I mentioned on Monday that I attended a bunch of panels at Rose City Comic Con, and I figured I should actually put down some thoughts on them for posterity. First, let’s just get them listed out before I go into detail about each one:
- “Feeling Super!: The Representation of Mental Health in Pop Culture”
- “Folklore in Comics”
- “Beyond Escapism: Geek Self Care”
- “Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men Present: This is the Mutant Revolution”
- “Understanding the Mythology of Fairies and Witches”
- “Adaptation Versus Appropriation: How to Borrow Respectfully From Other Cultures in Fiction”
- “The Devil’s in the Details”
When you look at them all laid out there it really does seem like a lot, right?
Okay, let’s go in chronological order (which is, conveniently, precisely how they’re listed).
“Feeling Super!” – The description for this panel suggested that it would delve into issues of representation of mental health across a bunch of different pop culture media, but the primary focus ended up being live action television and movies. The hosts of the panel were a pair of licensed social workers (this was Friday evening, so I didn’t yet have the wherewithal to note somewhere who they were) who have run this specific panel at other conventions in the past. It was pretty interesting, though honestly most of what they discussed were things that I already understood to be unrealistic portrayals of mental health treatments (probably as a result of all that time I’ve spent listening to The Arkham Sessions). Much of the discussion revolved around debunking pop culture portrayals of therapists engaging in gross ethical violations with their clients, which was fun but felt like a bit of overkill. I was really disappointed that the conversation didn’t spend much time exploring how representation of mental health issues has improved in pop culture.
“Folklore in Comics” – I’ve recently started listening to the podcast Myths & Legends where the host Jason Weiser retells old myths, legends, and fairytales with modern commentary thrown in for entertainment. It’s a fun podcast, and Weiser does a good job of discussing the weirdness of all this old folklore. Given that, I thought I’d check out a couple of panels related to the subject since folklore is a massive resource in constructing stories in modern popular culture. This panel touched on things like the weirdness of how vampires are a super common mythical creature across cultures, but the sexy variety only entered the popular conscious with the advent of modern storytelling. They also discussed how having access to a wealth of folklore can sometimes be restricting, as it invites the temptation to delve into deep research on a thing in a story that could really just be made up. There was some discussion of the need for cultural sensitivity in pulling from these resources (one of the panelists, Chris Robeson, pointed out that he treads very carefully as a white dude mining other cultures for monsters in the Hellboy comic that he writes). Other points of interest were a brief discussion on the nature of myth versus religion (most of the panelists agreed that myth is just religious beliefs that no one subscribes to anymore, but one panelist thankfully pushed back and pointed out that myth’s purpose is generally a method by which humans explain the world, and so it’s probably more correct to say that religion is a subset of myth without making judgments on the trueness of any particular belief) and the question of why Japan’s folklore is so radically different from anything you find in other cultures (the answer: Japan self-isolated for nearly three hundred years so there was no cross-pollination of folk stories during that time).
“Beyond Escapism” – I enjoyed the first two panels that I attended, but this one was exceptionally good. Because the topic was self care, the panel consisted primarily of Black and female panelists. There was some really good discussion of how self care as a concept emerged from Black feminism, where it’s generally employed as a survival strategy; Western culture is highly antagonistic towards Black people, and the principle of self care operates to give people trying to navigate that toxic environment permission to preserve their personal resources for their own survival. It’s a difficult premise to enact when you’re pushing hard towards a more communal social model (the panel talked extensively about differences between the dominant American model of “rugged individualism” and a collectivist model that’s more popular in other parts of the world). The ubiquitous social virtue of self sacrifice lends itself to personal exhaustion and depletion to the point of inefficacy. It’s all of this stuff that provides the context for why self care is important. Beyond that, the panel also discussed in depth the dangers of self care being co-opted by capitalist systems as both a way to further distract otherwise engaged people from doing progressive work and a method for advancing the ever expanding cause of consumerism. It’s a really complex subject, and this panel was amazing in the things that it discussed. Other things of note, in relation to issues of mental health, was discussion of the acronym SPEAK (I wish I had taken notes on what it stands for; I must see if I can find more information on it). There’s a lot more to this panel that I wish I could go in depth on; the topic probably deserves its own post some time in the future.
“This is the Mutant Revolution” – Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men tries really hard to avoid discussing current politics as a matter of course. It’s not that Jay and Miles don’t share their politics on their show; they’re very open about being far left of center and don’t shy away from that position coloring how they read the comics that they cover. Typically they’re very forthright about engaging with the historical and social context of what was happening contemporaneously with the comics they read; if there’s a specific issue of the day that a certain arc examines, they tackle that head on. The main reason they’ve given for staying out of current politics has largely been because they don’t want to alienate listeners who might not agree with them. All of that went out the window with this panel (which is also an episode on the podcast). Because of Jay’s specific position as a trans man in a new marriage that may or may not be recognized in a given state based on a complex array of factors, the policies of the current administration have been personally disastrous and anxiety producing. The purpose of this panel was to highlight how the X-Men operate as a particularly powerful political vehicle, especially as a way of exploring strategic modes of resistance in the face of highly oppressive systems. It was a chance for people who think we made a huge mistake in November 2016 and who also like the X-Men to come together in a communal space and see each other. As far as panels go, it was probably the highlight of the con for me.
“Understanding the Mythology of Fairies and Witches” – This panel had a really promising premise, but it ended up disappointing me. The presenter was a folklorist who specializes in studying stories of fairies, but he struck me as someone who is more accustomed to lecturing in an academic setting rather than at a fan convention. He didn’t begin with any introductory material, leaving the audience with huge gaps in understanding what creatures he was particularly discussing at any given moment. After about ten minutes of lecture, several folks in the audience had to interrupt him to ask for clarification of what he was talking about. Everyone seemed to be acting in good faith here; they wanted to hear what he had to say. For my part, I ended up ducking out of the panel after only twenty minutes. It was late on Saturday and I had a set time I wanted to get home by, and leaving that panel gave me time to do a little bit more shopping and costume viewing before I had to catch the bus home.
“Adaptation versus Appropriation” – This panel was a nice follow up to the earlier panel on folklore in comics. Much of the discussion revolved around what sort of work creators have to do in order to respectfully pull ideas and inspiration from cultures that aren’t their own, and there was a pretty frank discussion of the fact that anytime you do borrow, you absolutely must be willing to accept that someone is probably going to be hurt by what you’ve done.
“The Devil’s in the Details” – This was another panel that was run partly by Jay and Miles (I admit it, most of the activities I did over the weekend revolved around seeing them; I am a fanboy), but also featured the hosts of the other comics-explainer podcast, Titan up the Defense. I’m not a big DC fan so I don’t have any context for their work with the ’70s era Teen Titans, and I completely missed the Defenders as a Marvel super team, so this is not a podcast that I’ve listened to at all. I hear that it’s fun and funny, and after having one of the guys recite lyrics to a song by Macho Man Randy Savage as a lead in to his analogy for what the podcast’s premise is like, I can see the appeal. Where most of the other panels I went to were about issues in comics and pop culture related to intersectional feminism, this panel was about being a goofy comics continuity nerd. I answered an obscure trivia question and won a sticker and a free button from Jay and Miles (the button is a picture of Dust, an X-Men character who hasn’t appeared nearly often enough, particularly given current political contexts, and the sticker features Jay’s impeccable handwriting saying, “You are a winner”), and there was much laughter over the fact that ’70s comics are just weird. It was a good note on which to end the convention.