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Comics@SDSU Goes to Comic-Con

After a two-year hiatus on in-person events, San Diego Comic-Con International was back last weekend and members of Comics@SDSU were well represented. We presented on three panels! But first, let’s hear from our co-founders about their individual experiences and impressions of the event.

Pamela Jackson’s View

Librarian, Comic Arts Curator, and pandemic diehard Pam here. I thought I would frame my comments in terms of the pandemic and in comparison to my experiences at Comic-Con over the last 15 years. I recently read a poll that said 75% of Americans have nearly gone back to their normal, pre-pandemic lives. As someone in a higher risk household, I guess I’m a solid 25-percenter. My last public event was San Diego Comic Fest in March of 2020. I still work from home. I don’t attend social events or even eat out at restaurants. Comic-Con was me ripping off my pandemic band-aid for the first time in 21 months.

I picked up my badge on Wednesday before the event not knowing what to expect. To my pleasant surprise, I was able to secure a wristband that cleared my vaccination or negative Covid test status, pick up my badge, and grab a goodie bag stocked with free “hanitizer” from a company I regularly patronize (that smelled… interesting, but I was still delighted to see it in my bag) in a mere 17 minutes! 

The scene on opening day Friday morning was much different outside with long Covid clearance lines. Those of us already wearing our scarlet wristbands were allowed to enter. “Right this way,” Security said. “Through door F.” I walked into a large indoor staging area with fans standing shoulder-to-shoulder in multiple lines waiting to enter the Exhibit Hall, quickly spun on my heels and hustled right back out of there muttering, “Nope nope nope.” Hard pass. I was not ready for that. 

The crowds outside on Friday morning. One of the few lines this year!

One of the joys of Comic-Con has always been that it’s like a live-action “choose your own adventure” book. There is so much to see and do that if you don’t like what’s in front of you at the moment, go do something else. The ability to set my own boundaries during the pandemic and still have an engaging Con experience that matched my comfort and safety concerns was stellar. I popped up to the spacious hallways by the programming rooms, then moved through the sparsely-populated Sails Pavilion (that was only ever moderately busy when fans paused to eat lunch) and on to the Mezzanine windows that overlook the Exhibit Hall. 

I had not intended to walk the Exhibit Hall this year, but Saturday morning was freakishly calm and comfortable. I walked the entire floor twice, safely visiting with friends, creators and dealers. It was the best place in town for attendees to do their Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping with row after row of toy dealers, pop culture tchotchkes, and creators sharing their hand-crafted arts. Notably slim this year were publishers and comic book dealers. Though there were a few, this was a bit of bummer to me. I am a librarian afterall – buying way too many books at Comic-Con is what I do! I ran into one of the founders of Comic-Con, Mike Towry, and asked him what year this felt like? He explained that it was a difficult question to answer because while attendance may have been around the same as the late 1990s/early 2000s (estimated at 40-60K this year; it’s normally well over 130,000), the facilities would likely have been smaller so the event back then may have felt more crowded. 

A birds-eye view of the Exhibit Floor from the Mezzanine windows.

Mask wearing was enforced (even for panelists) and mostly honored, which I appreciated. I’ve been asked by many, “Did you feel safe?” Overall, in a vaxxed or tested Delta world, the event felt safe, in part because I could “choose my own adventure.”

The staff, volunteers and security seemed as thrilled as the creators and fans to be at Comic-Con. It was great to be back. It felt like a displaced community finally coming home.

Beth Pollard’s View: “Something to Sing About”

Pam and I have been pandemic buddies since March 2020… logging countless Zoom hours talking about (deviously plotting) how we could convince SDSU that comics bring meaningful social change. As with Pam, my last pre-pandemic public event was March 2020’s Comic Fest. At that event, I sat elbow-to-elbow with maskless strangers at a mock-trial for parenting rights over Grogu (“Baby Yoda”). All of us were willing ourselves — a skilled jedi mind-trick, given the various bouts of coughing by folk in the room — not to think about the pandemic that was slowly spreading our way. Driving home from Comic Fest, my family and I stopped to eat our last meal not prepared at home by me for more than 18 months. Yup! Like Pam, my existence was near-hermetically sealed until relatively recently (I even kept my kids in home/Zoom-school until this Fall)… and I still haven’t been in a grocery store.

But who needs food, when there are comics … and tens of thousands of people you’ve never met, who share your love of the same! I already ripped off the band-aid in early September, when I flew to Portland to present a paper, “Punching Romans, the OG Fascists,” on a Punching Nazis: Fighting Fascism in Comics panel at Rose City Comic Con. That experience gave me some clue of what to expect with Comic-Con Special Edition.

I started attending San Diego Comic-Con around 2005, before the days of the giant studios and the glitzy Hollywood types. I remember when the Twi-Hards (rabid fans of the Twilight series) set the bar for camping outside of Hall H several days before Con started (I should know… by the end I, too, was sleeping under a tent with thousands of people to get into the room for Twilight’s last hurrah). I recall when you could walk-up and buy a badge the day-of… and when you could step out of Ballroom 20 (without a bathroom pass!) to purchase your next-year’s four-day badge with preview night. 

Badges could be purchased on-site, something we haven’t seen in many years!

Comic-Con Special Edition reminded me of those days. No tents. No pre-dawn lines or, worse-yet, hunting the volunteer holding the “end-of-line” sign along the waterfront. No shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling across the convention floor.  

My Comic-Con strategy, in recent years of its incredible (over)crowding, has been to “camp” a room… choosing which room (Hall H, Ballroom 20, Room 6… you name it) would have the most overall payoff. I’d carry a veritable extra-dimensional bag-of-holding with food and drink for four, as well as activity books, legos, and fully-charged devices for the kids (I’ve brought both my kids, now 14 and 10, every year of their life). We’d stay in the same room, from 9AM to 5PM, enjoying what we came to see and being pleasantly surprised by whatever else happened in the room. What I appreciated about this Con was that there was no camping required! One could genuinely plot an adventure that took you from the smallest rooms to the biggest… able to see a panel about CBLDF’s education survey in the morning but still get to a bigger room on the other side of the Sails Pavilion later that afternoon to participate in the Buffy Musical Sing-Along (which, like Rocky Horror Picture Show, has its own set of audience participation rules).

The Ballroom 20 “Bathroom Passes” were happily unnecessary during Comic-Con Special Edition!

Perhaps Buffy is the best way to wrap up my part of this blog… Little could be more cathartic after 18 months of pandemic isolation and stress than belting out — with hundreds of now-MASKED people one doesn’t know — Buffy’s demand to “Give Me Something to Sing About” and, better yet, Spike’s response: “Life is just this… It’s living. You’ll get along… The pain that you feel, You only can heal… By living.”

Tens of thousands of us showed up at Comic-Con Special Edition to do just that. Heal. And live.

Panel, Panel, Panel!

We were honored to present alongside Betsy Gomez and Jordan Smith from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on Friday. Our panel entitled “CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics,” explored how civic engagement has been an integral part of comics since the format’s origin, addressing issues as diverse as women’s rights, civil rights, LGBTQ+ representation, antiracism, and so much more. We examined how comics have been used to address social and political issues in the past and how contemporary creators and educators are using comics to engage the community. Our librarian, Pamela Jackson, presented about civic learning in both historical and modern comics about voting and democracy, and Elizabeth Pollard shared how she uses comics and civic engagement in the classroom with her students. 

CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics panel from left-to-right: Betsy Gomez, Pamela Jackson, Beth Pollard, Jordan Smith

As part of the scholarly Comic Arts Conference that takes place annually at Comic-Con, Comics@SDSU presented “Comics and Social Justice at SDSU.” We explored the intersection of our efforts with Comics@SDSU and the power of the medium to bring about social change. Five of us brought different perspectives to the panel: Beth Pollard (the professor) reflected on the goals of our campus Initiative as well as the scholarship and opportunities for student learning and research that the Initiative fosters; Pamela Jackson (the librarian) discussed the role of the SDSU Library’s comic arts collection in supporting the Initiative and engaging researchers with social justice through comics; William Nericcio (the publisher) discussed how SDSU’s comic imprint, Amatl Comix, supports social change; Neil Kendricks (the artist) shared his perspective as both an artist and teacher on the power of comics to foster diversity and social change; and Fawaz Qashat (the student) explained the importance of comics courses and the Initiative to his undergraduate SDSU experience, including his creation of a new student Comics Studies Club.

Comics@SDSU panel in action.

One of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards judges for 2021, Librarian Pamela Jackson presented alongside a few of her fellow judges on Saturday morning on the panel, “Judging the Eisner Awards 2021: Behind the Scenes.” Judges shared some of the challenges in judging and their favorite works published in 2020. 

Judging the Eisners panel from left-to-right: Alonso Nunez, Jackie Estrada, Pamela Jackson, James Thompson, Keithan Jones

Comic-Con will be back July 21-24, 2022 and we cannot wait!

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Luke Heine

Comic-Con@Home: Comics Take Center Stage!

Written by Luke Heine
SDSU History Major / Weber Honors College, 2021

Comic-Con is a staple of San Diego, but if there’s one thing anyone trying to get tickets for the first time knows, it’s that the world-famous convention is very hard to get into. Despair no longer comics fans! This year, the convention is coming to you with Comic-Con@Home. Comics enthusiasts everywhere can tune in to watch a myriad of exciting programs, panels, and more. The virtual setting does mean the convention will be missing a lot of the spectacle from the big names that it has come to be known for in recent years. But there’s a silver lining for those who are fans of the ‘ol printed page: a focus on comic books themselves, and also their value to education and social justice. Let’s preview a bit of what this virtual convention has to offer. 

One panel which may interest professors and social advocates alike is Teaching and Learning with Comics, a panel on July 22nd bringing together university professors and comics creators. As the listed description states, their goal is to “connect the dots between comic books and civic action” through their discussion; those of you familiar with Comics@SDSU might recognize a similarity  to one of our initiative’s goals! For anyone looking for some professional insight on how comics and social justice can work together, this panel is a must see.

Another panel which might catch the attention of faculty is Content through Comics: Teaching STEM and Humanities with Graphic Novels, which will also take place on July 22nd. A diverse panel of educators has come together for this panel to discuss the ways in which graphic novels can increase interest and engagement in the sciences and humanities for students who might not “see themselves as scientists, engineers, or historians.” As a student myself, I have to agree; graphic novels like Speigelman’s Maus and Takei’s They Called Us Enemy connected me to the material in a way few other mediums can. Finding new ways to use comics to spark interest in new subjects certainly has exciting potential, and for faculty wanting to explore it this panel is for you.

These are only a few of the programs which the event has to offer, with well over 100 different options to watch and learn from. ‘Variety’ is an understatement; you’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse assortment of discussions on comics. Here’s a few more panel names to give you an idea: Hip-Hop And Comics: Cultures Combining; The Science of Art; Afrofuturism, Funk, and the Black Imagination; What’s New in Independent Comics; Graphic Novels Lost and Found… the list really does go on and on! And the diversity of topics doesn’t end there: there are panels for film, videogame, and anime enthusiasts as well.

In total, while Comic-Con@Home might not have the goodies and giveaways, cosplaying convention-goers, and stunning spectacle of the in-person event, it makes up for it in the wide variety of thought provoking and entertaining panels which highlight the value of the medium which started it all. So wherever you are, consider swinging by – tickets are as cheap as they come (free!) and getting there is as easy as opening your laptop (sure beats finding parking!). There’s sure to be something for everyone.

Programming for Comic-Con@Home will take place from July 21st to the 25th. For the full programing schedule, and the video links once the event goes live, go to https://www.comic-con.org/cci/programming-schedule.