Going Back to Gally

DK and Dalek

Aca and fan at Comic-Con. That's me on the right.

This weekend I will be in Los Angeles at the 23rd annual Gallifrey One convention. Gallifrey One, or “Gally” as its attendees call it, is the largest, longest-running Doctor Who convention in the world. I’m finally going back after a six-year absence, during which time the revived series (starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and, currently, Matt Smith in the title role) has achieved massive global and American success. This in turn has fueled attendance at the con: at my last Gally in 2006, attendance was about 750; this weekend, over 2500 people are expected to turn out.

This is my fourth Gally. I attended the very first one way back in 1990, and did not attend for years due mostly to living in Madison as a grad student of limited means for the remainder of the decade (though I did regularly attend the midwestern DW/SF con of that time, Visions, held down the road in Chicago; the original site, last updated in 2000, is still up). I finally went back in 2005 and 2006, but haven’t been able to justify the time or expense since then, until now.

So, why go back? This is complicated, but cuts to the core of my identity.

While I’ve long loved SF and SF media, I’ve always had a mixed relationship with organized fandom. I’ve known and admired many amazing people actively involved with fandom (some of whom for over twenty years), and shared their passions and interests in person at cons, through newsletters and zines, and online. However, at the same time, I’ve also always been unable to “fully commit” to fandom. In large part, this has been a matter of time, particularly during grad school, and when my children were very young. But overall, I’ve realized this reluctance is more a longstanding result of my scholarly orientation, which, while generally supportive of the political idea of fandom, has not been especially welcoming to its affective expression. The party line in cultural studies has generally gone like this: fandom is great if it’s for or against something substantial (and especially subversively); but fandom for fandom’s sake is kinda embarrassing. Cultural studies’ primary theorist Stuart Hall crystallized this sentiment in his 1981 article “Notes on Deconstructing the Popular,” which ended with his dismissal of the idea that popular culture mattered beyond the political.

While this view of popular culture, and fandom specifically, has certainly changed in cultural studies over the past three decades, and “fannish” modes of engagement have become arguably dominant across media culture, there remains a whiff of suspicion in academia about active participation in affective cultural engagement, as if you can’t “cross the streams” between the two worlds. Attempts to bridge these gaps, most notably through the concept of the hybrid “academic fan” or “acafan,” have explored intriguing conceptual territory over this period, yet have remained unsatisfying, as the series of discussions at Henry Jenkins’ blog last summer bore out. (bonus: here’s my colleague Suzanne Scott on her own misgivings about the term and fannish identities) I’m uncomfortable with the term “acafan” primarily because it leaves out many other possible perspectives (producer, consumer, citizen, viewer, owner, etc.), reducing the range of viable encounters with media texts to a narrow band of intellectual and/or affective engagement.

Rather than continuing dodging the issue, however, I’ve come around to embracing the contradictions; it’s either that or continued frustration, after all. I am an academic. And a fan. In that order as well, for what it’s worth. Moreover, I am also a producer of media content and media knowledge, a consumer of media products, a media mentor to my children and students, and a citizen of media-facilitated states. There is no one “hat” I, nor anyone else, can decide on. Accordingly, I’m trying to grasp experiencing the world through these multiple conceptions. My growing appreciation for comics has led me to new courses and research projects, but it has also given me a greater understanding of the variety of cultural production, distribution, and consumption in the digital age; fostered an addiction to Wednesdays at Keith’s Comics in Dallas, and inspired me to attend the San Diego Comic-Con every July, as both a scholar (observing the cultural economies of fandom up close) and a fan (standing in line for hours to see Matt Smith and Karen Gillan). When I talk about my experiences at Comic-Con in class, students always ask if I go to enjoy it or study it. I always say, “Yes!”

My return to Gally this week extends this embrace back to my roots with old friends, and my first fandom, Doctor Who. The scholar in me is looking forward to seeing how the con has grown and attracted a new generation and new modes of fandom; the fan in me just wants to hang out, meet friends, and talk about Doctor Who, SF, and whatever else comes up for three days. I see this as not only reconnecting with this milieu, but forging new models of engagement across these streams. Indeed, with the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who looming in 2013, I’m hoping to make enough connections to spark a new collaborative project (that’s both “aca” and “fan” in the best ways, but also engaged with broader contextual issues), but more on that later…

I’ll report back on Gally. In the meantime, I challenge all of us to think more about how our streams cross (outside of academia, fandom, and every other box we live in), and how to cross them with others.


Why comics and media studies?

The Spring 2011 issue of Cinema Journal (50.3) featured a series of essays pondering the place of comics in media studies. While there’s no shortage of “why comics?” pieces in other places, these articles are aimed at film and media studies, and attempt to make the case directly in one of the field’s most prominent journals. Each of the contributors has at least one foot in the “traditional” purview of film and media studies, but has also researches, written and taught extensively on comics. Collectively, they make a compelling case for including comics in film and media studies, but also recognize the unique qualities of the medium that keep it in a permanent liminal state between various disciplines and modes of analysis. However, as with film, television, video and digital media, this uncertain state should be regarded as even more justification for its study as a form of “media.”

Each piece situates particular questions about comics at these practical and formal junctures, and they’re all well worth a read. Greg Smith’s search for pragmatic comics pedagogy and scholarship is especially resonant for any television scholar, where similar issues of the parameters of the text have long been debated. The most important thing is that we keep doing”comics studies,” regardless of field or approach. Comics have always been a poorly understood and relatively fragile medium (particularly and somewhat peculiarly in the Anglophone world), and the least we could do is expand the former so that we bolster the latter. While I agree with Bart Beaty, that it may be too tempting to make a direct analogy between comics studies now and film studies in the 1960s, at least film, and other media, offer models of not only scholarship but discipline-building that comics scholars can and should examine (while certainly not expecting to copy).

There’s never a bad time to start reading and studying comics. UK comedian/TV host/writer/comics superfan Jonathan Ross has a particularly nice justification along these very lines. That said, right now is particularly great moment to start. Finding a “jumping-on” point has never been easier, with decades of work from dozens of publishers in print and increasingly available on digital platforms. As DVD distribution has opened up exposure to decades of film and television, the last decade has seen a similar explosion of older works (especially newspaper strips) being restored and reprinted. Moreover, comics criticism is plentiful as well these days. Aside from the copious news from The Beat, Bleeding Cool, CBR and Newsarama, great commentary and reviews can be found at CBR (here and here), The AV Club, and at Douglas Wolk’s weekly round-up. If you like your comics criticism a bit tweedier and crunchier (leaning more R. Crumb than J. Kirby), try the Comics Journal.

In addition, at least one publisher has boldly proclaimed “START HERE” with its entire line-up, as DC Comics “new 52” reboot kicks into gear this week. Last week saw the pivot point between the old and new continuities (in one two-page splash panel in Flashpoint 5, below), and the launch of the new Justice League. I’m going all in on all 52 titles for at least their debuts, and I’ll report back here each week with some thoughts about them, and what the whole endeavor augurs for comics, and for its place in media studies.

Flashpoint 5 splash pages

Comics, History, TV, Politics and other Things We Used To Take For Granted: dkompare vs. 2011-12

While this blog hasn’t seen anything new for quite a while, I’m still here. It’s been a busy 2011, albeit one that has missed this outlet thus far. A new school year always means a new chance to embark on new projects, or re-embark on old ones. So here we are.

As you can see from the lack of new CSI reviews, my interest in writing granular single-episode criticism more or less vanished. While I certainly respect the diligence of the many critics currently writing in this form, and enjoy reading their work, I’ve found it difficult to maintain engagement at that level. I’m admittedly even finding it difficult to maintain engagement in even watching television (not just CSI) at that pace anymore, let alone writing about it. So what you’l mostly find here instead this year, in the interest of more consistent output, is a wider, big-picture scope.

One of the areas I’m going to address more directly this year is comics. While my film and TV viewing is still in flux, I’ve returned this year to the relative pleasures of “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer,” as Scott McCloud put it in his famous definition in Understanding Comics. More specifically, I’ve returned to the medium’s traditional place on paper. While I’m certainly intrigued by the aesthetic, cultural and industrial possibilities of digital comics, I appreciate the particular, irreplaceable qualities of ink on paper. Just as some insist on the primacy of film as a “big screen” event, I’m still quite attached to actually holding comics in my hands. That said, I’m much less medium-phobic about the written word, which might as well be digital.

My renewed interest in comics is broad, taking in the form in its many iterations. While I considered abandoning superheroes entirely after years of disappointing and redundant mega-events, I’ve decided they’re still a fascinating component of the medium, and popular culture more broadly. Still, “capes” are only a sliver of all that’s out there in comics; imagine if the full extent of television studies was the traditional multi-camera sitcom. We–and I include myself in this admonition–have neglected the range of comics for much too long. The recent Cinema Journal In-Focus essays on comics’ place in media studies reiterated the importance of both broadening and deepening our understanding of the medium. So there will be a major emphasis on comics this year, beginning with some thoughts on the issues brought up in CJ, followed by an examination of DC’s controversial “new 52” reboot of its entire universe.

Beyond comics, I’m continually interested in what I like to call Things We Used to Take For Granted, like cable TV subscriptions, blockbuster movies and pop stars. These and similar practices and concepts have been shifting for quite a while, but I suspect the next 5-10 years will see some significant changes as creators, consumers and industries adapt to new circumstances. To take one example, we cancelled our cable subscription in April, so these four months have been a relative terra incognita for this TV scholar, who’s frankly never gone without it. It’s compelled us to explore alternatives to the expectations that “cable TV” has long promised, a journey I highly recommend (not least of which because it will save you $50-100 a month).

Additionally, lest you think everything’s all new and shiny here, you’ll see a renewed commitment to history. At the risk of sounding too much like those stodgy commenters in articles on digital humanities in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in our rush to do more, faster, and probably with fewer resources, we run the increasing risk of neglecting our histories. In this new era of the thoroughly “digital generation” (born since 1993), my primary concern in this regard is for my students, and particularly the coming generation of media scholars. As I stated in my reflections on the field of media studies at last spring’s SCMS conference, all of us are stewards of scholarship, and of the very idea of higher education. While we should of course continue to explore the ramifications and qualities of “the digital” and new technologies in media and in our lives, we shouldn’t sacrifice our understanding of the past. Sometimes I fear that access to the past will become another one of those Things We Used to Take For Granted, and that we’ll lose it entirely if we’re not careful.

Finally, a word about politics. In case you haven’t noticed yet, these are trying times. They’re certainly the most trying times in my forty-odd years of existence. Moreover, the scope and depth of the issues we face are catastrophically ill-served by what passes for context and understanding in what’s left of the news business (that Thing We Used to Take for Granted as “journalism”). The only thing more disappointing? The deepening inefficacy of the political class, which in this country at least, now runs the gamut from timid corporate apologist on the “left” to bellowing apocalyptic fascist on the “right,” with a grotesque array of slick operators and tea-stained brownshirts in between. The events of the last decade (and particularly of the last three years) have convinced me the problems we face are far, far beyond any party affiliation, nationality, religion, gender, or category of identity. The good news is that the tools to deal with them are right in front of us. So, while you might not expect such commentary from a media scholar’s blog, it’s all connected; indulge me.

So: welcome to 2011-12! I’ll be right back. In the meantime, check out the discussion I had with Alex Juhasz and Jay Bushman about the contentious concept of the “acafan” (i.e., the academic who also self-identifies as a fan…and/or vice versa) over on Henry Jenkins’ blog. I haven’t yet caught up with the other discussions in this ambitious summer series, but I’ll offer some extended thoughts on them here as soon as I do.

"I wear a lanyard now. Lanyards are cool."

Teaching Comics, and Cultures of Production

Yes, long time, no blog, etc.

I have an epic post on TV of the 2000s that’s almost fully cooked, but in the meantime, due to popular demand, I’ve decided to post the syllabi for two courses I’ve been doing either very recently or right now.

The first is a course on comics I offered last fall, for the first time. Since this is a film and media program, I approached comics broadly as a medium, first engaging with the properties of the medium, and then moving into its cultural significance. Along the way, I tapped into a variety of film adaptations of comics, which we screened alongside reading their source materials. All in all a great class, with very engaged students (even among those who’d never read comics), and some excellent guests. There’s already demand to do it again, and I certainly will.

CTV 3395 syllabus (Comics- Fall 09)

The second course is one I’m just starting; indeed, I only finished the syllabus today! It’s on Cultures of Production, and is my first full-on teaching foray into Production Studies. Due to other obligations, I could only put this together somewhat/almost late in the day, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out. The basic idea is to work through some of the current key works in the field (mostly from John Caldwell and his collaborators) and meld the theory, methods, and case studies in the academic materials with some ongoing critical readings of the media/entertainment press and blogosphere (thank you, NBC!). In the last third or so of the course, we’ll pivot into the concept of participatory culture, ideally reading the work of Jenkins, Gray and others in relation to the work from earlier in the semester.

CTV 3395 syllabus (Cultures of Production – Spring 10)

nb – Each course has the same course number, since technically its a “Topics” course, at the moment.

I’ll try to keep you posted on how the current course is going, but I’d love some feedback on these syllabi, and your thoughts on teaching Production Studies to undergrads in particular. My basic tack is to get everyone involved with the concepts, arguments, and terrain of the industry circa 2010, but reserve the stickier details of theory and method for my MA students.

By the way, Happy 2010!

New media studies podcast

I’m spinning all too many plates at the moment, but I just wanted to point to the debut of the new Lion’s Share podcast, now available on the iTunes store via iTunesU (link works if you have iTunes installed. Developed by my good friend and fellow media scholar Tim Anderson of Old Dominion University, this podcast features discussions with scholars about their research, and research methods. I’m the guest on the debut episode, discussing my upcoming book on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which will be published by Blackwell next year. Future guests include Kathleen Battles of Oakland University discussing radio crime drama, and Judd Ruggill of Arizona State University and Ken McAllister of the University of Arizona on educational videogames.

As most of you probably already know, there are many outstanding podcasts out there; perhaps I’ll do a post on them at some point (especially since podcasts are probably my primary form of media consumption these days). Till then, check out the Lion’s Share, and let Tim know what you think about the format, or ideas for future segments.

The 2009 Frames All-Star Team

As 2009 dawns, I thought I’d recognize all that made my 2008 bearable (and occasionally inspiring). Since my year divides roughly into two seasons — college football, and the rest of the year — I’ve decided to name an all-star team. These were my MVPs, on both sides of the ball.


QB – Barack Obama – For keeping cool in the pocket, and methodically moving the ball downfield. That said, under the circumstances, winning this election was comparatively easy compared to the real task at hand. Keep cool, Mr. President.

RB – Ben and Rose Kompare – To be honest they drive me a fair way up the wall most days, draining between 60 and 80 percent of my energy and attention. However, they keep right on moving forward, and remind me what it’s all about.

RB – Heath Ledger (RIP) as The Joker – Full disclosure: we just saw The Dark Knight a few days ago (life with little ones = summer movies in winter on DVD).  I was literally haunted by this performance, dreaming of the Joker after seeing the film. The rest of the production was also compelling, but Ledger’s Joker was on another plane, taking a well-worn character that’s been around for over six decades and making him exactly of the moment. One could easily imagine that weird, uber-smart, misanthropic and vaguely scary guy you knew in high school or college showing up like this, and meaning it, a decade or so on.

WR – everybody involved in Battlestar GalacticaThey’re all done with it, having wrapped production a few months back, but we’re still to see the last ten-plus hours of this existential saga. Even when they get a bit sloppy, as with the shaky Mutiny on the Bounty arc, it’s compelling (like, say, Miles Davis on an off night). Like the best receivers, they go deep, and make things happen. Bring home the cat, guys.

WR – Henry Jenkins – The very model of a 21st century media scholar, and a helluva person in his own right. Consistently pushing, never staying put, and generously bringing us all along. And in 2009, he’s literally moving forward to what looks to be a more prominent position at USC, after many years at MIT. Good luck, Henry!

TE – Tim Anderson – After some challenging times, Tim’s had an amazing 2008, with a new family and a new job, and he’s poised again to challenge Media Studies. Plus, he’s kind of built like a tight end.

C – William Petersen – Having reviewed all 190-odd episodes of CSI for my book this year, I am in awe of Petersen’s nine-year performance as Gil Grissom. It’s kind of the inverse of Ledger’s, all underplayed and thoroughly normative, but at the same time carrying heavy burdens. Grissom has been through hell the past three years in particular, and Petersen’s made that transition subtle yet compelling. Hats off for nine years, and for seeing Grissom through to his end.

OL – Google apps – They’ve made my life so much easier, to the point that I scarcely run anything that’s not anchored in my web browser anymore. Gmail alone is a godsend, but Google Reader and Google Maps are incredibly versatile apps. It’s been the reinvention of the personal computer.

OL – Sean Griffin – I’ve several amazing colleagues in my division at SMU, but only one Sean Griffin. Tireless, brilliant, dedicated to our little community (and to the Meadows School in general), and always doing it with aplomb and good humor. And he always throws a heckuva soiree.

OL – Lifehacker – This site is crazy addictive, but also thoroughly useful, with everything from video conversion tips to coping with job loss. It protects us fearlessly, making our lives easier.

Willie Tuitama, in his last college game

Willie Tuitama, in his last college game

OL – Willie Tuitama – The four-year starting quarterback of my University of Arizona Wildcats, he’s not flashy like Florida’s Tim Tebow or those Big 12 guys, nor as rock-solid as USC’s Mark Sanchez, but he’s as good as it gets when he’s on, calmly toying with opposing offenses. Four years of highs and disastrous lows ended with a sharp, flawless performance against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 20 (I was there!). He holds every significant QB record in UA history, and, more importantly, weathered the storm of uncertainty alongside Coach Mike Stoops to finally (finally!) get us back to a winning record and a bowl game.


OLB – Mad Men – It’s on defense because it represents all that has been great about the medium of television for the past sixty years; i.e., defending it now from becoming irrelevant. Moreover, in its rich vision of the early 1960s, it waves the flag of historiography, i.e., of critically examining its sources and not pretending to be a window to that world.

MLB – Sally Kompare – She’s defended me more reliably and more readily than anyone else has for half of my life. In 2008, she made some major changes, and we’ve both grown more as a result. Plus, she’s very effective against those shifty running backs, Ben and Rose.

OLB – My iPod – Oh, iPod, what did I ever do without you? In 2008, you served up gigabytes of my standard writing music (soundtracks and classical), helped me organize fixations on 1950s-60s pop and contemporary indie, and kept me enlightened with scads of podcasts. And you kept the world out when I needed it most.

DE – The Colbert Report and The Daily Show – Unbeatable as always, but particularly on-target in this crazy election year. Nailing the opposition relentlessly, four days a week.

DT – Daily Kos I only really get into the Kos in an election year, and although I’m only a lurker there, I found its diarists reports, commentaries and calls to action invaluable in 2008. After an entire existence in the Bush years, it’s going to be interesting to see how the community, and the whole progressive blogosphere, evolves now that the Democrats are the government.

DT – Russ Pennell – Having only been hired on Lute Olson’s staff last spring, he took the reins of the men’s basketball team in the wake of Olson’s surprise November retirement. Even though he has to wear the badge of “interim,” and will almost certainly not be around next fall, he’s completely redesigned the Wildcats’ style. This team could have completely folded, but they’re 9-3, and look to be a legit threat in the Pac-10. Memo to UA athletic director Jim Livengood: don’t rule him out entirely for the future.

DE – Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow – For expanding the challenge to the Fox (or, in CNN’s case, Fox-esque) mentality, and reawakening my greatly lapsed faith in television journalism.

CB – Console-ing Passions @ UCSB – The best conference I attended this year, in many respects. True, the incredible California climate and jaw-dropping beach views might have swayed me a bit, but this was an academically solid event through and through. Excellent feminist analyses of television texts and social contexts, and a well-managed theme of “women in production.” In these leaner times, conferences per se are looking more and more like extravagances. But if they can maintain this high standard, they’re well worth the expense.

CB – Heather Hendershot – The incoming editor of Cinema Journal inherited a very solid title from Jon Lewis, but has upped the ante with a swath of new departments and a more varied structure. These are changing times for SCMS and for academic organizations and publishing in general, and Heather’s meeting those challenges with verve and thoroughness. In 2008, I also loved geeking out with her over BSG, and am more and more convinced about her fifth Cylon theory.

George Carlin, 1937-2008

George Carlin, 1937-2008

S – George Carlin (RIP) – He’s been vital for the last 35 years, but perhaps never more so than during the last eight. Thank you, George, for shouting the truth and never letting up.

S – 30 Rock – Yes, television comedy is in a pretty sad state at the moment (as is all of television, but that’s a larger story). Thankfully, we have Tina Fey. The more I watch, the more I realize how amazing this show is. I’ll still go with Arrested Development as the sitcom of the 2000s, but 30 Rock is a suitable heir to a “backstage” TV comedy tradition that goes back to The Dick Van Dyke Show, where completely implausible characters and situations thrive. Where else on TV are you going to get an updated take on Ted Baxter and Georgette (in the forms of Tracy Jordan and Kenneth)?


Catherine Tate as Donna Noble

Catherine Tate as Donna Noble

K – Catherine Tate – One of the truly fantastic things about Doctor Who has been its consistent ability to surprise us, and one-up itself. Many people (myself included) were dubious about the revival of Ms. Tate’s Donna Noble, this time as the regular companion. But, like a place kicker under enormous pressure, Tate nailed it every time, fleshing out the fairly one-dimensional character seen in “The Runaway Bride” with pathos, wit, intelligence, anger, and joy.

P – Grant Morrison – Faced with writing two universe-shaking DC Comics titles this year (Batman and Final Crisis), Morrison fearlessly aimed high, challenging readers, artists, and fellow DC writers to keep up. While the end results of these dark narratives have yet to be seen, they’ve provided a hell of a ride thus far.

Comic-Con and Media Spaces

I realize it’s a bit late after the fact to talk about Comic-Con 2008, but I’ve had some thoughts bouncing around for the last few weeks after my experience there (and have had many other things on my desk since then).

I’ve attended many media conventions (aka “cons”) for over twenty years, and while I’ve seen a fairly wide range of size and scope, I’ve never had a fundamentally dissimilar experience at any of them. In other words, they all function more or less identically. If you’ve never been to a con, imagine large groups of people milling around a hotel or civic convention space, attending panel sessions, screenings, and workshops in the small rooms, and hearing keynote addresses and buying merchandise in the big rooms. Indeed, with the exception of a relatively small number of people dressed in costume (as well as a lack of insecurity and posturing), it looks more or less like an academic conference or trade convention. People talk, people walk, people watch people, people drink, and people buy crap.

That said, Comic-Con exponentially ratchets up the scale of this experience.

Welcome to Comic-Con 2008

Welcome to Comic-Con 2008

The sheer size of the event is a cliché, but a warranted one. I’ve been to sold-out football games and concerts before, but this was easily the largest event I’ve ever attended, in terms of numbers of people simultaneously converging on a single place. The San Diego Convention Center, as Kristin Thompson pointed out, is itself so gargantuan that you can’t capture it in one image from street level. But every corner of that space was still full of people on both days I attended. Every concourse, meeting room, sidewalk, restroom, exhibit booth, breezeway, and ballroom: packed. Even floor space along walls and around support columns was scarce.

You really can’t overstate this, and I still find it immensely significant, though I’m also a bit ambivalent about it. It challenges the dubious claim that online culture has made physical contact obsolete. Well over a hundred thousand people–the vast majority of whom are otherwise fully tapped into online communities–had come to the SDCC, at considerable expense of money and time. If so many people are willing to come so far (or at least, for Southern Californians attending, at such cost) then physical proximity must still matter. But proximity to what, exactly? Is it just to be around their flavors of consumer culture?

I’m increasingly interested in how media companies–i.e., The Powers That Be, or TPTB, in fanspeak–navigate and negotiate in fan-dominated spaces. Thus, my main academic interest in attending Comic-Con was in scouting it out as an example of what John Caldwell refers to as “contact zones,” i.e., as spaces where the media industry contacts “civilians,” be they the press, investors, aspiring entrants, or fans. In this case, the “industry” included not only the major film studios, television networks, and cable channels, but also comics publishers, game publishers, and toy and collectible manufacturers. Though the weekend is certainly centered on the fan perspective (see below), all of the categories of “civilian” listed above were present at Comic-Con. Accordingly, as I realized over my two days there, proximity takes on multiple dimensions at the con. Fans are close to “stars” (whether actors, writers, artists, or directors) and new media products (i.e., upcoming films, TV shows, comics, games, etc.). Aspiring industry workers are close potential employers or network contacts. Media companies are close to the press, potential partners, potential employees, and (lastly) potential consumers.

The proximity of media company to press is the one that matters most to Hollywood. Like most events from the perspective of industry, it’s the media coverage that matters, not the actual experience. Accordingly, the infamously packed Hall H–the largest room in the SDCC, where the biggest film and TV projects are previewed–gets the brunt of media coverage. Indeed, aside from a couple of elevated VIP platforms in the main exhibit hall (set up for TV interviews) this was apparently where most of the press was camped out. The resulting mainstream coverage was skewed towards big projects, with a smattering of quotes from somewhat lesser-known-to-the-mainstream figures (like comics writer Geoff Johns, and America’s Favorite Geek™, Kevin Smith). From this perspective, the tens of thousands of fans at the SDCC functioned as publicity props, there to fill B-roll and offer enthusiastic testimonials.

That is, the audiovisual performance of “fandom” (however narrowly defined by Hollywood) in such venues is considerably more important to media corporations than anything real fans actually do. This gap between different expectations and perceptions is a critical juncture in contemporary popular culture as TPTB openly court fans, and is at the crux of my ongoing research.

Still, even though I never made it into Hall H (despite waiting for over an hour for the Watchmen preview), there was plenty going on everywhere you looked. Under the veneer of corporate promotion, this is still a fannish event. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t focus on the big things so much, because there’s little to be gained from being in attendance at those panels that can’t be gleaned from press coverage and umpteen blogs. There’s so much more to see and hear there if you’re not focused solely on Hollywood: Cape comics. Indie comics. Anime. Manga. Literature. Video games. Role-playing games. Costuming. Collecting. These media, practices, and people are still compelling and vital, and they are why Comic-Con–and every con–are still important spaces.

Waiting in line to duel

Waiting in line to duel

In the end, despite my initial bewilderment, I was impressed by how much Comic-Con restoked my inner geek (or not-so-inner, from my wife’s perspective). I was winding down my comics infatuation prior to Comic-Con, but found it wound back up again afterwards. I’m again interested in what’s going on on screens big and small, and how smaller companies are having a go of it. I’m enamored with particular genres (SF and superheroes for the most part), and excited to see how they continue to develop.

I also embrace the term “geek,” controversy and all, because my experience at Comic-Con has made me more comfortable with it. To be “geek” today is any many ways no different than at any other time in the past half-century: focused on minutiae and worlds well out of the mainstream, always seeking out cracks in supposed “reality.” As a parent, I endeavor to pass the geek on to my children (as so many people my age, gratifyingly, did in person at Comic-Con). What’s different, and much, much better today is that geekdom, broadly speaking, has no social boundaries. Attendees at Comic-Con came from every gender, ethnicity, age, ability, and orientation, making it a far more cosmopolitan space than almost any other you could encounter. The only demographic spike was age (probably averaging close to 30), but I’d argue that was more out of convenience and social mobility than anything else.

Geeking the next generation

Geeking the next generation

I feel more like a geek now than I did before I went. And that’s a good thing. I look forward to attending next year, and in exploring how media, fans, industries, and my own passions intersect in the meantime.