Historically, a comic con (con is short for convention) was an event in which fans, creators, and marketers of comics came together. Industry secrets, new characters, and new story lines were unveiled, artists and writers were available for autographs, people went around in costume and entered contests and parades (the term for this is cosplay, short for costume play), and the main comics engines and personalities were there, like DC and Marvel and Stan Lee.
The popular perception was that comic cons were for geeks and fans of comics—not for serious people.
DC and Marvel are comic book producers. Their model is different from the newer, digital or trade-published version of comics and graphic novels. DC and Marvel owned the characters, or concepts. They hired artists and writers to do more stories about the concepts they owned, and these were released as serials.
The traditional type of comic con still exists. Big ones are hosted across the country each year in cities like New York and San Diego, but they’re changing, too. They’re making room for the indie comics whose influence has been on a steady incline.
An example of the prevalence of indie comics is the website DeviantArt.com. DeviantArt is an online forum for artists and storytellers to come together and create worlds. DeviantArt hosts 197 million pieces of art and has twenty million registered artists, creators, and fans.
But with the steady de-centralization of content and content’s gatekeepers holding less and less power, and the ever-more-sophisticated digital media for both creating and publishing comics, comics are in a renaissance of sorts.
They’re not just for fan boys any more.
Wildcat Comic Con is part of a new breed of comic book convention, and one of the first half dozen or so of its kind in the country over the last few years.
This comic con is for fans, yes, and creators, too, but it’s also for educators and librarians. The WCC collects voices from influential segments of the educational, library science, graphic, and film worlds. And there will be a bunch of heavy hitters there, trailblazers in their fields, nationally-known scholars.
Conversations with Some of the Presenters
The Guardian asked John Meier, a science librarian at Penn State’s Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library, about his professional interest in comics, and he said, “There’s an emerging number of science comics and graphic novels, nonfiction, that are tough to find, but coming out more frequently. You used to be able to count on one hand the number there are, but now there are all sorts. There are stories that tell the lives of human scientists. But there are also modern explanations of evolution and biology for the college level.”
John Meier will be sitting on a panel about developing graphic novel collections for academic libraries. He is also responsible for instituting Penn State’s Lynd Ward prize for the graphic novel, which is the first non-industry literary award in the field.
Dr. Michael Bitz will deliver the opening remarks for the Wild Cat Comic Con. Bitz founded the Center for Educational Pathways and its Comic Book Project. The Comic Book Project is an initiative that guides students through creating a comic book. This activity will aid in developing literacy and reinforce it. Bitz said, “The thing that really strikes me is the creative ability, which is different from the ability to draw. It’s more about the quality of the story, the quality of the characters, and how the art is intertwined.”
In addition to opening the con, Dr. Bitz will sit on a number of panels about comics in education at the Wildcat Comic Con.
Maureen Bakis runs a website called “Graphic Novels in High School English”, which is a collection of resources for high school English teachers who are interested in teaching graphic novels. Bakis is also working on her doctorate in education. She said her dissertation will likely focus on “mobile technologies, like the iPad, in the classroom, and how they will hopefully change teacher-centered learning into student-centered learning.”
Finally, Dr. John Weaver, a high school English teacher at Williamsport’s own WAHS, will be sitting on a number of panels that address components of education using graphic text. He said, “Comics are good to talk about, they are valuable for students, and you can think intellectually and rigorously about them.”