San Diego, CA: Wednesday, July 22, was the opening day for Comic-Con@Home, the virtual iteration of the annual event that normally brings tens of thousands of fans to Downtown San Diego in a celebration of all forms of pop culture. This year, because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) and all other conventions around the country have been shuttered in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. However, just as superheroes never give up, the SDCC board decided to go virtual with panels, exhibits, displays and more.
For the past four years, Comic-Con International and the San Diego Public Library have partnered for the Comic Conference for Educators and Librarians, generally held as part of Preview Night, the Wednesday before the main convention begins. This year, for the fifth installment, the conference went online with education and pop culture being the focus of the first day’s panels. Seventeen panels, featuring K-12 educators, college and university lecturers, writers and artists, extolled the virtues of using modern cultural elements to promote education and literacy.
One of the opening panels, titled Comics in the Classroom Ask Me Anything: Pick the Brains of Teachers, Administrators, Creators, and Publishers, featured members of the Lit-X Teacher Cohort along with current and former teachers, some of whom are also comic creators. Lit-X members Eric Kallenborn and Michael Gianfrancesco had collected questions via social media to share with the panel members. The panel, which included teachers Ronell Whitaker and Jason Walz (also a comic creator), comic creator Lucy Knisle, and former teacher and current consultant Lisa Wu, delved into how comics and graphic novels can be used to help readers comprehend literature and understand different cultures and societies.
Teaching and Learning with Comics, hosted by educators Peter Carlson, Susan Kirtley, and Antero Garcia, focused more on how creative illustration can be used in the classroom. As Carlson explained, the goal of the team is to “continually engage a dialogue about the purposeful use and power of comics in all classrooms.” On the panel were professor Nick Sousanis, author of “Unflattening” - his doctoral dissertation done completely in comic book form; cartoonist and teacher Ebony Flowers, author of “Hot Comb” and other books; and comic book authors David F. Walker and Brian Michael Bendis who recently collaborated on the book “Naomi.”
Through the various panels, certain themes repeatedly came to the forefront. One of these is the power of comics and graphic novels to engage otherwise reluctant or struggling readers and inspire them to explore literature on their own. Many times these students and adults struggle because traditional literature does not engage them in their preferred mode, where the illustrations in comics and graphic novels help bridge the gap between their strengths and areas of challenge.
Another theme was the use of comics and graphic novels as a medium for exploring topics and viewpoints that have often been ignored or dismissed. Comics as a Conduit presented ways that the medium can be a platform to discuss topics like environmental activism, civic engagement, or physical and mental health awareness. In the Books for All: It's Time to Redefine How We Share Books With Kids panel, participants discussed how educators can share impactful and diverse titles with students of all ages. Other panels scheduled for the week will focus on the topics of Indigenous Rights, LGBTQI Identity and more.
Comic-Con@Home runs through Sunday, July 26, with all videos posted on YouTube for free viewing. While some of these will be pulled at the end of the virtual convention, many will remain up beyond Sunday. For more information about Comic-Con@Home, or to view the daily panel schedules and other offerings, visit the website at www.comic-con.org/cci/2020/athome.
Author: Stephen Prendergast is an educator and contributing writer to Geek Round Table.