Monday, April 21, 2008

Wondercon presentations

Now that almost two months have passed, here’s a quick rundown of the presentations I saw at Wondercon:

Friday Feb 22—

Jeff Kahan was supposed to present on the first panel that day, but he didn’t make it. I wanted to get a copy of his book Caped Crusaders 101 but couldn’t, obviously, and that made me sad.

So David Baldizon presented the whole time on “Literacy and Social-Political Awareness” and talked about how he used comics to get his students thinking about concepts in new ways, concepts like Lois Lane as a feminist icon, the connections between Batman and Hamlet or Hulk and Jekyll/Hyde, Captain America as the Nazi ideal, or body images changing over the years as seen in representations of Superman. He brought two of his students to show off their own comics work and talked about how the students, when they were doing comics, were much more perfectionists than when they normally worked because they owned the ideas.

My presentation on “Showing Helder” started off the second panel, followed by Shawn O’Rourke’s presentation on Alan Moore and “Religious Pluralism in Promethea.” I hadn’t read Promethea so I didn’t get a ton out of his presentation unfortunately. He did discuss the concept of theosophy, all religious beings working together and being a part of the same pantheon, so I asked a question of him afterward in regards to that concept in Gaiman’s work, such as American Gods or Sandman: Season of Mists. Also he talked about Promethea’s use of another plane of existence called Immateria, which seemed to me to have a lot in common with the “Blazing World” of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But unfortunately he had not read THAT book, so he couldn’t comment on the similarities.

Saturday Feb 23—

The first panel of the day was all Douglas Wolk. And it was great. It was called The Sense-Shattering Novel of Ideas, and he was basically talking about how, because drawings are automatically the subjective interpretation of reality of the artist, they are naturally drawn to the type of metaphorical explorations that are rare in fiction these days. And then he just basically listed a whole bunch of metaphors that comics have dealt with, from their inception to the present day. And he talked about how, when the metaphor is non-existent, like with Hawkman, or way too obvious, like with Hawk and Dove, the characters tend to fail to catch on.

Some of the ideas he threw out included: how Spiderman’s earliest enemies all seemed to be old men, personifying the youth v. adulthood metaphor of the character; Iron Man being born out of Cold War fears, hence his Vietnam origins and his villains frequently being tied to foreign invaders; how the Flash’s rogues almost all rely on gadgetry, thus turning the book into an exploration of how science when used responsibly (by Barry Allen) can be used for good but also how it can be corrupted in the hands of others. He talked about Green Lantern, how as a galactic police officer he imposes his will on others constantly, and how he checks in with his morality via his oath regularly to avoid straying from the path he has established in his mind as right. And his weakness, yellow, is the color of fear, fear that his will might lead him astray (as we’ve seen with Parallax and the Sinestro Corps recently). He loved House of M for turning the identity metaphor of the mutant inside out, and he loved World War Hulk as a metaphor for post-9/11 blowback. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what he talked about in this truly interesting lecture.

The second panel had a cancellation so the entire hour and a half was taken up by Travis Langley, who spoke on the psychology of Batman. I have to say though that I found a lot of his insights rather elementary. At one point he claimed that such analyses into Batman’s psyche were lacking, and I wanted to shout out, “What about Batman Unmasked? What about The Many Faces of The Batman? Did you actually DO any research before you came here?” He also stole one of his images from my Long Halloween website, which I found kind of funny.

And the last panel I attended that day was called Teaching Comics, and it was a panel discussion that featured among others Stephen Cary, author of Going Graphic, and Gene Luen Yang, author of American-Born Chinese. It was a really insightful discussion and it was great to hear from other people who also use comics in the classroom… But I failed to take any notes during the presentation, so I simply cannot provide any kind of comments about this panel.