HeroesCon 2017 Panel Coverage

HeroesCon 2017 Panel Coverage

I haven’t been to HeroesCon since 2014, so getting the opportunity to go back this year as a member of the press was amazing. I’ve been gone awhile from the event, and while it has changed since I last attended and gotten larger, it still has that same ol’ nerdy-fun vibe to it. I was excited to cover a few of the panels that presented at the con, however, I was only able to attend Friday. But I did catch a few good panels, some weren’t what I expected, others were. I attended three panels during Friday’s Con day, “Color of Fandom”, “Deadpool & Harley Quinn”, and “Heroines in Pop-Culture: A Debate On Progress”.

Color of Fandom

“Color of Fandom” was a nice little chat about the way comics are moving towards diversity, especially in comics aimed at a younger audience. The guest speaker for the panel was Robin McGlotten, an avid fan of comics as well as a teacher/tutor up in Raleigh. Now, the panel was more so her going over some good comics for younger children to read to potentially widen their gaze on diverse comics, characters, and stories. During the panel she said, “We want to try and create a safe and inclusive space for all nerds but we want to also make it a space where we can talk about issues that affect diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and not wanting to feel ostracized for wanting to bring those topics up.”

She pointed out several comics that do a great job presenting real characters, people that felt real and diverse and not what Robin called “check-box diversity” (where comics simply feature typical characters of color, or gay characters, simply to say that they have them in there rather than create them uniquely). She spoke of Kim Reaper, Jonesy, Lumberjanes, and the Howtoons comics to name a few, that do a very excellent job creating characters who are diverse, believable, and fun. Some are more educational-centered comics like the Science Comics, specifically that Volcanoes issue, and The March.

(Something that I very much appreciated her touching on was even these comics that do so well in some areas still fall to some erasure in their comics. One comic Robin brought up was Backstages, and how the comics do well in portraying diverse characters, it still tends to color their POC characters lighter on the covers. It’s something that’s kind of baffling; that in the comics there are characters that have dark skin, but on the cover, they’re shaded much lighter for no real reason that I, nor Robin, could think of. All in all, it was a nice, short panel of Robin basically talking about some of her favorite diverse comics for kids.

Diversity and representation in film, television, mass media and even comics is being seen as a more pressing issue. It’s great for kids to be exposed to different cultures, appearances, and ideas early on, because they would be more apt at confronting situations in the future when it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. This panel really reinforced my wish to raise my hypothetical future kids on diverse, awesome comics.

Deadpool & Harley Quinn

The next panel was at 3:30 and was called “Deadpool & Harley Quinn” where the creators of the characters (Fabian Nicieza – Deadpool) and Terry Dodson (writer for Harley Quinn) talked of their initial ideas, hopes, and concerns for their characters, and of course how they both seemingly blew up very recently. Of course, the Deadpool movie and Suicide Squad spearheaded a lot of the recent attention; they weren’t always the showstoppers they are today. They were once just reckless, witty, outlandish characters in their respective comics. But for Harley, specifically, a lot of the talk around her has grown into a real discussion of abusive relationships, like hers with the Joker. She may be extremely lovable, and in many ways very independent and strong, but her character flaw is her self-deteriorating love for “Mr. J.” Terry spoke about how he “didn’t expect such a huge response to her in that way,” but that’s the beauty of characters like her, they grow and people relate more and more to the character, and in turn, Harley becomes an icon.

The same goes for Deadpool. It was exciting to see one of the initial creators of Deadpool here at HeroesCon: Fabian Nicieza. Deadpool’s rise in popularity, he noted, “goes to Ryan Reynolds’ portrayal of him”, which makes sense. Even in the mixed bag that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, one resounding positive was Ryan as that incarnation of Deadpool – I mean before the no mouth part. Reynolds has that natural, witty demeanor and suddenly the comic character that was wreaking havoc in the Marvel comics, and annoying the hell out of Wolverine, had a face and voice that everyone got behind. Deadpool’s potty-humor and fourth-wall breaking ability set him apart from all that came before him.

One thing that I was happy to note is that in today’s generation, the comic crowd is moving in a direction where more positive diversity, representation, and all around “liberalism” is seen in a lot of comics; Harley Quinn and Deadpool, on the other hand, they don’t fit the precise narrative we’re used to seeing, but they revel in the strength they have in spite of their weaknesses, and they’re mega-stars. I think things like that really show that you can move comics in a positive, progressive way, but still keep these R-rated, flawed characters around. I mean, Deadpool is still Deadpool after confirming his pansexuality, plus Ryan Reynolds backs that idea. And Harley is being seen more as a victim of horrible circumstances, but she’s none the weaker for it. She may be crazy, but she’s strong and independent and makes a name for herself, without relying on the Joker for recognition in fandoms. After this panel, I was pretty excited to see the future of these two, and how they’ll continue to change the landscape for comic misanthropes. 

Heroines in Pop Culture: A Debate on Progress

The last panel really wasn’t a panel at all. It was a live debate on the progress that women have made in pop-culture. There were two teams of three. Participating in the debate was Dr. Megan Connell, Dr. Ryan Kelly, Lindsay Stewart, Emma Kate Wright, Jonathan Hetterly, and Julie Caskey. Right off the bat, I can tell you that it was a strange debate. First of all, the two teams weren’t too different. Both teams recognized the progress that women have made in this field, and how there should be more progress, but the difference between them was a hairline. One was more adamant about more progress and the other was more proud and happy with the progress that’s already been made.

Each team brought up good points, specifically about the Bechdel test and how only 60% of sci-fi/superhero films pass the test of women being able to hold their own without relying on a male or even talking about a male in stories. I have my own opinion on the test, but it is interesting that a lot of characters in books, comics, and movies would be completely lost if we only paid attention to the ones that pass the Bechdel test. I wish there was more real discussion of how far women have come, rather than some weird debate where there really doesn’t need to be. To back up my point, several audience questions were just asking the panelists what the differences were between the two teams because they sounded very similar to each other. It was made clear that women have made a lot of progress at this point in time, but there’s also a long way to go.

One of the panelists, Ryan Kelly, brought up a stat that stated that women, at current trends, won’t reach a point of equality in film for about 80 years, which is an alarming stat. However, when you look at current trends, the desire for there to be more women involved in directing, acting, writing, etc., it’s consistently going up. I don’t think looking at trend data is truly reliable because trend data will always be behind what is current.

Humans will always be moving forward with their ideas and statistics will simply be a step behind analyzing what was happening as compared to what is now happening. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but, hey, I’m not complaining. If this panel/debate taught me anything it was that I’m going to be seeing more and more badass ladies taking the helm, and I am here for it.

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James Goodson

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