San Diego Comic-Con 2017 - Complexities
With Chris Lopez on July 24, 2017

This is Chris Lopez's fourth report from the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con. - editor

WB Television was returning to Ballroom 20 at the convention center yesterday, and I intended to do the same. With special video presentations of all their CW heroines and heroes programed throughout the afternoon, I thought I had my day set. But I grossly underestimated the line to get into this ballroom. A Star Trek: Discovery panel was happening before the CW line-up, and everyone and their embarrassing, cos-playing mother were lined up for that. The ballroom was filled to capacity (~2000). People trickled out of the room throughout the afternoon, but at that point the line wrapped around every corner of the 2nd floor, outdoors area.

Needless to say, I had to change plans, which happens often at Comic-Con I’ve learned. Luckily there’s so much more going on at Comic-Con besides the video presentations and the full cast panels, so I improvised and went to check out the other stuff.

I took another stroll through the exhibition hall and realized that there were literally hundreds of booths that I had not seen, including Artist’s alley where illustrators showcase their work and demonstrate their artistic range. There were also small academies with their own booths like the Cinema Makeup School featuring some fantastic work. Along with the more niche booths were the expected commercial mainstream booths of Lego, Nickelodeon, Marvel Studios, D.C., etc.  

As I mentioned in my first article, Comic-Con hosts a number seminars dedicated to exploring the nexus of comics and other aspects of culture. I managed to stumble into two great educational panels yesterday evening. The first was with the animator and filmmaker, Stephan Franck (The Iron Giant, Silver), discussing film and comics aesthetics, and the second panel was on Psychology and Batman: The Animated Series, lead by the creators of BAS (Brian Ward, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett) and clinical psychologist and pop-culture blogger, Dr. Andrea Letamendi.

A lot of people, including me, have been discussing what it means to take the visual aesthetics of comics and adapt them to cinematic forms, but what about the reverse? What would it mean to continue the cycle and bring back cinematic visual forms (namely cinematography) into the world of comics? This was Franck’s question he posed to himself when returning to 2-D animation projects. During his work with Sony on the 2-D animated Smurf films, his love for comics resurfaced, and inspired him to get back in the panels. His return to comics has produced the beloved title, Silver, published by Dark Horse comics. 

Franck noted that when he came back to comics he realized how much more attention this genre of visual art was gaining in the wake of the comic book adaptation film genre’s popularity. However, this hasn’t produced a change in comic book sales, which are steadily declining. Choosing not to get into the commercial side of it, Franck answered, “A lot of people don’t read comics anymore because they don’t ‘speak’ the visual language of comics. They speak film, cinematography.”

Visually speaking, comics aesthetics don’t necessarily follow the basic cinematographic rules of the 180 degree, shot-reverse-shot pattern or consistent screen direction. So a new reader, who unconsciously knows the visual language of film, might find comic book art disorienting at first. Using his own abstract illustrations, Franck spent most of the panel demonstrating how illustrators could learn to translate cinematography to comic book art. As an aspiring comic book writer and lover of all things adaptations, I found this seminar to be more fascinating than some of sneak peak, video presentations.

I haven’t met a comic book fan or lover of superhero stories who doesn’t love or at least hasn’t heard of Batman: The Animated Series. While receiving various live-action adaptations through television and film, no adaptation shaped Batman canon like BAS did. It redefined not only who we understand the Dark Knight to be, but also his friends and enemies, adding psychological to depth to the latter in order to evoke sympathy for Mr. Freeze and Harley Quinn, among others. So morally and psychologically complex are these characters that Dr. Andrea Letamendi claims that BAS set her on a path to become a psychologist, “Because the show demonstrated to [me] how much of our past shapes who we are in the present and [that] people needed help revisiting their pasts,” as she explains.

Between thought-provoking reflections from Dr. Letamendi and heartfelt confessions from BAS co-creator, Paul Dini, I was reminded how much potential there is in popular culture to shape us productively. This panel also reminded me, of course, that popular culture cannot serve that role unless the creators are committed to telling very “human, relatable stories,” and unless people take the time to sit with these cultural texts as opposed to mindlessly consuming them. In short, BAS tells stories of people, like us, who suffer minor and major trauma, which end up having a profound impact on how we choose to live in relation to others. Dr. Letamendi believes that if we take time to unpack these characters stories, we may find space to identify in some way their struggles and consequently learn how navigate life for the better.*

*If you’re interested to learn more about this psychological treatment of BAS check out Brian Ward and Dr. Andrea Letamendi’s podcast series Arkham Sessions.

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