When the dominoes began to fall with the cancellation of Emerald City Comic Con back in March, it began to feel like convention season was over before it had begun. And while many conventions did their best to cling to the hope that this pandemic would blow over in time to keep their scheduled plans, it soon became evident that those plans had to be adjusted in order to stay relevant for 2020. If everyone’s office meetings were going virtual, why not conventions? There have been a few smaller conventions that have shifted to an online format over the past few months, but it’s the big guns that have a lot to prove by making the switch. And so, with San Diego Comic Con becoming ComicCon@Home for 2020, as announced in mid-June, it’s time to see how they do.
Obviously, a virtual convention is not ideal. The Comic-Con website still houses the evidence of its physical plans for 2020, which speaks to what is lost in the absence of the face-to-face experience that, for many, is vital to their livelihoods. ComicCon@Home has offered up a solid slate of panels taking place from July 22 through 26, but, other than whatever self promotion panelists can manage in their pre-recorded sessions, there’s no virtual space for vendors, artists, and publishers to hawk their wares. Impromptu Emerald City Comic Con digital vendor and publisher opportunities were rustled up to offer a replacement for the last minute cancellation in March, but it’s somewhat surprising that, given the amount of time Comic-Con has had since then to plan their virtual escapade, a more robust virtual convention environment wasn’t developed. Namely, I was hoping to see something along the lines of the highly engaging one-day Virtual Library Con.
Furthermore, as a member of the press, the week leading up to the event has been noticeably scant when it comes to the expected interview opportunities, with some of the bigger names not showing up at all in our inboxes. Which isn’t necessarily surprising, given the uncertain climate as the industry slowly and shakily starts to get back on its feet. Still, given the size and nature of Comic-Con, we expected to see more engagement from the usual suspects.
On the plus side, what is available is all free. If you’ve never experienced Comic-Con, this is your opportunity to get a small taste of it, and it’s impressive to see literally thousands of people registered for panels that don’t necessarily feature big name celebrities. Of course not everyone who signed up will attend, but in the first panel I viewed, a healthy 154 people were watching it with me at one point, which is far more people than would even fit in the room such a panel would have been presented in. And better still, all of the panels are available after the scheduled time so there is ample opportunity to catch up later, extending the value of ComicCon@Home.
Here are a couple of the panels we partook of on day one of ComicCon@Home.
Conspiracy Theories and Propaganda Throughout Pop Culture
J. D. Lombardi (host/producer, YouTube’s Lombardi Labs and middle-school science teacher, Glendale Unified) along with Justin Montgomery (MentalXhaustion.com), Guadalupe De La O (STEM teacher/science instructional coach, Alliance Schools), and G. L. Lambert (screenwriter, G.L. Lambert Explains It All podcast) will trace conspiracies and propaganda throughout comics, shows, and movies, and how they correlate to the current climate of increased conspiracy theories. Teaching science literacy, in and out of the classroom, is more crucial now than ever in combating misinformation, especially related to our current pandemic.
You can’t spend one minute on social media without tripping over a conspiracy theory: 5G, Pandemic, the moon landing was fake, George Soros, Bill Gates, Antifa. And it seems like no matter how hard some of us try to reach our families/friends/colleagues with facts to debunk those myths, people just dig in deeper and deeper. That left me curious to attend this panel that appeared to have an intent to use pop culture to explain and bridge that divide. Maybe I can use Spider-Man: Far From Home to reach my friend Steve who seems convinced that wearing a mask is “just an opinion” and that COVID is fake.
That description may have been the biggest conspiracy theory of them all.
There were the greatest hits of propaganda in comics and pop culture, from Bane to J. Jonah Jameson to Watchmen to Star Wars. There were the tips and tricks for parents and teachers to teach information literacy: Snopes, FactCheck.org, scholarly research. But there wasn’t a way to tie it all together, which is what I was hoping to get out of this panel. I’m looking for a new way to explain and enlighten on information literacy since using those tools, at least in my circles, falls on deaf ears: “Snopes is liberal bias!” “How do YOU know that’s true?” “Wake up you’re a sheep!” “How DARE you tell me health information, I teach health ethics, OF COURSE I know all this and much better than you!” (These are all actual comments said to me on Facebook in my pursuit of debunking the misinformation.)
A useful addition to this panel would have been the presence of a psychologist to explain how people fall for these theories, and how a quarantine world amplifies susceptibility to such misinformation. The panelists did touch on this (particularly in a discussion on YouTube and how it does more harm than good particularly when it comes to censoring misinformation, but that kind of discussion requires a more expert touch. And there was some brief role playing of how to engage with someone believing these conspiracy theories, but it was a sanitized and neat interaction, not digging into the mess that many folks face in real life.
I applaud this group for putting this panel together, but we’re at a point in this information literacy and critical thinking morass where what would work in a pre-COVID or even a pre-Trump world doesn’t work anymore. New tools are necessary, and that’s something this panel didn’t really deliver.
— Kate Kosturski
Comics as a Conduit
Henry Barajas (author of La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo), Rodney Barnes (author of Killadelphia), Darcy Van Poelgeest (author of Little Bird: The Fight for Elder’s Hope), and David F. Walker (author of Bitter Root) discuss comic books that tackle real world issues, be it environmental activism, civic engagement, physical and mental health awareness, and more, (including how their work is being used by librarians and educators). Viewers will leave with programming and acquisition ideas designed to inspire their readers to see the world differently and then change it for the better.
A bonus of a virtual event that we can enjoy from the comfort of our homes is the fact that the presenters are also in the comfort of their homes and we get to snoop their wall art and bookshelves. But I digress… Like Kate, my first panel experience features a topic that is highlight relevant to right here and now as Black Live Matters and other movements continue to gain momentum.
The panelists all provided a brief rundown of what their books are about. It’s not necessary to have read any or all of them to understand the relevance of the topics they present, but it certainly helped that I had two of the books under my belt (my reviews are linked above), and am in the process of reading Little Bird. Other than La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo, the other books are heavily steeped in history, while presenting that information within fictional settings. The medium of comics indeed serves as a conduit for necessary learning, particularly with younger readers who face any number of obstacles when it comes to reading. For me, this panel is preaching to the choir, in that I am well aware of how valuable comics are as a learning tool. But Wednesdays of ComicCon are typically laid out with librarians and educators in mind, which makes the panelists sharing their personal experiences as students and readers so important here. Not only did they discuss the value of their own graphic novels in terms of relating important moments in history and how that history affects us now, but they also spent some time showing how such books could have helped them as students.
In comparison to my Virtual LibraryCon experience, I found the lack of engagement with viewers to be disappointing, and imagine that any librarians and educators watching would have loved to ask a few questions. However, it’s understandable, given the much broader audience of this event, that ComicCon would opt not to allow comments or questions.
— Wendy Browne
Wednesday had a lot more to offer with its educationally focused panels. Stay turned for what our Comics Academe Editor Kate Tanski has to say about some of the other panels available on ComicCon@Home Day one.