Next weekend, September 17th 2016, is Detroit's annual MECCAcon, a comic book convention that celebrates comic book creators and comics of color while attempting to strengthen the Black Arts community and introduce fans to creators outside of the Big 2. Maia Williams, also known as "Crown," is executive assistant to many different businesses, artists, and events in the Metro Detroit area. Crown is also CEO and founder of Amonyet Enterprises, Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts (MECCAcon), Cooking Ciphers, Black Speculative Arts Movement (co-founder), and Crown's Royalties. Despite her busy schedule a week ahead of MECCAcon, Crown stops by the Griotvine to give us a rundown of her event, behind the scenes, and creators we should be on the look out for!
GREG ANDERSON-ELYSEE: Welcome, Maia "Crown" Williams, to the Griotvine! How are you today?
MAIA "CROWN" WILLIAMS: Grateful to be sitting still, brody.
GREG: So the MECCAcon is coming up real soon! September 17th, in fact. So tell me, what is MECCACon?
CROWN: MECCAcon (Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts) is a black centered comic book, film, and arts convention held annually in Detroit, MI, every September. We center all things around creators of the African Diaspora and other cultures as well. This is our third consecutive year. The convention always consists of around 50 vendors, international film festival, workshops, classes, Q&A, panels, and demonstrations. The past two years, we have been honored to be able to hold the event at Detroit Public Library.
GREG: What inspired you to start this convention and how long has it been so far?
CROWN: My biggest inspiration would be having a sun who was heavy into comics. I wanted to find comics that were more centered around his culture. I discovered the black comics community and was very impressed in the history of it. I had no idea about how heavy of an industry it was and how fast it was growing. I also was inspired to be a positive and ACTIVE addition to Detroit's art community more than I already was. I feel that the comic book community in Detroit has a lot of powerful history, especially being that Dwayne McDuffie and Arvell Jones are from here and it needed to be highlighted in a more professional way than in the recent past.
Greg: How is the art scene in Detroit anyway? I haven't been. This is going to be my first year.
CROWN: Seek SABRINA NELSON and ye shall find. (Laughs) She is my guru when it comes to the art scene of Detroit. She isn't the fairy; she is the magic dust. Detroit has a HUGE art community, especially due to the massive and critical amounts of transferred gentrification from California to Michigan via all things Dan Gilbert. He reminds me of a pyramid business. His deprogramming of black art in the city is kind of a scary thing. They are paying people to come from California and New York and move to Detroit. They are giving them jobs AND paying their rent in full. This also heavily affects the art community. Artists are being arrested for "illegal" graffiti. Artists are being pushed out of art installations and art shows, etc. However, even with all of that, we have a very strong set of people who are not only fighting back, but also doing it effectively. Artists like Olayami Dabls, Jason Phillips, Sydney James, Antonio Agee, Christopher Batten, Tylonn Sawyer, Tiff Massey, Clifton Jamaal Perry, Sintex, Ashley McFadden are getting a lot of things done in the city of Detroit and abroad.
GREG: And I would guess that's way your place in the community comes in. I'm more than sure running a comic convention hasn't been peaches and cream. Can you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes trying to get this going?
CROWN: Marketing is the biggest and most difficult job. Collecting vendors, organizing the programming, building multiple schedules, promoting, these are all necessary. It can be quite a lot to deal with, especially in the city of Detroit.
GREG: Have you ever thought of maybe having a press or marketing team to help with that?
CROWN: Well, right now I can't afford a team. I'm too stubborn with pride to create a team I know I can't pay for. I'm not in the business of taking advantage of people. I DO however have my 'triplet,' comics creator, Kim Eggleston, to help me in all things press when my mouth isn't mature nor patient enough to get it myself. Along with creating comics, she also is a freelance journalist and an excellent one at that. She is the everything, Greg. Grateful to once again have BLKBOARD covering our event in full, as well as Taji Magazine and Revolutionary Mindz Media. I haven't graduated to Detroit News/Free Press yet. (Laughs) I'd love to one day see Metro Times cover me as well. But... hey. (laughs)
GREG: We gotta keep that grind going! How do you generally plan ahead for the next year?
CROWN: I'm notorious for starting the planning the day after the last. (Laughs) I research what went right, and study even harder what I feel needs to improve. I work on a press release and build from there. I also find out what artists I need to gain the most traffic. I also build around the vendor list and base the activities on that. To add, with our international film convention, I put out a call to action for official selections to be submitted.
GREG: What has been some of the hardships of running MECCAcon aside from the marketing you mentioned earlier?
CROWN: My mouth. (Laughs) Gaining black press is actually the hardest thing to do if we are being honest. Getting people to help you promote can also be on struggle level. Getting sponsors is probably my largest problem. It is very hard to get sponsors for black comic conventions as a whole. Organizing multiple conventions all at the same time has been my most recent migraine, but I still love it. (Laughs)
GREG: Wait, so it's not just MECCAcon you're doing? What else are you involved with?
CROWN: WAY TOO MUCH. (Laughs) An old friend of mine deemed me as "the female Marcus Garvey." (Laughs) I do... EVERYTHING. As far as events and comics are concerned, not only have I co-curated many art installations, jazz concerts, reggae concerts, hip hop ciphers, open mics, etc, I also am co-founder of Black Speculative Arts Movement aka BSAM. BSAM, co-founded by Dr. Reynaldo Anderson, is a convention that we hold at multiple universities and colleges thru-out the United States and abroad. It is heavily centered on Afrofuturism as well as black comics, art, cooperative economics, etc. Schools include Harris-Stowe State University, Temple University (Nov 12), Prairie View A&M University (Feb 18), Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD/ Oct 21-22), University of DC, and many more. We'll also be in Amsterdam and Ghana. Afrofuturism is a heavily populated genre which is why it is being HEAVILY gentrified right now and I will leave that at that. (Laughs)
GREG: Jeez, how do you find time for all of that?
CROWN: God bless my Google Drive. (Laughs) This year has been epically crazy. Not only have I held a million events of my own and still counting 3 more in 2 months, I've also been to 3 other events of others out of state, including Jerry Craft and John Jennings' super-sensei-sized Black Comic Book Festival in Harlem, as well as the highly successful convention from Regine Sawyer, her 'Sista gurls doin' it all by themselves' Women In Comics Con, aka WinC, in the Bronx. Regine and I squad HARD. (Laughs)
Greg: Can you tell me any proud moments or what has been such a moment of joy for you running MECCAcon?
CROWN: Like I say in all interviews, seeing the children react to being in a venue filled with comics that look like them is one of the greatest feelings on this realm. It warms me every time with every face. They light up instantly. I was also very proud to start my film festival. I had always wanted to do one but I wanted a real one. I wanted it accredited and registered. I wanted excellent films, not just people I knew. When this was first accomplished last year, I made an extra special effort to stop what I was doing and sit down for one. It was my Brody, award winning producer Nick Speed's documentary. He was so proud and it literally made me tear up. It was his first time he was able to see it on the big screen. I was so proud to be able to gift him that opportunity. The documentary is astounding as well.
GREG: Let's talk about diversity in comics.
CROWN: Oh lawd, the "D" word. (Laughs)
GREG: (Laughs) Oh yes! That word. When you hear that word, what comes to Crown's mind? And what are your thoughts on its state right now in terms of comic books?
CROWN: DIVERSITY is the most pimped out word of 2016. I literally only use it when I forget NOT to. (Laughs) My melanin is being taken advantage of #AllSummer16. I find it sad and at the same time a tad bit comical. Many mainstream companies are "diversifying" their lineups but still not diversifying their CREATORS. They also keep using the same POC creators over and over and over again as if we only have 3-4 black people who can draw or write. If I offend anyone on this, it is what it is. I don't feel like apologizing for my thoughts nor your emotions today. There are thousands of creators, yet the same ones keep getting overly recycled. Black women are SEVERELY lightly utilized in mainstream, especially when it comes to writing. These are just a few of many reasons I ride so hard for the indie community. I don't have any problem with the big companies, I'm just sick of their shit. (Laughs) Can I say that?
GREG: (Laughs) Oh, you good.
CROWN: Listen. I'm just here so I don't get fined.
GREG: Who are some Black female creators you would suggest people look into?
CROWN: Regine Sawyer, Alitha Martinez, Micheline Hess. They would be considered squad. (Laughs)
GREG: Given you mentioned your son being an inspiration for your convention with his love for comics, did you have an interest originally yourself? What is your own history with comic books before your convention?
CROWN: I wasn't into comics heavily until I was older. My old business partner introduced me to the land of living known as "black indie." I've been stone crazy since. Maybe before, but yeah. (Laughs) The artist as far as illustrators who stole my heart first was Mshindo Kuumba. I was utterly floored by the amount of Afrofuturism he mastered. From his lines to his colors, I was in awe. One of my favorite writers by far is David Walker. He does like many people do: he draws you in. Unlike many others, he has the skills to keep you there. Many writers bore me by page 6. He most definitely is not one of them. When Dwayne McDuffie died, I started studying the history and foundations of black comic creators on my own just to learn more about the industry I was trying to contribute to. I was never and never WILL be a convention owner who just collects money and points you to your table. I am selective in who I choose to participate in MECCAcon, and forever will be. When I market, I go out of my way to show love to those who are lesser known first and foremost, as well as those I know who me marketing will further the success of my event(s). It's a Detroit thing. I'm actually from the suburbs, but whatever. (Laughs)
GREG: What are you reading now? Who are some of your favorite creators?
CROWN: I barely have time to think let alone read. (Laughs) I am patiently waiting for BLUE HAND MOJO to come out. My dreams are LIT when it comes to that. My list of favorite creators always includes not only writers and publishers, but also artists. It would include names like Khary Randolph, Brandon Thomas, Regine Sawyer, LeSean Thomas, N Steven Harris, Robert Garrett, John Jennings, Micheline Hess, Tim Fielder, Tony Puryear, David Walker, Afua Richardson, Bill Campbell, Keron Grant, Will Focus, Alitha Martinez, Keithan Jones, Tony Padilla, and so many more. I would definitely start newbies off with Brotherman Comics, Milestone Media/ 2.0, Tony Isabella and Arvell Jones. My list of suggestions would be a mile long, to be honest.
Greg: So what's on the agenda this coming year concerning MECCAcon? Who are we going to see, what events are planned, panels?
CROWN: As far as activities, MECCAcon will be the epic black nerd turn-up this year in the city of Detroit this year. Not only do we have around 50 vendors, 90% from out of state and out of the country, we have many workshops, classes, and more. Our film festival will be returning this year as well. MeccaCon International Film Festival is registered under Ava DuVernay's ARRAY and has been well received in the industry by many elite creators, directors, actors, and more. I am very proud of my film fest, it takes just as much to get that together as it does the comic con. It is far more than showing a few movies in-between some panels. I have to collect applications, watch ALL of the submissions, register the official selections, and make sure the comic con schedule coincides with the film fest schedule. That in itself is a heavy and difficult task.
GREG: Well with all that said, I want to wish you a lot of love, luck, and good vibes on this coming MECCACon! And congrats on all of the success thus far.
CROWN: Thanks so much. It's hard doing all of this but my spirit is fully rewarded in the end.
GREG: Any closing words you'd like to say before we leave?
CROWN: Asé O, and what up, doe!
For anyone looking to visit MECCAcon this year, CLICK HERE to purchase your tickets!