November 6, 2011

NC Comicon Report-Back

This Saturday I attended the NC Comicon1 in Morrisville, NC, and it was just great! It had been a long time since I'd been to such an event, and I really had no idea what to expect. I attended partly out of personal interest, partly to see if I could make some allies for my Comics Librarian quest, and partly to witness an event from a programming perspective. Last year, my co-worker Amy Godfrey and I put on Durham County Library's first ever Comics Fest,2 and, while I'd consider it a success, I still feel like I have a lot to learn about organizing events like this.

One highlight of the day was a panel discussion entitled "History of Comics and Comics as History." The "History of Comics" portion was given by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections at Duke University's Edwin and Ted Murray Collection.3 Using examples from the collection, Hansen gave an excellent overview of the history of American comics, demonstrating comics' impact on popular culture and vice-versa. I was particularly interested to learn the ways that WWII affected the popularity of superhero stories. They were especially popular during the war, when even fictional heroes were a welcome addition to the fight against Japan and the European Axis, but their popularity dropped off after the war's end due to an actual or perceived lack of interest after the fictional heroes' real war was won.

For the "Comics as History" portion, UNC Ph.D. candidate Ben Bolling4 presented a fascinating argument for considering superhero comics as a demonstration of the idea that history is not monolithic or totally "knowable" by individuals or cultures. Bolling described the ways that, because of their ongoing, serial nature, superhero comics allow readers to engage in the characters' stories at any point in the timeline and engage , in spite of the periodical changes and revisions made by successive generations of publishers and comics creators. This engagement is possible because of what Bolling calls "irreducible elements," including traumatic events like Bruce Wayne (Batman) witnessing his parents' murder, but also significant interpersonal relationships like that of Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Mary Jane Watson. I hope to feature both Bolling and Hansen in this blog at a later date.

I also attended a panel/interview with Howard Chaykin, which was much more interesting than I'd imagined. Chaykin, most famously the creator of American Flagg!,5 was opinionated, incredibly foul-mouthed, and very entertaining. He also had some very interesting things to say about whether comics is an art or a craft (the latter), his influence on younger cartoonists (unhappy about Todd McFarlane's6 being inspired by him), and more. I really enjoyed hearing what he had to say as soon as I stopped cringing, which is great because he totally would've called me out if I'd left early.

Beyond the panels, I had a good time visiting the artist tables (where I was introduced to Jeremy Bastian's excellent Cursed Pirate Girl7) and the crazy, crazy dealer room. I'm sorry I missed the costume contest on Sunday, but there were plenty of good'uns around: a lady Boba Fett, Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the littlest Mothra. I'm already looking forward to next year's.

Image source:
1. NC Comicon website:
2. Jarrett Krosoczka's writeup of the Comics Fest:
3. Duke University's comics collections with a link to Will Hansen's profile:
4. Ben Bolling's profile at the UNC Department of English and Comparative Literature:
5. American Flagg! at Wikipedia:
6. Todd McFarlane at Wikipedia:
7. Cursed Pirate Girl at Kickstarter:

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