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San Diego Comic-Con 2012 Report – Part Two

To read the first article in this series on Comic-Con 2012, click here.

Strangely enough, this year was a good year for panels that I was interested in. Unfortunately, that bounty meant that there were a few times where I wanted to clone myself in order to see them all.

For another point in the weirdness department, I got in to see all of the panels I went to. That almost never happens. Either that or I’ve gotten really good at figuring out which panels I have a hope of getting into in the first place. I mentioned earlier that I had abandoned all hope of getting into Ballroom 20 or Hall H, which held the super popular panels and major studio sneak peeks and trailers. However, I also wrote off some of the smaller rooms as well, particularly the ones with the Mythbusters and the Rifftrax crews.

I still got to listen to a lot of interesting introductory talks. Unfortunately, not all of them were quite what I thought they would be and some of them had very mixed results for me. I haven’t put them in any particular order.

In the event that you do not wish to read my ranting, the next installment of panel reactions will be on the happier side.

Witty Women of Steampunk

Panelists: Robin Blackburn, Anina Bennett, Gail Carriger, Kaja Foglio, Robin Thorsen, Dina Kampmeyer

This was one of those situations where I had to roll dice to figure out which panel to go (it was scheduled at the same time as Creating Spaces for Diverse Characters and Representations. No one should be forced to make that sort of choice).

The panel started with a list of things that drew people to the subgenre: science, adventure, invention, circular history, an interest in “improving” the world, and ridiculous clothes. Personally, I find the repeating history most relevant, as certain portions of society seem bent upon removing rights and protections that were won early in the last century. Also, steampunk (and all its close relatives) gives a jumping off point into real life history in a far more interesting way than one finds in standard, non thought provoking high school textbooks. Tesla’s earthquake machine is cool. Lists of names and dates? Not so much.

It moved on to the ubiquitous corset as a foundation garment to hang pretty dresses from and the more modern uses as costume piece. The most memorable comment was, that if guy superheroes can wear their undergarments on the outside, girls should be able to do the same too. I would be more inclined to agree with that if there wasn’t such a huge problem with fetishizing parts of the female body. I will settle for equal fetishization of the male form as well.

I did present a question regarding suffragettes in steampunk and why aren’t there more of them. However, that whole pesky “not a Victorian era social movement” argument reared its head. When one is wearing their underthings on the outside and there’s a great deal of mixing between the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian fashions, or if your steampunk is not based in an alternate history version of upper class England… I hope it isn’t just me who sees the disconnect between standing on “historical accuracy” in one social area but ignoring it for things like science and fashion. It would be nice to remember that social mores were often contingent on where you were in the world back then (just like now) and that the roles of the people participating varied wildly from place to place…and some places were notably more inclusive than others (and in more ways than one).

Censorship and the Female Artist

Panelists: Anina Bennett, Camilla d’Erico, Olivia

This was yet another instance where I wanted to clone myself so I could go to the Spotlight on N.K. Jemisin panel as well. I ended up wishing that I had gone to the Spotlight panel instead. Supposedly, the panel was going to be on how female artists are seen in public discourse and in the distribution of their work.

It ended up being a discussion about how the female form is considered scandalous or obscene portrayed nude. Particularly breasts. There was a little discussion on how the manga style gets misread since all the protagonists in it look younger than they might be in narrative.

It might be just me, but I was hoping for anything addressing how female bloggers artists and creators are treated online, particularly if they say or do anything that could remotely be considered controversial by the most conservative of people. I’ll agree that the hypersexualization of women in all forms of media is a major problem, but I have to rank it as a slightly milder one than harassment and derision for anything that sees females as a marketable target audience (romance novel bashers, I’m giving you the stink eye). And heaven forbid a woman try to examine how females are portrayed in a male dominated and targeted medium.

Foes Beyond Fur and Fangs

Panelists: Kim Alexander, Amber Benson, Rachel Caine, Tom Sniegoski, Kiersten White, Gail Carriger, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Maggie Stiefvater

Considering how enticing some of these panels sounded and my disappointment in them afterwards, I really wish that they would post the moderator’s questions to the panel beforehand so I can sort out what panels I want to go to a little bit better. I believe that this coupled with the stipulation that all audience questions to the panel must consist of 140 characters or less would be helpful in many ways.

I was hoping for something that focused on those creatures of legend that do not have lycanthropy or vampires. What I ended up with was a discussion on the drive to “be normal” in urban fantasy.

While not exactly what I was hoping for, it was still an okay panel. I did think that they rather failed to address a few things though, like how “unaltered human” was the unspoken benchmark of normal and yet is also frequently portrayed as the group with all the disadvantages in a world with creatures of legend in it. While having human as normal works for things like undead and lycanthropy victims, I don’t see how that quite works for creatures that were never human in the first place. Most of the questions seemed a bit silly actually. It might have been that this panel was the last one I went to on Sunday talking though.

However, Amber Benson is hilariously raunchy and it was sadly funny to see Tom Sniegoski looking like he’d wandered into the wrong panel. It almost made up for my disappointment that when asked, “What’s your favorite non-European creepy-crawlie?” only three of the panelists had an answer at all. At least two of those answers were well thought out and the other one was a good save.

1982: It was 30 Years Ago Today- Greatest Geek Year Ever!

Panelists: Jeff Bond, David E. Williams, Ashley E. Miller, Robert Meyer Burnett, Steve Melching, Steve Kriozere, Bill Hunt, Todd Doogan, Dr. Adam Jahnke, Mark A. Altman

Sci-Fi That Will Change Your Life

Panelists: Annalee Newitz, Cyriaque Lamar, Charlie Jane Anders, Phil Plait, Deric A. Hughes, Sarah Khun

While under normal circumstances I would report on both of these panels separately, these two taken together seemed like a study in how geek culture sees itself and how divided it is these days.

On the one hand, we have the 1982 panel. My first thoughts as the panelists from Geek Magazine were introduced can be summed up as follows: “Why aren’t there any women up there?” and “One minority? o_O”. The panel itself went in much the same vein. All the films they cited had straight white male main protagonists with the lone exception of Dark Crystal (but I could probably still make the argument that gelflings are coded as white were I feeling ornery). To top it all off, the panelists decided to speculate what The Thing would look like if it were to get remade today.

Between the assertion that changing a character to a female would automatically result in a romantic arc getting shoehorned into a plot and the annoying noise and graphics they were using with their multimedia, I was fuming and keeping myself calm by envisioning Ripley and the queen Alien kicking their collective butts.

Also there was a panel I really wanted to see in the same room immediately afterwards and I had sat through the one just before (which should explain why I was there in the first place). There was enough trite stereotyping pseudo-humor that I had to wonder if they actually liked anything they were mentioning. How to put this mildly…while my introduction to the Geek Magazine staffers’ presentation did not lead me to believe that they might tell me to “go make them a sammich,” I was nevertheless left with the impression that they would nod approvingly at the person who tries.

On the other hand, there was Sci-Fi That Will Change Your Life, run by io9. The panel was mixed with close to a 50-50 split between ladies and gents. There were minorities on the panel (yes, plural). They were enthusiastic about science fiction from all kinds of sources. While everyone got gently teased (including the audience), no one was belittled over their picks. I came away with a long list of books to look up, some of which I had never heard of. I also came away with the feeling of “this is what ‘geeking out’ should mean.” Among the books mentioned were Redshirts by John Scalzi, Fair Coin by E.C. Meyers, Year Zero by Rob Reid, Adaptation by Melinda Lo, and 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. One of the themes that kept recurring was one of transformation and misdirection in all the stories.

Between both of these panels, I saw a rift in geek culture. One side wants to include everybody, talk about things that they love and adore, think about what those things mean to them, how they fit into the world at large and how those things are problematic. The other seems like it wants to remain exclusive, to keep churning out more of the same, and that any attempt to include those who have different experiences automatically means that they, the privileged, will be as excluded from geek-ish discourse in an abrupt reversal of who gets to be the “voice of all geekdom.”

The problem I have is that those who would be “the voice of all geekdom” tend to sound the same and support the same things as their predecessors. And they don’t include me or anyone who I would feel comfortable about representing me. Thank goodness something like io9’s panel was there.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I prefer the “the harmonious chorus of all geek-dom.” Everyone has their differences, but those differences make the whole better and more meaningful than it would have been otherwise. Chords don’t work properly when some voices are minimized. Variations on a theme are always more interesting than simply reusing the same one over and over again.

Next time: Humor, how to make time travel seem plausible and a double seminar on how to write fight scenes.


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