KanakaCon: A Hawaiian Comic Book Convention That Seeks To Preserve Culture

Mar 20, 2019

Comic books in the 'Aumakua series produced by Mana Comics features local superheroes. Attendees at the first ever KanakaCon - a comic book convention with a Hawaiian twist - got a chance to peruse comic books created by local artists and reflective of their Hawai'i roots.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

We head to the Big Island for KanakaCona comic book convention, or comic-con, with a Hawaiian twist. 

You’ve probably heard of Comic-Cons where fans of fantasy, sci-fy, and comic books gather. Some dress up like superheroes and others line up to meet their favorite comic book creators.  But KanakaCon is different. 

Comic book fans of all ages attended the first ever KanakaCon at the Kamehameha Schools Hawai'i Island Middle School campus in Kea'au.
Credit Shaun Chllingworth / Kamehameha Schools

Here’s Rae Kuruhara, a young Hawaiian comic book author.

“I think it’s rooted in this idea of the ʻōiwi edge – the idea that comics can be informed by our native Hawaiian stories,” says Kuruhara, “Which I think is something that has an avenue and outlet in other cons but its something that needs to be taught here and to grow here.”

Local comic book author and illustrator Rae Kuruhara gives the keynote speech at KanakaCon. Kuruhara is a 2014 graduate of Kamehameha Schools Hawai'i Island.
Credit Shaun Chllingworth / Kamehameha Schools

Sixth graders at Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi Island hosted the day-long KanakaCon at their Keaʻau campus.

Families engage in a mask and cape making workshop at KanakaCon.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

“A lot of conventions are not always the most accommodating to our keiki,” says Kuruhara, “So for them to start thinking this early about representation to think you know the larger popular culture I think that’s what sets KanakaCon apart.”  

Kids and kids at heart were invited to make masks and capes, compete in cosplay contests, and debate on whether superheroes make good role models. 

Attendees browse the selection of props for the superhero photo booth.
Credit Shaun Chllingworth / Kamehameha Schools

DJ Keawekane is a local comic book author from Hilo. He hopes KanakaCon helps foster the next generation of comic book creators. 

“For me when I was one kid we never have this stuff,” says Keawekane, “I was always drawing in school. I was getting in trouble for drawing in school.” 

DJ Keawekane at his comic book booth at KanakaCon.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Now Keawekane creates comic book superheroes that look...local. 

“Like Supersize Soles is the book that I’ve been working on and he’s this huge Samoan dude that can grow as big as he wants to,” says Keawekane.

Comic books written by Kamehameha Schools Hawai'i Island sixth graders.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

So we decided to ask some sixth graders what’s your idea of a Hawaiian superhero?

MONTIZOR: I feel that Hawaiian superhero is not only resilient meaning they’d never give up but they are proud of who they are which as a Hawaiian because that’s what makes them very unique and strong in their own way.

The youngest of attendees play superhero merry-go-round.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

MEDEIROS: They would believe Hawaiian beliefs and values.

RAPOZO: They should have a like a normal life but then when danger’s coming they should like get crazy.

Those are the voices of Cheizyn Montizor, Shyler Medeiros, and Kae-Lee Rapozo, who may all some day find themselves the stars of a future KanakaCon. Here’s Kuruhara again.

The all-day KanakaCon was hosted and organized by sixth graders at Kamehameha Schools Hawai'i Island.
Credit Shaun Chllingworth / Kamehameha Schools

“And so what I hope happens and what I hope myself and others can teach here at KanakaCon is that idea of like you know your stories are relevant,” says Kuruhara, “If it’s in the form of comics, then that’s great. But if it’s not then that’s great as well. I think this can be just one example of ways that we as young kanaka ʻōiwi can express our ʻōiwi edge.”

Organizers hope this will be the first of many KanakaCons.