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Pop culture vs the world

Friday, December 21, 2018
Pic courtesy: Abhijit Kini

As Mumbai gets set for the eighth edition of Comic Con, Damini Kane points out that the most important conversations about diversity, representation, feminism, and societal power dynamics are happening in pop culture

“I didn’t take you for a groupie,” sneered someone I once knew. I was 15, and hesitantly sharing an interest. For as long as I can remember, I have nursed an obsessive love for fandom. I’m the sort of fan trawling blogs for the faintest piece of trivia, I’m the sort of fan who stays up till 3 am reading 150,000 thousand word fanfictions. I’m the sort of fan who can describe her favourite pieces of fan art down to the boot buckles. I am, in short, the most profitable kind of consumer a fandom can have. I will buy the merch, I will collect the figurines, I will stick the posters to my walls. I have layered opinions on the minutest details of my fandoms, and I have favourite characters for whom I will go to war.

I discovered fandom in my early teens, and it grew into one of my dearest—I won’t even call it a hobby—one of my dearest interests. It was also an interest I seldom ever shared with my friends or family, for fear of judgement. On that fateful day, it’s exactly what happened.

If you look up the Wikipedia page for ‘groupie’, these are the first few lines: “…a fan of a particular musician, celebrity, or musical group who follows this person or band around while they are on tour or who attends as many of their public appearances as possible, usually in hopes of getting to know them more. The term is almost universally used to describe young women who follow these individuals in hopes of establishing a sexual relationship with them or offering themselves for sex.”

It was such an unbelievably callous thing to say to a 15-year-old girl that I fell silent and couldn’t really offer much more of myself to the conversation. Of course, contexts differed, but the element of shame associated with my fandom interests never wavered. Meet me today and I’ll still hesitate to get into just how deeply I love my fandoms. (The fact that I’m not even telling you which ones they are says something already.) They don’t just bring me joy, they give me emotional support. I’ve made lifelong friendships over the internet with members of these fandoms.

I love TV shows, I love anime, I love book series, and those are the hills I choose to die on. I’d become accustomed to keeping this side of me well under wraps.

And then came Comic Con.

It was the first Comic Con in India, and to my utter joy and surprise, my friends were as excited about it as I was. We went in a group of seven, us 16-year-olds with our ugly haversacks. I still remember that at the entrance, there was an older boy in excellent Joker cosplay. He asked me, “Why so serious?” and then I couldn’t stop beaming.

That day, I bought five over-priced t-shirts, marvelled at cosplayers, practically burst into tears at all the action figures and bobbleheads and magnets and posters. My favourite memory of that day was of a stall where you could try on wigs and fake moustaches for free. I wore a rainbow-coloured afro, along with a velvety fake Mario moustache, a prop cape around my neck, and brandished a cardboard sword. I looked so absurd that people passing by me started taking my photo. I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time.

Comic Con is a celebration of pop culture, and pop culture is important.

You may talk about the greatness of the Ulysses or Virginia Woolf or Albert Camus all you like, but the most important conversations about diversity, representation, feminism, and societal power dynamics today are happening in pop culture. So it isn’t just lame stuff your less-intellectual friend is into. Pop culture is vital.

Take, for instance, Rick Riordan. He is the bestselling author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. They are all adventure/fantasy books, but Riordan is a very conscious writer whose target audience is kids and teenagers. His characters include: Percy (among many others), a hero with ADHD and dyslexia, the god Apollo (alias Lester Papadopoulous) who is bisexual, Nico di Angelo and Will Solace, who are gay, Hearthstone, who is deaf and communicates with sign language, the genderfluid Alex Fierro, among Piper McLean, Leo Valdez, Frank Zhang, Reyna Ramírez-Arellano, and Hazel Levesque, all prominent characters of colour.

One need only mention the movie that blew apart the box-office in January 2018, Black Panther, a superhero movie with a predominantly black cast. Something like this, at this scale, had never been seen before. Its successes, along with those like the movie Wonder Woman (May 2017) are indicative that progress is coming, and that it is fearless. The new Star Wars movies feature characters of colour too: Finn, Poe Dameron, Cassian Andor, and Rose Tico, along with very dynamic female leads in Rey and Jinn Erso.

I have been to every single Comic Con in Mumbai since its inception, and I am always blown away by the creativity and optimism that surrounds me. From established fandoms to self-starting artists, it’s a place for everybody. Comic Con is where you’re allowed to be in love with the stories that inspire you.  Where you’re not weird, your interests matter, and you can celebrate them. That’s why Comic Con matters.

Damini Kane is the author of The Sunlight Plane, a novel published earlier this year

A celebration of pop culture

Comic Con brings together the whole comics industry and related fields such as merchandise, toys, games, films and animation

India's biggest Comic-fan festival, Comic Con India 2018 is hosting the 8th edition in Mumbai on December 22-23 at Bombay Exhibition Center, Goregaon from 11.00 am to 8.00 pm.

Founded by 29-year-old Jatin Varma, Comic Con India celebrates the illustrated medium, which brings together the whole comics industry and related fields such as merchandise, toys, games, films and animation, along with fans of this culture from all age groups.

“Like each year, we have hordes of awesome experiences, activities, and meet and greets with the best of talents from this industry lined up this time around as well,” says Varma. “Additionally, we also have numerous intriguing and interactive panel discussions with some of the most revered names from the exciting universe of comic books, including artists, illustrators, writers, and publishers.”

The Pandora's Box will also include exclusive comic books, geeky merchandise, cosplayers, fan experience zones, Indian creators and writers, along with a main stage that will include a cosplay parade.    

This year’s international guests include Sana Takeda, who is based in Japan and is best known in the United States for working with Marjorie Liu, most recently on their hit fantasy series Monstress; Yaya Han, costume designer, model and cosplay entertainer based in Atlanta, GA; and Will Conrad, comic artist, known for #dccomics # justiceleague # acqaman and others.

The entertainment guests include Luke Kenny, actor, entertainer and all-round pop-culture man, who will talk about his Rock On days, his love for zombies, his stint as a comics creator and Sahil Shah, a comedian and one of the founders of the East India Comedy.

The Indian comic book guests include Vivek Goel - Holy Cow Entertainment Founder, the only Indian comic book artist to draw covers for Phantom – The Ghost who Walks; he is also known for his Ravanayan and The Aghori series. Also participating in this year’s edition are cartoonist Sumit Kumar, comic book writer Shamik Dasgupta; Abhijeet Kini, a Mumbai-based illustrator, animator and independent comics publisher, known for Angry Maushi and Fanboys and Alicia Souza, ‘happiness illustrator’.

The first ever Comic Con was held in Delhi in 2011 and then over the period of one year, expanded to Mumbai and Bangalore. In September 2014, the organisers announced a joint venture with Reed Exhibitions; part of the FTSE listed Reed Elsevier Group, to grow the pop culture space in India and bring world-class events to Indian fans.

When December 22-23

Time 11.00 am to 8.00 pm.

Where Bombay Exhibition Center, Goregaon

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