—Svend and Elizabeth Bramsen Professor in the Humanities, professor of English and director of integrative programs—attended the 42nd annual Comic-Con International
in San Diego July 22-25. This is her fifth year attending.
On the surface, fan conventions might not seem relevant to a North Central College education, but a closer look reveals a wealth of perspectives and intersections across fields of study and a high energy environment that values diversity, self-expression and a non-virtual kind of community interaction.
Navakas—who has research and teaching interests in popular culture genres in the 19th century, contemporary popular culture phenomena like anime, Frankenstein and vampire legends and their transformations over time, the graphic novel and interdisciplinary studies—sees Comic-Con as an experimental laboratory for exploring genre, collaborative and integrative work, and how make-believe and convergent media derive from a culture’s hopes and fears, aspirations and anxieties.
About Com-Con, she says, “This convention, with its 130,000 participants, featured popular culture genres included comics, manga, graphic novels, fiction in various pop culture categories, anime, film (including fantasy, science fiction, horror, and other subgenres), illustration, television programs, cartoons and video games. Over the course of the four days, panels, performance, sneak previews, film, anime and children’s film festivals, and celebrity Q&A were delivered to as few as 20 or as many as 6,000 aficionados. Celebrity signings, meet-the- author one-on-one sessions, and sales of iconic pop culture toys filled the venue. And anything from mass-produced posters to first editions of retro comics to fine art commissions, juried art competitions, portfolio assessment appointments, futuristic technologies and gaming innovations co-existed in a vast exhibition hall with intense business negotiations around new scripts and story boards, a blood drive, and CosPlay (costume play) photo ops.
Why attend? Navakas explains, “To start, there are the extraordinary opportunities to see practicing artists explore their individual and collaborative creative processes. The 570 panels and programs offered untold opportunities to hear music directors, costume designers, performers and producers discuss the ways in which their professional perspectives must find common ground in forging a final product. An array of sessions raised other considerations about the impact and future of popular culture genres and the ideas and attitudes embedded in them, including everything from the legal environment to business practice to pop culture merchandising to inquiry linked to ethics, gender, myth, history, literature, psychology, sport or sociology.
“Other great draws at Comic-Con were the unique opportunities to meet significant creative artists in featured sessions, typically within intimate spaces that allow for dialogue and follow-up on such topics as the origin of their creative interests, the aesthetics of their work, the marketing and creative conflicts that shaped their career trajectory, and the detailed analysis of the myriad of choices that entered into both polished and imperfect work.
“North Central College’s students are increasingly transitioning from fan participants to reflective scholars. The College’s interdisciplinary and integrative curriculum, with its emphasis on LEV, intercultural studies and an array of relevant disciplines, offers an excellent vantage point from which to examine this complex, arresting and eclectic social and performing arts phenomenon.”
Photo: Disney women meet vampires in this photo taken by Navakas at the convention center entrance in San Diego. CosPlay is a special feature of Comic-Con and of most fan conventions. The role-playing is particularly unique because it covers so many different genres and themes, with some role players in character during the entire convention.