A virtual comic convention is convenient for many reasons, including the opportunity to plan other things around your convention day, instead of having it consume your day completely. Too bad I forgot about that timezone difference, which messed up all my careful organization!
Things got a bit livelier for day two of ComicCon@Home. Here are some of the panels our intrepid virtual team attended.
Odds are, when most people hear the name “Batgirl, ” the first character to come to mind is Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. First appearing in 1967, she’s been a comic mainstay, first as Batgirl and then as Oracle. But as is tradition in the Bat-family, when things happen, the cowl can been passed from hero to hero. From Stephanie Brown to Cassandra Cain to The Bat Girls, each having a wildly different take on the role of caped crusader. Join Cecil Castellucci (Batgirl -Barbara Gordon), Sarah Kuhn (Batgirl -Cassandra Cain), Bryan Q. Miller (Batgirl -Stephanie Brown), Nancy Kiu (Batwoman -Kate Kane), Marieke Nijkamp (Oracle -Barbara Gordon) and Dr. Andrea Letamendi (The Arkham Sessions) who have brought these different iconic versions of Batgirl to life in a celebration of what makes them different and what makes them Batgirl.
I loved this panel! I haven’t read every Batgirl book and I only learned about Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown years after everyone else had become their fans. I still have a lot of reading to do in the Batgirl-world but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this panel wholeheartedly.
The panel was more diverse than I expected–we had two Asian-origin women, and a writer from the disabled community. Each writer had had their own experiences with the Bat-universe but more importantly, they used their lived experiences to power their writing of the Batgirl they were assigned. And that was wonderful to hear. I particularly enjoyed listening to Sarah Kuhn talk about how her Asian background where hardship is meant to be silently endured influenced her Cassandra Cain, who doesn’t speak and has been raised to believe that her physicality is more important than her mind or her emotions. Marieke Nijkamp, who wrote The Oracle Code, used her experiences as a person living with disabilities to make Barbara Gordon’s journey in the book more real and grounded. Diversity on the page is never going to be true to life if there isn’t diversity behind the scenes, and this panel proves that.
My favourite aspect of this panel was the moderator, Dr. Andrea Letamendi. A great moderator can elevate the attendee’s experience and Letamendi showed why that is. With her expertise in clinical psychology, she steered the panel towards discussions about mental resilience and how that has shaped the narrative of Batgirls and Batwoman. All the Batgirls, and Batwoman, have had to face mental and physical resilience and I loved how this panel delved into that core aspect of the characters so thoroughly.
This is the kind of panel that I absolutely love experiencing at Comic Cons because I get to learn more about the characters but also about human nature. Really great stuff.
— Louis Skye
X-Men Fandom Surprise Party
They thought it was just going to be a pajama party where they’d reminisce about their mutant pride, instead these X-Men influencers, podcasters, and cosplayers experience the surprise of their lives with drop in visits by surprise celebrity guests from the X-Men universe. Panelists include Dylan Carter and Regina Givens (House of X), Khelan Bhatia (Homo Superior podcast), Amanda Lynne (cosplayer), Jake Wallace (X-Club), and Chris Riley (X-Reads Podcast). Moderated by Chandler Poling (White Bear PR).
As someone who has dived headlong into the X-Men fandom over the last year thanks to House of X and Powers of X, and someone who has forged some really good friendships in the fandom, I have to say this panel is not representative of us at all. The panel appeared to skew more male and white, something that the fandom is not, and for someone who is in the X-Men social circles, I did not recognize a single one of these names. The panel seemed like an excuse to just pal around with an already tight friend group, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t need to be an SDCC panel. Surprise guests were great, but really the panel hit a big snag for me when one of the white male panelists (Chris Riley) called Emma Frost his spirit animal. That’s not a term that non-Indigenous people should use, and especially not about fictional characters. It was offensive and pulled me out of the whole panel; more glaringly is that this came after the lone woman of color on the panel, Regina Givens, had talked about how Moonstar means so much to her that she wrote a long treatise about the representation. Next time maybe, don’t be racist where thousands of people might be watching (or really, ever).
Editors Note: This excerpt was updated on July 24 at 3:45pm. A former version of this post stated the panel was “overwhelmingly white;” the panel was multiracial.
— Cori McCreery
Visual storytelling mediums have an opportunity to show diverse bodies and yet it seems to still be a struggle to find true representation for many marginalized people. Now, more than ever, having difficult discussions about inclusion, representation, diversity, and the power of stories to remind us all of our humanity matter, need to happen. Join creator Jules Rivera, Christina “Steenz” Stewart, Mari Naomi, Sequoia Bostick, and Lilah Sturges for a frank, thoughtful, and funny discussion about these topics. Moderated by Mariah McCourt.
Despite this being only my second panel of the convention, I am giving it all the awards. Seeing such a beautiful cross section of beautiful people fills my heart with joy even before they got to talking about the topic of body image and representation. When they did start the discussion, it was at first very tentative, which is, coincidentally, exactly why this panel and their work is so needed. Some of the panelists even expressed some doubt as to their presence on the panel, but as the conversation began to flow and people became more comfortable, it was clear that everyone had every right to be there and they all had such significant things to share from their own perspectives and from the perspective of learning about each others’ views.
Inevitably, the conversation extended beyond body representation to representation in general. The moral of the story is that representation matters and being able to truly see yourself reflected on the page and on the screen has essentially brought all of us to tears at some point, but the panelists also expressed trepidation in some of the representation that has been praised of late. For example, Mari Naomi said she had to get drunk before watching Fresh Off the Boat, for fear of what Asian stereotypes she’d be subjected to, while Lilah Sturges spoke about the issues with shows like Pose, where it’s wonderful to have that trans representation, but there’s still the frustration of trans women being bound to the beauty standards of cisgender women, which is not representative of everyone’s experiences.
The conversation was a wonderful back and forth where Mariah McCourt’s moderator duties helped guide the dialogue, but also allowed her opportunity to freely participate as well.
— Wendy Browne
Amazon Prime Video: Truth Seekers
A new original supernatural horror comedy by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz), James Serafinowicz (Sick Note), and Nat Saunders (Sick Note). Join as they discuss the making of the hilarious eight-episode series about a team of part-time paranormal investigators who team up to uncover and film ghost sightings across the UK, sharing their adventures on an online channel for all to see. Discussion and Q&A moderated by Empire magazine’s Chris Hewitt.
I only needed to see Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and “paranormal investigators” listed in the panel description to be on board with this. The panel opens with a trailer, which establishes the tone of the series as having that Shaun of the Dead balance of horror and comedy, with the added framework of the main character (played by Nick Frost) posting videos of his “paranormal investigations” on some kind of streaming platform like YouTube. For fans of Supernatural who will understand this reference–this is Ghostfacers, in the best way.
The panel itself is more entertaining than some of the panels I’ve seen here, with the editors doing very well in switching from the gallery view that allows the audience to see everyone’s faces, and the speaker view, which focuses on the main speaker. Perhaps the most insightful question and answer came at the beginning, when moderator Chris Hewitt asked Pegg about how he manages to do the comedy/horror genre so well. Pegg answered that the secret was to take the horror seriously, and to have the comedy lie outside of the horror aspect.
That attitude of sincerity permeates throughout the show’s aesthetic, and the conversation emphasized how the creators (not just Pegg and Frost but James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders as well) take the supernatural seriously. Pegg and Frost confessed to having gone on semi-serious ghost hunts before, and Serafinowicz and Saunders similarly discussed looking at real paranormal texts for inspiration. The conversation also digressed into discussions of aliens (thanks to Pegg mentioning cast member Malcolm McDowell as his fellow Star Trek alum), which provided entertainment as Frost and others proceeded to chirp Pegg for not believing in aliens.
The major disappointment is that the panel was only 30 minutes long, and it’s clear that as a real panel, that additional 30 minutes would have been taken up by watching the first episode. It’s frustrating that Comic Con International for some reason decided that their fans were not deserving of this, because that’s part of what makes Comic Con special.
— Kate Tanski
Afro-Futurism and Black Religion: Connecting Imaginations
The works of best-selling authors Octavia Butler, Samuel Delaney, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due (to name a few) are part of a written corpus that has laid the ground for the blossoming of the movement of Afrofuturism, brought to light by the music of Sun Ra and others. The works of the late Charles H. Long, James Noel, Tracey Hucks, and Rachel Harding bring to light how black religion and the imagination of matter speak to the way in which Black people in the Atlantic World syncretize their experience to create community and fashion a future. This dynamic panel will explore the connections between Afrofuturism and Black Religion and the way in which comics, graphic novels, and animation are capturing the rich dynamic that spawns new ways in which popular culture is being impacted by these forces. Panelists include John Jennings (MFA: professor of Media and Cultural Studies, UC Riverside 2-time Eisner Award winner (2016, 2018), Kinitra D. Brooks (PhD: Leslie Endowed Chair of Literary Studies, Michigan State University), Sakena Young-Scaggs (PhD: Honors Faculty Fellow, Barrett Honors College, Arizona State University), and moderator Aaron Grizzell (MA, executive director, Northern California Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Foundation).
Even without John Jennings on this panel, it’s not the least bit surprising that Octavia E. Butler is the first author that came up, particularly her Parable series that is so frighteningly prescient when we look at the events of today. Along with Dr. Damian Duffy, Jennings is bringing Parable of the Sower to graphic novel form, following the success of their adaptation of Butler’s Kindred. In novel or graphic novel form, Butler’s work is necessary reading. When you think of Afrofuturism, Butler is the name that comes first to mind as the mother of science fiction that steps away from the rote, and truly questions our present and our past in order to work towards shaping our future. Furthermore, her Talent series centres on the Earthseed religion she created, serving as the epitome of the titular link this panel speaks of. But the conversation blossomed well beyond Butler and into the way Black religion has evolved, including the demonization of those religions and practices — one of the many pieces of lost or stolen history that I have been learning about over the past few months. Afrofuturism is intrinsically grounded in the moment the colonizing ships landed in Africa and as the slaves crossed the ocean, but the beauty of the genre is the way in which it gives us hope for a far better future.
I could have listened to them all talk back and forth for far longer than the 43 minutes of the session — and the panelists certainly wanted to keep going! Thankfully, more information can be found at the NorcalMLK Foundation, and of course in the imagination of any and all of the works by the authors mentioned here.
— Wendy Browne
LGBTQ Characters on Television – What’s Next
Jamie Chung (Once Upon A Time), Jamie Clayton (Roswell: New Mexico), Wilson Cruz (Star Trek: Discovery), Tatiana Maslany (Perry Mason), Anthony Rapp (Star Trek: Discovery), J. August Richards (Council of Dads), Harry Shum, Jr. (Shadowhunters), Brian Michael Smith (9-1-1: Lone Star) discuss the past, present, and future of representation of LGBTQ characters on television in a Q&A session moderated by Jim Halterman (TV Guide magazine).
I know Louis also has things to say about this panel, but I felt like it was an important one for me to talk about as well. My last two SDCC experiences have been defined by trans representation. I talked about the strides we’ve taken towards better and better rep at a panel moderated by our own Rosie Marx two years ago, and how when I was coming to terms with my gender identity the closest thing I saw on television were joke characters on shows like Drew Carey. So when I saw that this panel line-up included two out trans actors (Jamie Clayton and Brian Michael Smith), I was floored. The lineup was also extremely diverse racially, with 5/8 of the panelists being People of Color. One of the biggest things that stuck with me the most was Smith talking about how he’s worked with the writer’s room on 9-1-1 Lonestar to make the portrayal more authentic, and though transness is a big part of his character, it’s not his defining trait. It only comes up when it needs to, so the audience can experience how it feels when something so personal is broached. The other important thing was when talking about what comes next for representation, Jamie Clayton talked about how important it is that trans people not only get considered for trans roles, but also for non-trans roles. It’s important that we play characters who are our lived experiences, sure, but it’s important that we be allowed to play any character.
— Cori McCreery
So far, though the panels themselves might be hit or miss, we’re all appreciating the greater accessibility that ComicCon@Home offers. There are lots of things I miss about the in person experience, not the least of which is seeing people in person, but I certainly am not missing those mad dashes from one block to another to attend the next panel or interview session. Catch up with us again tomorrow for a rundown of Friday’s panels.