Comic Con Is About More Than Just Funny Pages
Oh sure, it’s easy to have FUN at San Diego’s Comic Con, but can you learn anything? From the musings of self-help guru Deepak Chopra, digital innovations by the auteur Francis Ford Coppola to national educators who want to bring comic books to the classroom Comic Con proves to be about more than just the funny pages.
By now you may think you’ve gleaned all there is to know about Comic Con. Sure, you’ve seen photos of the homemade costumes inspired by science fiction comic book, movie and TV show characters. You know about the movie premieres (okay, just the trailers) with fabulous celebrities touting their latest project involving vampires, werewolves, and the undead or perhaps undead vampire werewolves. And maybe you’ve yearned to witness the flash mob of zombies performing “Thriller” while blocking traffic along the Gaslamp District.
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There is however serious scholarship taking place in Comic Con conference rooms involving the influence of comics on society. Sure, those rooms are nearly empty compared to the sold-out 6,500 seat halls featuring the cast of the new Spiderman movie series, but sacrifice is sometimes the burden of journalists.
FROM BUDDHA TO BATMAN
When you think of the birth of superheroes does your mind soar back to the 1938 cover of Action Comics #1 with a drawing of Superman lifting a car over his head? (Worth $1 million at auction in 2010, by the way.)
According to Chopra, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster did not invent the superhero. The mind-body spiritualist says superheroes were given birth through the mythology of Zeus, Shiva and others.
“I was brought up in India with mythology that looked at the universe as the expression of Gods and Goddesses…Myth is the womb of creation,” Chopra said.
Chopra was asked what future superheroes will look like.
“The next generation of superheroes will be cross cultural so they’re the hybrids of the imagination of different cultures,” said Chopra.
His idea is that mankind will move beyond nationalism and limited cultural identity. To emphasize this outlook he pointed to the fact that the most popular baby name in Egypt in recent months is Facebook.
“With Facebook and Twitter these people were feeling empowered to get beyond their national identity, and they were getting empowered to go beyond their tribal mind,” Chopra said.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA AND THE SEA OF POES
Film Auteur Francis Ford Coppola, director of two Best Picture Academy Award winners “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II”, spoke in Hall H at the San Diego Convention Center to a sea of fans wearing Edgar Allen Poe masks with 3-D lenses in the eyes. Coppola’s newest feature film “TWIXT” stars Val Kilmer as a “low-budget Stephen King” who meets the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe in a mysterious small town.
Although Coppola’s movie has segments filmed in 3-D, that was not the technology he was most excited about.
“Cinema has some real surprises up its sleeve,” Coppola said.
Lamenting the fact that most entertainment lacks spontaneity and is “pre-digested” (other than concerts, theatre and sports) Coppola has a new idea of how to present films.
On his computer screen Coppola showed how his movie promo was divided up into digital clips that would play in the order edited.
Because they’re digital files, the director could potentially attend each show and punch in the order the clips would play as he was listening to the audience’s reaction – changing the experience to suit the crowd’s taste.
“When I saw you watch the promo there were some things you liked, you laughed at, some things that weren’t as interesting. I could give you more of the things you liked,” Coppola said.
To demonstrate the spontaneity of the software he pressed the shuffle button and replayed the promo letting the program choose the order in which the clips played. For a movie trailer it kind of worked because order didn’t matter. When Val Kilmer, as the author was improvising funny asides on screen, Coppola added new ad-libbed video clips on the fly that hadn’t been seen the first time.
The kinks obviously hadn’t been completely worked out since Coppola had to remove the music and narration tracks to pull off the demonstration. He admitted that it was easier to manipulate a movie promo than it would be to spontaneously change a full length film, but Coppola insisted the technology is there to explore new ways of presenting films.
COMICS IN THE CLASSROOM? HORRORS!!
A group of educators and comic book artists gathered in Conference Room 26AB to discuss the need to bring comic books and graphic novels into the formal classroom environment.
Dr. Meryl Jaffe, an instructor at Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, says she was developing a curriculum to teach Greek mythology using graphic novels.
“We got a lot of backlash from parents,” Jaffe said.
A recent convert herself, Jaffe says she now tries to convey to parents and educators how comic books and graphic novels address many different types of needs for students, including those with attention issues.
“Because you have to focus on the visual as well as the verbal it really holds attention. It’s engaging and holds attention,” Jaffe says.
Further Jaffe says comic books and graphic novels help with English Language Learners, dual-language and multi-language speakers, as well as students with memory issues.
Speaking like a superhero herself, Jaffe emphasized her point:
“Boom, boom, boom you’re hitting all these different needs -- in one punch,” Jaffe said.
Dr. Katie Monnin, assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida, says parents and teachers need to realize education has become three dimensional and engaging students requires both text and visual literacies.
“We have to teach a shared literacy stage now. Print text literacies and image literacies are now co-stars. They’re the Brangelina of teaching right now. They’re just as equal,” Monnin said.
Graphic artist Matt Holm agrees that students have to become more visual because the modern business world has needs “that were not covered in the early 1900s when our educational mantras were crystallizing.”
“Nowadays, we’re going to expect these kids to be able to build web pages with pictures on them. That’s what interns do when they go work in offices. They’re going to have to put together Power Point presentations. Want to get your budget approved? You’d better have a very good, clear Power Point presentation,” Holm said.
Monnin says the visual literacies associated with graphic novels in the outside world are not being taught in the classroom.
“The claim is if we fail to teach this communication revolution we could perhaps be creating the greatest disservice in the history of education. We don’t want to be a part of our greatest disservice, right?” Monnin asked, rhetorically.
I’M A PEPPER, HE’S A PEPPER, WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO BE A SUPERHERO TOO?
Now all of this education talk may be too heavy for those of you who just want to dress up in tights and a cape and play superhero. However, Chopra has good news there too.
He says there is a phenomenon called non-local correlation. This is a field of possibilities, creation and intention.
“This is the field where our dormant superpowers reside, according to mythical traditions.
Every one of you has, in potential, one of these superpowers,” Chopra said.