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The Khem Fest Con Report: Full STEAM Ahead

The Khem Fest Con Report: Full STEAM Ahead

Some cons feel like going to a family reunion and last month’s Khem Fest is certainly one of them. Not only did I know quite a few vendors and panelists from the Afrofuturist/blerd circuit, but it was in my hometown of Newark, New Jersey.

What is Khem Fest you ask? The website has this to say:

The Khem Comic Book Fest is an annual convention founded by comic book creator and educator Naseed Gifted in 2014 that features creators of comics, books, film, and other media with a focus on artists and characters of color.  The goal of the event is to use comic books, films and popular culture to develop youth literacy and expression through S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology Engineering, Arts and Math).

Khem Fest’s focus on education, career exploration, and family set it apart from most other cons I’ve attended. Its school setting allowed it to be more accessible to children and families also.

The family that (cos)plays together stays together!

Don’t get it twisted, this doesn’t mean that it skimps on the familiar comic convention trappings. Indie and self-published comic makers, novelists, and artists filled the exhibition hall. The con was bustling with excitement and activity as soon as I stepped through the doors. Making my way through the many vendors to the rear of the con took me to the auditorium where all of the panels and workshops took place. I liked the diverse selection. One featured workshop was entitled “Making a Super Powered Video With Your iPhone,” which could be life changing since an iPhone-created movie can legitimately get you into Sundance.

Assassin Red Ranger! Mashups are so cool.

I attended the Khem Cosplay Fashion Show, which was also a workshop. Young people from the audience were brought on stage as volunteers so that host, Bill Johnson, a professional actor and cosplayer could transform them into some of the biggest heroes of the day, using simple wardrobe changes and a whole lot of imagination. This was thoroughly enjoyable, as Bill established a lovely rapport with the children, and the children went from being a bit shy to hamming it up as only true baby blerds in training can do!

I attended two panels, “Black Women in Comics” and “Black Stuntmen: The Luke Cage Stunt Team.” Both were enlightening and interesting. The first featured a few of my favorite women in geekery as well as a couple I was being exposed to for the first time. Hosted by BGN friend, Karama “theblerdgurl” Horne, the panel featured Regine Sawyer of WinCon and LockettDown,  Micheline Hess, creator of Malice in Ovenland, Ariell Johnson, the owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffee House, and Shauna Grant creator of Princess Love Pon.

It was interesting hearing these women talk about their different sensibilities and processes. Shauna spoke about her transition from experiments with humble technology to going digital, which made her process go much faster. Regine spoke about hiring different artists for her various comic lines. Shauna spoke about her love of magical girl aesthetics and desire to create a slice-of-life vehicle that honors the close bonds she and her loved ones share. Being the lone retailer on the panel, Arielle shared with us her process for reviewing indie comics for purchase. She also mentioned how all-consuming owning her own shop can be. She recently got back into reading her favorite comics (something she has to be intentional about making time for, ironically), dancing, and acrobatics as an outlet to remember herself.

Unsung Heroes: The Six Triple Eight

The “Stuntman” panel featured actors and stuntmen, David Chen, Jeremy Sample, Malcolm C. Murray and R. Marcos Taylor. Luke Cage is not their only credit as among them they’ve repped their skills on productions such as Gotham, The Get Down, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Daredevil, and the highly anticipated Black Panther. R Marcos Taylor was even featured as Suge Knight in Straight Out of Compton.

They regaled us with tales of their backgrounds while giving good practical advice to stuntperson hopefuls. It was fascinating getting a brief invitation into their world. There was the tried and true advice we can all benefit from, like being sharp and listening well to one’s director, but then there was industry standard knowledge. For instance, reputable stunt driving schools are rare, so if you are coming out of the east and have not attended Driver’s East Stunt Driving School, some coordinators won’t put you behind the wheel.

Another fun fact is high divers are ideal for stunts because of their spatial and body awareness. Martial arts is a good starting point for stunt hopefuls but there is some amount of unlearning that takes place to move away from fighting for contact versus fighting for angles. Any aspiring stuntperson needs a reel where they can be seen clearly doing the stunt work they’re applying for.

Defending Avengers assemble… and bring your friends too!


I got a chance to chat with Naseed Gifted, founder of the convention. That interview should be coming down the pike soon. All told, despite the dreary weather, I had a great time at Khem Fest and look forward to attending for years to come.

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