ComicCon@Home Teaching With Comics Panels Roundup

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Hello! You may have noticed that there was not a Comics Academe this month, and that was because we elected to save this spot to review the Comics Studies and comics education panels at SDCC’s Comic Con @ Home.

Well…some of them.

After looking at the schedule, it was clear that most of the “how to teach comics/how to teach with comics” panels were almost exclusively scheduled for Wednesday evening, with one also being scheduled Thursday. The ComicCon@Home format meant that the scheduling of panels is essentially worthless, as they are merely the time at which the pre-recorded panels were published. Based on what the panelists and moderators said, many of the panels were recorded in May or June, with plenty of time to edit (and caption) the panels. One important question resulting from that is that it became obvious who had presented in a virtual format before, and who hadn’t.

The most successful panels were the ones who adapted to this new format as not being a live panel, but instead approached it as one might a pre-recorded (but not scripted) video presentation with multiple speakers. This worked for two reasons. First, because panels that created a structure appeared to be more professional. Second, this worked because this is a format that most academics know, and it automatically created the impression that the audience for these panels was academics. It became glaringly obvious which panels were being moderated by people familiar with this format, and which were not.

Teaching and Learning with Comic

Moderators: Peter Carlson, Susan Kirtley, Antero Garcia (With Great Comics Comes Great Pedagogy),
Panelists: Nick Sousanis (Unflattening), Ebony Flowers (Hot Comb), David F. Walker and Brian Michael Bendis (Naomi).

This panel was one of the most successful panels for a few reasons. First, it has a diverse group of speakers, and the names will be familiar to both educators and comics fans. It’s a great line-up to bring comics to comics studies, which is, honestly, what the goal of a comics education panel at Comic Con should be. Of course, not everyone can get Ebony Flowers, Brian Michael Bendis, and David Walker as panelists, but…they should. Each speaker got to have their own time, rather than being a panel discussion, which was very successful since it gave you three 15-minute conversations with some very intelligent and articulate people, each with a different specialization and focus. Not only does this panel work for an audience of people wanting to learn more about comics from comics creators, but it also functions as a pretty persuasive argument for using comics as a medium of thinking, rather than a subject of study.

Comics as Conduit

Moderator: Chloe Ramos (Image Comics)
Panelists: Henry Barajas (La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo), Rodney Barnes (Killadelphia), Darcy Van Poelgeest (Little Bird: The Fight for Elder’s Hope), and David F. Walker (Bitter Root)

This panel is an Image Comics panel that doesn’t say it’s an Image Comics panel, and that makes it feel like one of those free webinars on educational technology that are actually an infomercial. This was also a panel where the moderator attempted to run it as essentially a livestreamed panel without any real moderation or structure, other than prompting people based on general topics for where the conversation would go. While there is quite a bit of good conversation and potential quotations from the panelists on topics like race, history, and using comics to reach audiences who would be turned off by reading this stories as pure text, the panel itself feels overly long, and would be better experienced as a transcript.

Words and Pictures Working Together: Strategies for Analyzing Graphic Texts

Moderator: Tracy Edmunds (Graphic Novels Are Elementary!)
Panelists: Trevor Bryan (Art Education, The Art of Comprehension), Derek Heid (High School English Language Arts), Shveta Miller (Former High School Teacher, Hacking Graphic Novels) Talia Hurwich (Higher Education, Worth a Thousand Words)

This panel was similarly structured to the first panel, in a good way. Each person was introduced and gave a short presentation about how they have taught comics, and included examples. It is the same panel that you see at every comic con. I’ve seen it at Dragon Con, Wonder Con, ECCC, RCCC. In that sense, it’s one of those panels that has a range of panelists that makes you wonder how they got on this panel to begin with, since none of these educators are figures in comics studies. Normally, I would dismiss this panel outright since I am not the target audience, but the fact that the audience for this was clearly K-12 educators actually made it feel as interesting and engaging as the Teaching and Learning With Comics panel, since it had practical advice and also worked as an argument to encourage more people to teach with comics. And unlike that panel, the presentations were in one session, which allowed each panelist to be both a participant in the session, as well as a presenter–which is, again, something that is familiar to academics and educators who do this kind of panel a lot. It might be seen as preaching to the choir, but that was also comforting, in a way. The moderator also provided a link to all of the resources discussed by the panelists, which you can find here:

Teaching Graphic Novels Online

Moderator: Meryl Jaffe (Worth A Thousand Words)
Panelists: Laurence Tan (Elementary Ed) Rachelle Cruz (Higher Ed, Experiencing Comics), and Talia Hurwich (Higher Ed, Worth A Thousand Words)

This panel was a surprise favorite of mine (and not just because Rachelle Cruz is a former Comics Academe contributor). I had already seen Talia Hurwich on the previous panel, and I had never heard of Laurence Tan (who based on his choice of snapback I can only assume is Toronto Maple Leafs fan living in LA). It was another panel that I wondered how this group of people came together to be a panel, but it was a panel that, like the previous panel, was strengthened by its diversity, and by the mutual respect that the panelists had for each other. As with the Words and Pictures Working Together panel, this panel was structured that each panelist gave a mini-presentation that allowed everyone to be both an audience member and a presenter, which allowed for panelist engagement with each other and not just with the moderators and the topic. Although not in the panel description, this panel was by educators who had been forced to teach online in very different circumstances due to COVID-19. Tan works with 3rd and 5th graders in a public school setting, Cruz was in a higher education setting with small classes of local students, and Hurwich had a 100-person lecture course with international studies. This, again, was a benefit to the panel and made it relevant for educators in K-12 and higher ed, but as Rachelle Cruz pointed out, sometimes K-12 teachers are shockingly innovative compared to higher ed and can give college instructors perspective on just how innovative they might think they are being.

Teaching and Making Comics

Moderator: James Sturm (Off Season)
Panelists: Ebony Flowers (Hot Comb), Roman Muradov (Vanishing Act), Trina Robbins (Flapper Girls), and Sophie Yanow (The Contradictions)

This was, hands down, the worst panel of the five. It was a panel where you go to and you feel sorry for some of the panelists for having been on it, because it’s just so embarrassing. In this case, I felt extremely embarrassed and frustrated for Ebony Flowers and Trina Robbins, who deserved better. Things started off badly, with the “moderator” taking up the first 20 minutes by having the panelists do extremely lengthy introductions to themselves and their work, and then went steadily downhill from there. While the moderator seemed to try to want to have some kind of structure and had a list of questions he wanted to ask, the panel was a disaster and felt like an unscripted podcast that had gone terribly, terribly wrong.

One Final Note

There were a series of panels sponsored by “GeekEd,” but not only were the panel descriptions uninteresting, they also really didn’t have anything to do with comics, or media. GeekEd itself is also not something that you can easily search for on the internet, and if it is a real program, I can’t find any proof of it. While many SDCC panels are simply scam panels for people to get free badges (which is becoming extremely obvious now that you don’t have to physically attend the panels), I’ve never seen a full series of panels before. As someone who regularly attends both Geek Girl Con, which has a STEM track just for kids, this series of panels was not only disappointing, but frankly embarrassing.

Overall, the panels that were successful in both content and presentation are panels that were highly structured, had a diverse range of panelists, and offered insight or examples as practical takeaways for people who are teaching comics, teaching with comics, and/or teaching through comics. As we all reflect on the lessons of What Not To Do at a Virtual Convention with Comic Con @ Home as a case study, it’s important to keep that in mind.

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Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.