San Diego Comic Con 2020 has been forced down the road of remote programming due to current COVID-19 concerns, but it’s taken the opportunity to present some high quality, highly important pre-recorded panel discussions that people can access whenever they want after they’ve been made available via the SDCC at Home schedule website. One such panel took place on opening day (Wednesday, July 22 ,2020), called Comics as a Conduit, and it immediately set a high bar with an urgent tone and an infectious sense of excitement when it comes to dealing with History as a current and present problem that comics can and should address.
Moderated by Chloe Ramos, Comics as a Conduit centered on the specific uses and intentions of real world developments in comics to inform and engage with the problems currently on display in our streets today. Henry Barajas (author of La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo), Rodney Barnes (author of Killadelphia), Darcy Van Poelgeest (author of Little Bird: The Fight for Elder’s Hope), and David F. Walker (author of Bitter Root) participated in the panel as their comics are, essentially, great examples of the very conduits under question.
I’ll go through some of the highlights as the panel is up on YouTube in its entirety for anyone interested. I truly recommend taking the time to see it to get everything straight from the source. It was a powerful panel and a great conversation.
Chloe Ramos had an impressive set of incisive questions that didn’t settle for simple answers. In general, they homed in on the expectations that come with incorporating history into a comic and what type of reactions or expectations creators aim for when presenting their extensively researched stories to the public.
Barnes spoke to the necessity of making racism a more complicated type of discussion in media as a whole to really get to explore the actual ramifications of it. His Philadelphia vampire comic, Killadelphia, approaches this idea through the politics of poverty and how it shows apathy and displacement to be a product of a racist history. With such a dense point of view, Barnes also mentioned the importance of making history “not seem like medicine” in comics, so that everyone can get into it.
Van Poelgeest, creator of Little Bird, went a similar route. He emphasized the importance of making books that don’t keep readers out of the loop and, thus, unable to engage with these type of stories. Poelgeest said that accessibility keeps readership diverse and that the opposite “keeps a lot of people out of the world of reading.” This is perhaps one of the most important things mentioned in the panel and it really hits home when considering how certain works of non-fiction stay within the realm of academia without setting up different avenues for dialogue with the world outside of it.
Barajas’ interventions also expanded on this point as his book is a work of comics journalism whose intention is to shed light on a history that doesn’t make it into popular history books. The story of Tata Rambo deals with generational trauma and how it led to a movement that fought for better working and living conditions for the Pascua Yaqi Tribe in Toucson, Arizona. One of the things Barajas added to the conversation considered the inclusion of supplemental material in these type of books. Getting people in touch with actual documents and news clippings can only further the learning process, something La Voz de M.A.Y.O. does very well.
For Walker, a self-proclaimed research junkie (which wonderfully shows in his writing), looking at the Harlem Renaissance for his monster hunting book Bitter Root was an exercise in looking beyond the romantic version of history and into the aberrant racism of early 20th century America. The concept of entertainment as a conduit came to him when he watched George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and saw how a movie about zombies could say so much about race relations and war. He also mentioned that there’s an interesting discussion to be had with horror in terms of responsibility and who’s supposed to fight the monsters. This is a running theme in the genre, across all mediums, and one that Bitter Root explores well. If you haven’t read it yet, now’s a good time to do so.
Again, these blurbs are meant to offer a taste of the panel rather than a summary of it. I whole-heartedly recommend giving it a watch as it says a lot about how we as readers learn through comics and how we can be doing more of it.
For the full Comics as a Conduit panel, click here.