Friday, February 15, 2013

NYCC: Defying the Stereotypes and Having Fun

Copyright Carlos M. Camacho

Comic Con: refuge of nerds of various fandoms. In recent years, cons have gotten more popular with mainstream audiences. This happened because shows like Glee, and others, not traditionally part of the con scene have come to be included. I recently attended New York Comic Con (NYCC) and it was one of the best weekends of my life. I met cosplayers (costume players, see above and below), fans, editors, artists, writers, business people, and more. The experience was priceless. I had expectations, some of which were met, for better or worse, and I also found myself pleasantly surprised.
Copyright Carlos M. Camacho
What is a con? NYCC’s website gives a definition that I have adapted here: “Comic Con is [an] exciting popular culture convention. Our show floor plays host to the latest and greatest in comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies, and a market place, bringing together the major players in the entertainment industry.” This is similar to academic conferences, which I have attended several times, especially since beginning my life as a PhD student. The biggest difference, aside from subject, was the dress code and the amount of stuff for sale. You may not find PhDs and grad students selling drafts of papers, but artists at comic con will sell sketches. Conferences have a dress code and comic con does not, though if you dress up it is a serious venture.

Before attending NYCC I had my worries. The comic industry has a reputation of being a boys club; from some of the ‘best’ superheroes being men, the hypersexualization of women’s bodies, the tropes used over and over again, and men dominating every aspect of the industry from creation to production and distribution. This also doesn’t begin to discuss the presence of other marginalized people within comics and other mediums. The rise of webcomics and independent publishers has given way to more variety in genre and increased character diversity, but we still have a long way to go. As a comic fan, as well as a video game, movie and pop culture fan, I think that part of changing things is understanding where we are.
Copyright by Carlos M. Camacho

At NYCC, I attended three workshops, two of which I will discuss briefly. The first was called Gay Marriage in Comics: Revolutionary or a Step BackwardsI didn't think Comic Con would host an event like this, so needless to say I had to go. When I arrived, there was standing room only. I was standing against the wall and I listened intently. The conversation was about the recent, very public Archie Comics wedding, as well as, the big X-Men wedding (both between men). I was under the impression that the conversation was going to be one-sided, so I was ready to instigate, but as I heard what was being discussed and looked into the crowd, I realized I was mistaken. The conversation was less about whether gays and lesbians had a place in comics, but about whether conforming to heterosexist norms was the way to go or simply a starting place, and how we proceed from there. The conversation was not always LG focused either, which pleased me. Once we got into the Q&A section the ideas were flowing to repair the invisibilities of marginalized people, and left me feeling hopeful.
Copyright Carlos M. Camacho
That hope was further increased as a man with a feminist bend to him, and also a Marvel fan, when I heard about the Marvel: Women of Marvel panel. The panel was comprised of several editors, writers, and a colorist, who all share their experiences as women in a (mostly) man's world. After the panel I went up to speak with a couple of the writers about breaking into comics, how stories about marginalized groups are treated, and more. Anyone who picks up a comic book or a video game will notice that it is not a perfect world for women, LGBT people, people of color, and religious minorities, from hypersexualization and violence to invisibility. These women working within the industry were able to provide insights on how the industry is changing and encouraged the women in the crowd to connect and not to give up.

Like I said, I had worries going in, and these two workshops, as part of a small group, helped me to feel better. Looking around at comic con outside of these workshops, I saw that there was a lot more diversity than I anticipated, though it was still male dominated, as well as, White dominated. Cosplayers ran the gamut from the serious to the profane, provocative to conservative, but there was an air of fun. As I walked around, even cosplaying myself as Mystique on Sunday, I could not help but think about the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian and the backlash against her and her proposed work on video games. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Anita operates Feminist Frequency where she discusses pop culture from a "feminist/fangirl perspective." She recently set up a Kickstarter to fund a project analyzing video games from this perspective and before the project was started she had to deal with a monsoon of hate directed at her. Surely this event, that drew people from across the country, must have had some of the people who attacked her or those who agreed in silence. How would we remedy this? How can we make comics and video games more inclusive without being stereotypical?

There are problems with comics, but as creators and fans alike intend to create and enjoy more inclusive diverse comics, and with more options for people to enter the industry than ever before, perhaps we will see more variety in the comic book universe and those ‘out’ about being part of any number of fandoms.

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