency whose power only increased after realizing their ingrained potential. Her Vampire Huntress series included 12 books and predated—and informed—the True Blood series. Sadly, Ms. Banks died too early, at the age of 51, of adrenal cancer.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the vendors’ room, which featured the works of artists, writers, and craftsmen and women, such as the graphic novel series, Tuskegee Heirs; comics from Urban Shogun Comics and Hip Hop Comix and Flix; and pieces from Starchild Art. All of the wares embodied originality, quality, and relevance.
In summary, Blacktasticon 2018 supplied everything anyone could want to learn about writing, art, cosplay, gaming, martial arts, and more, all through an Afrofuturistic lens. So save your ducats for 2020, because I have a feeling it’s going to be even bigger and better!
(Editor’s note: more information past and future Blacktasticons can be found here.)