Convention after convention, S.C. musician Preach Jacobs began to notice that the comic book industry and his own hip-hop culture overlapped in a lot of ways. Comic book shows have become a cornerstone for graffiti, sneaker design, and political commentary through art.
Familiar with these mediums in hip-hop, Jacobs became confident that he could fill in the gap between illustration and music with an intentionally hip-hop infused show. “I went to different cons like HeroesCon in Charlotte, and the Atlanta Comic Convention and I noticed that there was a huge presence of hip-hop. It seemed like a natural fit. I knew they could be brought together,” he says.
Encouraged by his friend, Marvel illustrator Sanford Greene, Preach created a one-of-a-kind event that combined the storytelling and artistic principles of the comic book and hip-hop cultures. Now in its third year, Preach’s brain child Cola-Con is creating a space for artists and the public to discover each other in Columbia.
As a musician himself, Jacobs is familiar with how to attract creatives. His aim is not to make money or to have a million sponsors, but to hold a show that he himself can enjoy. “I am an artist doing a show for artists. You know, so many things are about the bottom line or the number of sponsors. This isn’t that. We have no budget, everything we can is DIY. We also have a 100 percent artist return rate every year. That means that the artist feels that the show is beneficial to them, and will keep giving them opportunities.”
Even with a tight budget, Jacobs has been able to use his connections to get big names like Talib Kweli, 9th Wonder, Ghostface Killah, and Phife to perform. This year, The Foreign Exchange and Dead Prez will be headlining.
Friend Tracie Broom believes the Con’s success has come from Preach being an avid fan himself, and knowing what the audience wants. “What was better than seeing Ghostface Killah was seeing Preach watch Ghostface Killah,” says Broom. “He had this huge smile, he was so excited.”
The con has been getting both national and local attention for its unique nature. The City of Columbia recently issued Jacobs a grant after seeing the con’s potential in the community – a promising sign for such an offbeat event. Jacobs kept the DIY structure and has instead used the money to lower ticket prices and move to the larger Metropolitan Convention Center. He has also started an initiative with local art teachers to invite students to the convention.
“One of the things I realized was if I was a teen I would go crazy about this,” he says. “We’re getting 300 high school students to come to the show. We asked art teachers: if your students want to come to Cola-Con, email us, and we’ll give them tickets for free. It allows students to get exposure to conventions, exposure to exhibits, and exposure to top illustrators. And they can show off their portfolios.”
This year will feature 10 different panels, including several with South Carolina musicians and cartoonists, tips on how to successfully use Kickstarter, and discussions with Sanford Greene and The Boondocks producer LeSean Thomas.
“When you think about comic cons, you think about San Diego, you think of these big cities. And when people talk about South Carolina it’s never anything good. People are amazed that Columbia can do this. It’s great that this has gained legs,” Jacobs says.