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The Horror Is In The Detail

Lauren Beukes is leading the way for female comic book writers, but don’t expect her work to be effeminate. She deals in the dark and twisted.

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In Tamboerskloof, high above Cape Town, Lauren Beukes wakes to the beautiful sight of Table Mountain and cascading clouds over the roofs of historic houses. Though, what she sees behind it are unsettling horror stories than can make your blood run cold.

Right at her doorstep you get a clue to what kind of person Beukes is. There is a crack in the floorboards, near the threshold, that she has stuffed with newspaper.  She saw in a movie that ghosts can find their way through such a crack, so she filled it in just in case.

This is an insight into the twisted mind of a comic book entrepreneur, who earns good money for dark stories that will have you looking over your shoulder. The unsettling world of Beukes caught the eye of international comic book brand DC Comics, thousands of kilometers away in its headquarters in New York. In many ways DC is the Washington DC of North America’s $1.03 billion industry, that sells 99 million copies a year. That’s almost enough to give a comic book to every person in South Africa and Uganda combined.

It all began long before Beukes filled the crack in her floor – with a chance meeting, in an equally unlikely surrounding, at her first book launch at a science fiction convention in 2009 in Montreal, Canada.

“I flew there so broke. I was eating the hotel breakfast and smuggling the extras into my bag,” she says.

Her prospects in Toronto weren’t as hungry.

There, Beukes met Bill Willingham, creator of Fables, one of the biggest adult DC Comic titles, who has been in the industry for over a decade. He set up a meeting for Beukes with DC deputy editor Shelly Bond in New York.

“He said, ‘you are going to go see her. The meeting is on Tuesday at three o’clock. You better be there’,” says Beukes.

Beukes’ existential moment came in the DC lobby, in front of a statue of Superman swinging into a telephone booth (we’re not joking). A more intimidating place could not have been created for a comic book fan like Beukes. Superman had been her hero as long as she could remember.

“The first time I went, shame, there was a young guy in a new suit, he was really sweaty and clutching his portfolio and three different people got his name wrong. Then Shelly Bond comes up to me and was like ‘Lauren, Bill said he was going to send you’.”

“I was thinking I don’t know what I am doing here, I am such a fraud. Now I get to work on titles like 2000AD which were childhood influences,” says Beukes.

Beukes nailed the introduction. She was asked to present a new idea and she gave them a horrifying rendition of Rapunzel, of long hair and fairy tale fame, haunted by her past and a Japanese ghost.

“I thought Rapunzel is all about the hair. Japanese horror is all about the hair. This can’t be a coincidence,” says Beukes.

The story took off and DC wanted more. After Fables, Beukes went back, only to find, to her horror, her ideas had dried up.

That was it, Beukes thought, she was on her way out and on the verge of leaving comic book heaven empty handed. She was on the way out with her head down when she remembered a conversation she had with her friend and cover illustrator, Dale Halvorsen, back in Cape Town.

“I was heading out with [Bond]; I wondered… ‘should I say this idea [Halvorsen] thought of?’ So I told [Bond]. She was like ‘yes, that. Give me the full pitch now. I want to start with the artists.’ She was literally walking me to the elevator.”

Halvorsen’s idea was hauntingly simple: what if the 1980s horror movies were real and where are those kids who were in them today? Halvorsen and Beukes watched horror movies for years and had been playing with the idea for a matter of weeks. They never expected DC to want it.

In this moment of rejection, dejection and desperation, Survivors’ Club was born. The story put Beukes back in business with DC.

“Horror has its own particular set of rules which goes with each genre. It tends to be very formulaic, but if you understand those rules you can subvert them and interesting things start to happen,” says Halvorsen.

“We wanted to pull the rug out from under you, and then you look down and realize the rug is made from human skin, and then you realize it’s not your human feet,” says Beukes.

It is here in Tamboerskloof, ghost free we hope, where the adventure began. They called the brainstorming behind their ideas ‘creepy playtime’, using every dark corner of the living room to fire their imagination.

Under a wall-sized bookshelf filled with action figures and comic books, the pair spent countless hours discussing the sounds a shotgun should make when it blows your brains out; to acting out the horrific adventures their characters endure.

“It’s the only way to make it sound natural. It’s kind of like improvisation; we try to figure out what needs to be said in the scene. In reality we try to creep each other out. Every line is by both of us. We play out dialogue and act it out,” says Beukes.

They draw inspiration from within.

“You take a seed of your personality and you grow it into a tree. There are bits of me in Alice [one of the main actors in Survivors’ Club], and bits of us in all the characters. I just love acting Alice out the most because she is so evil,” says Beukes.

And if you thought Beukes’ neighbors would be worried about the screams in the night – think again – the neighbors are in on the act. Often, they help out by acting out a lingering horrid death.

It’s all about the devil in the detail. The pair believes strongly in creating lifelike scenes, to the point where they will consult a paramedic from New York and a Gambian living on a cyber waste dump to find out how they speak. At one point, Halvorsen had to bring in his action figures because there was so much choreography and then so many characters they were losing track of.

“My eight-year-old daughter comes in the room and says why are you swearing and we tell her we are acting… we’re deep nerds,” says Beukes.

Before Beukes was famous, she would often be found rummaging through the comics at the Readers Den, a nearby comic book store in Rondebosch, Cape Town, recalls owner Mahdi Abrahams.

“Lauren is a long-time comics fan. She’s done quite a bit of comics work over the last few years for main publishers such as DC, Vertigo, and 2000AD. Except for Joe Daly, she is the only South African writer who has managed to break into the international comics scene, to the best of my knowledge. She has definitely put South Africa on the map as a result and naturally serves as an inspiration,” says Abrahams.

“The fact that she is a best-selling novelist with worldwide recognition, writing comics of course, further reinforces the validity of the comics medium, and makes people aware that comics are not a lowbrow art form churned out by hacks.”

There is growing demand to see women take the lead. For the 40-year-old Beukes, being a successful woman in the industry is rare.

“[Beukes] is also very much on the forefront of furthering the position of women in comics: as professionals working in the industry, as an increasingly large part of the comics readership and audience, as well as the growing positive representation of female characters in comics,” says Abrahams.

What has opened the doors for new authors is the search for fresh ideas. For years, comics have catered for the middle-class teenage white male.

“In South Africa we need to get more girls into comics. Every time I go into Readers Den, they want to offer me a reader’s discount, I say to them you can give me a discount, but I want you to give that to the next girl who comes in here. I’ve pushed them that we need to see more comics for girls. I don’t want Archie. I want to see superheroes that aren’t Catwoman and sexualized.”

“We need to be reaching girls. Girls don’t even know that comics are an option available to them. So much of the superhero stuff is so slanted to boys. That’s why you have so many people cosplaying as Harley Quinn, because she is a freaking badass.”

The pair are leading by example. Survivors’ Club features strong female leads like Chenzira Moleko, a black South African who opens the gates of hell playing an arcade game in a shebeen in Soweto. Before you ask, you can probably guess the other five characters being either possessed, haunted or insane.

The love Halvorsen and Beukes have for comic books started in childhood. Back then comic books were scarce and often lost track of running stories.

“I think that’s where storytelling comes in, because you had issue 12 and then issue 33 of Spider-Woman and you had to work out what happened in between,” says Beukes.

These days, it’s much easier getting your hands on comic books. But getting your name out as a twisted like-minded author is a tough task.

“Where we fall down is as writers. [South Africans] can be absolutely incredible in drawing but they haven’t developed the writing skills. Right now there isn’t enough money to support it. I think South African artists need to know that they can pitch internationally, and it’s not as hard as they think it is,” says Beukes.

Another who has been fighting for more than 25 years promoting African talent is Moray Rhoda, known as the godfather of South African comic books.

“I think Lauren Beukes has made an incredible difference to how South African comics are perceived. Her background in writing fiction literature means that people tend to give her work more weight and consider it more seriously than they usually do,” says the 47-year-old design lecturer.

“I think the fact that we have locals making international waves and coming to the attention of international publishers could, finally, be the big thing that inspires our community of comic book creators to make that South African invasion of international comics a reality.”

The challenge is finding readers.

“It’s such a rich environment here. But in having said that, I’ve pitched stories to Vertigo, set in South Africa ,and they come back asking for an American point of view character, so we can understand the environment they are in,” says Beukes.

It’s all part of Beukes’ dream that began with an elevator pitch in New York, that flourished in a house with a crack in the floor on the gentle hills of Cape Town, and ends up delivering horror to the shelves of the comic book stores around the world.

Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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Entrepreneurs

Covid-19: Restaurants, Beauty Salons, Cinemas Among Businesses That Will Operate Again In South Africa As Ramaphosa Announces Eased Lockdown Restrictions

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the country’s lockdown restrictions.

Restaurants, beauty salons, cinemas are among the businesses that will be allowed to operate again in South Africa.

The country is still on lockdown ‘Level 3’ of the government’s “risk adjusted strategy”.

President Ramaphosa also spoke on the gender based violence in the country.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country. The killing of women and children by the men of our country. As a man, as a husband, and as a father to daughters, I am appalled at what is no less than a war that is being waged against the women and the children of our country,” says Ramaphosa.

Watch below:

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