This past weekend saw the return of the Long Beach Comic Con for its tenth year to the Long Beach Convention Center. Cosplayers were out in full force, and Saturday saw some extravagant get-ups as the con’s cosplay contest was held that evening. Impressive, and a bit surprising, was the size of the Artist’s’ Alley section. Normally relegated to an outer sliver of real estate at many of the larger cons, this artists’ section was the centerpiece of the exhibit floor, taking up 35 “blocks” (tables) of prime foot traffic action.
Before going on, big thanks and kudos to my teenager, who snapped photos of cosplayers while I took in some of the panels. He’s very much an athlete and a sports aficionado, and comic cons are decidedly not his cup of tea, so the fact that he helped out for three hours without so much as an eye roll was huge to me.
Speaking of said panels . . .
Probably the most unique panel I sat in on dealt with the science of the Black Panther movie. The panel consisted of a trio of scientists – Daniel J. Glenn, Michael Dennin, and Ben Siepser – whom the moderator asked to scrutinize the various kinds of Wakandan tech portrayed in the film. The discussion was frequently amusing and borderline ridiculous; the panelists would explain legitimate commonalities between, for example, the sand-based hologram imagery and an Etch-a-Sketch, or between T’Challa’s impact-absorbing suit and glow-in-the-dark phosphorus material. At one point a panelist bottom lined the entire discussion for us by stating that, basically, every gizmo you see in Black Panther has a basis in real science and is theoretically possible, and that literally the only difference (and it’s a huge difference) is the sheer amount of energy required to make such inventions possible. Hence, vibranium!
The groan-inducing, “Aww, man!” award goes to the panel on adapting film and tv shows into comic books. The panel itself was just fine and very instructive about the significant differences in storytelling between the different mediums, as well as the creative somersaults a writer or penciler has to perform in order to breach that barrier of translation. The groan-worthy part came at the end, when artist JK Woodward showed us pages for a comic that he created but which never got published, per the studio’s edict: a crossover comic between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Aliens. The highlight of these pages showed a Borg with its black armor intertwined with the biology of a xenomorph. The room went wild with an audible combination of frustration and awe. What might have been . . .
The bulk of my panel experience, however, amounted to a referendum on the troubled times we find ourselves in, and how the worlds of mainstream comics, independent publishing and cosplay are impacted.
The panel entitled, From punching Nazis to . . . Not punching Nazis? Superheroes and the worlds they live in set out to examine how comics are a reflection of the times we live in, citing how the creation of the characters of DC and Marvel comics were very much informed by World War II and the Cold War / Civil Rights era, respectively. It ended up as a discussion of the hate speech that has been emboldened since the election of Donald Trump. Specifically, the panelists – comic artist Dean Haspiel, novelist Matt Wallace, and artist Bryan Edward Hill – discussed how that hate has filtered through online trolls who harass and threaten actors, artists and comic book writers for changing or diversifying a beloved property. Additionally, they discussed how deliberately or incidentally writers may let a political agenda drive their narrative (short answer: the story always comes first, though a creator cannot help but let his or her values inform said story, which makes a world of sense).
Tearing down borders, presented in both English and Spanish by the Los Angeles Times en Espanol, focused on Latino and Latina (or “Latinx,” for both brevity and inclusivity) creators making inroads in the comics industry by creating their own unique stories, rather than waiting for DC or Marvel to create characters who are not straight white males. Both Jandro Gamboa’s El Luchador and Malina Chavarria’s The Magic Glasses have Latinx heroes and depict situations and issues familiar to and resonant with the Hispanic community, but which also have mainstream appeal. Jennifer Lopez (no, not that one), the host of the Comadres y Comics podcast, pointed out how difficult and expensive it is to get one’s work distributed, especially in the international market, since Diamond Distributors has a monopoly on comics distribution (calling that company “the Disney of distributors”).
The impact of LGBTQ creators and readers in comics, presented by Fanbase Press, dealt with similar issues of representation, but for the LGBTQ community. Panelists Teresa Jucino (journalist, critic, and writer for Pomonok Entertainment), Ted Abenheim (president of Prism Comics), Amanda Donahue (independent comic artist) and again Jennifer Lopez shared their experiences with both seeking out and creating relatable queer characters in comics and elsewhere. The panel ended on a positive note as the panelists called attention to LGBTQ representation in print and entertainment like webcomic Check, Please, DC’s Snagglepuss comic, and the animated Bojack Horseman.
Cosplay safety was a surprisingly yet necessarily serious discussion about the potentially perilous world of being a convention cosplayer, especially in a day and age which finds young men emboldened by their crotch-grabbing President. Young women (and men as well) were advised on the basics regarding awareness of one’s surroundings and trusting one’s instincts when a situation starts to feel uncomfortable. Having a friend or assistant come along as a bodyguard to photo shoots or cons was one of the more pro-active suggestions. Additionally, non-cosplaying fanboys were advised, in very direct and clear terms, to not only respect a cosplayer’s space but to use common sense and recognize basic human body language so as to know when a cosplayer might not be appreciative of their attention. The slogan “Cosplay is not consent” was heard from the lips of many at this comic con. It is a little sad that these issues need to be articulated out loud, but such is the level of misogyny that pervades the culture. The hashtag #care2cosplay was introduced here, for cosplayers to seek out community and safety tip