[8 August 2006]
San Diego Comic Con has come and gone, and as always it was an amazing event. The con isn’t just your normal comic book convention; it is a nexus point. It is the place where hundreds of veins of popular culture overlap simultaneously for the tens of thousands of people who make the trek from all over the world to enter its walls.
There is something literally for everybody. Science Fiction fans are offered an unending supply of Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon Five, Farscape, and Battlestar Galactica merchandise and autographs. Fans of Anime and Manga have the chance to watch hours of their favorite movies and receive countless free books from their favorite publishers. Gamers can play all day, play testing new CCGs or enjoying old favorites like Magic: The Gathering. Movies buffs will be more then placated with the Spiderman 3 and 300 panels, that offer the fan the chance to see the stars and ask the creators questions.
San Diego Con is literally the trip to Mecca for the fanboy. While all of the things mentioned above were exciting, the one aspect of the Con that I found most interesting were the panels dedicated to pushing the limits of the various mediums represented. San Diego has numerous panels that discuss the new and exciting ways that creators are seeking to explore the boundaries of the science fiction, fantasy, and comic book worlds.
One of the highlights of the con was the panel The Seven Spiritual Laws of the Superhero. The panel featured comics legend Grant Morrison and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, discussing their new project to create a superhero that was more reflective of the spiritual needs of today’s society. Morrison and Chopra offered a fascinating look into the long history of graphic storytelling and discussed how comics have the power to alter the reality of the world. They explained that comics are microscopic realities where the superheroes are manifestations of human potential. It is their goal to create a comic book line that uses superheroes as vehicles to open reader’s minds to new levels of spiritual and emotional understanding.
Chopra told a fascinating story about meeting a spiritual guide who had a scroll that had his entire life written on it. In the story, he explained that everyone has a destiny and that a person must come to terms with their place in the world. Morrison likewise reflected on some of his spiritual beliefs and the way he incorporates them into his storytelling. Just being in the room and listening to these fascinating individuals talk made me feel like perhaps that there was still some magic left in the world. It also reminded me of Alan Moore’s argument that writers and creators are the new magicians of this world. Hearing Morrison and Chopra talk made me realize the accuracy of his comments. Interested? Check out their line at Virgin Comics.
When it comes to higher criticism and greater artistic exploration of popular culture, the Comics Art Conference (CAC) is a lynchpin at San Diego. The conference was founded by Peter Coogan and Randy Duncan, as a way to bring scholars, fans, and creators together to increase study, commentary, and dialogue about the comics medium.
The CAC has worked with some of the legends in the comics field, including Scott McCloud and legend Will Eisner. The have tackled subjects as varied as the legacy of Jack Kirby, the sociopolitical commentary of Art Speigelman, and the portrayal of women and minorities in comics. The CAC clearly offers a wonderful forum for the intellectual study of the comic book medium.
I was able to go to most of the panels the CAC hosted this year and was thoroughly impressed with them all. The focus of the first session, Myths for the Modern Age, was on the book of the same title that follows the tradition of Philip Jose Famer. Years ago, Farmer wrote a biography of Tarzan that treated the fictional Lord of the Apes as a real person inhabiting our world. The collected writers in Myth for a Modern Age, expanded on that idea by writing a series of stories that wrapped all of the major traditional characters together in one concise narrative. Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Captain Nemo, and Doc Savage, just to name a few, had all of their histories tied together in a way that explains their incredible abilities and their relation to each other. The book allows aficionados of these landmark characters a chance to explore their stories within a new contemporary and united narrative.
Another panel delved into the mythology of Superman and studied the ideal that the character personifies. The Supervillain, from Antagonist to Protagonist: Celebrating the Supervillain in Today’s Comics, had numerous writers discussing the evolution of the primary villain archetypes. A panel on comics as a postmodern narrative had presentations on Promethea, The Invisibles, and the Marvel and DC Universes, that offered dynamic new ways to see how comics alter and reflect the world around us. These are just some of the of panels the CAC hosted that offered a myriad of interesting new arguments about comics and pop culture. The cofounder, Dr. Coogan, also reminded viewers that they are accepting proposals for papers and presentations for next year’s Comic Con.
Monkeybrain Press, publisher of the aforementioned Myths for the Modern Age, had several titles that tackled the subject of higher criticism of popular culture. Their booth also had selections from Benbella Books, which has an entire line of books that analyze pop culture phenomena. They have a compilation of essays where scholars study various aspects of the hit show, Lost. There is a intellectual study of Star Wars, and an investigation on the necessity of James Bond in the 21st century. As a History major, I have seen the derision and disregard of certain elements of the scholarly community when it comes to questions of popular contemporary culture. These publishers help ensure that that mentality is not allowed to completely dominate the field of academic investigation.
San Diego Comic Con offers fans an unparalleled access to all their favorite aspects of popular culture. However, due to its size and the numerous panels that are being presented, it requires a person to pick and choose carefully what they want to see, as it is impossible to see it all. Among the numerous layers on which a fan might interact with the community, one is to watch the panels that discuss new ways of shaping the medium or new ways of looking at old subjects. They may also speak with the writers and publishers of books that delve into the cultural history manifested by popular mediums. I would definitely recommend to anyone who attends the con next year to take a moment to watch one of these panels and maybe find something they had no idea they were looking for. Popular Culture in and of itself is fine, but it is always interesting when one is offered a new way to engage with the TV shows, movies, comics, and characters they love.
Shawn O'Rourke is an Adjunct Instructor and Speech and Debate Coach at Orange Coast Community College. He has an MA in History and has presented papers at several academic conferences. He is on Facebook and can by followed on twitter (spo1981). Check out his blogs at www.spo1981.blogspot.com and www.futureofprint.blogspot.com.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/060808-comiccon/