Awesome Con: 'Over 9000' Saturday - Edition
Now that Awesome Con 2019 has ended, I finally have some breathing room to discuss how my epic Saturday went. In my prequel edition, I briefly mentioned the panels, cosplay and buying power that culminated into a great and awesome experience. Well here it is, the full Saturday edition, over ‘9000’’ power level.
Panels of Wisdom
The panel discussions at Awesome Con 2019 resembled a cultural revolution. This well organized cultural uprising, allowed the panel members to discuss the lack of diversity in the comic book, movie, manga, and anime’ industry. As a patron of color, I’ve traveled many states to attend cons whose panels focused on diversity and here at Awesome Con, they did not disappoint as they continued the fight to battle for equality in pop culture.
Two panel discussions: Diversity or Death and Racism and Stereotypes in Anime’ provided a framework for this revolution as moderators expressed their viewpoints in regards to the media industry. Although many points were expressed, there were some statements that became ironclad in my analysis of equality in pop culture.
Writers Wanted in Culture
One argument that I found interesting was how writers in the comic book industry seldom incorporate writers or actors who share the same cultural or ethnic values of the characters they create. For example, Brian Michael Bendis’, famous for the creation of the iconic character Ultimate Spider-Man: Miles Morales; created this character to incorporate a LatinX/African American heritage which could appeal to minority readers. Yet during his creation, as one of the panelist puts it, ‘Miles’ Latino identity was somehow lost in the conception. Only his skin color identified who he was…Black’.
Reflecting, last year, Region 99 interviewed Latino cosplayer, Animated Lola and she asked a question similar to the panel as to why companies had to ‘incorporate a Latino/Black mixed character rather than incorporate them separately?’ As both the past and present started to ask the same question, I too started to wonder why comic book companies even do this? Is one group better than the other? Why couldn’t there be a stream of diverse super heroes that have their own cultural identity that we could all appreciate? Why pump them out one at a time or just only one?
Acceptance for One or All?
Another aspect of the panel that sparked my intrigue was the ‘accept the character we give you’ mentality. From the panelists’ perspective, companies were creating these ‘ethnically themed’ characters without providing any research at all for these characters. As such, the creation of these characters followed by the lack of research included: Asian, Gay, Black, Latino, Science-Based and Non-Binary characters as well.
Overall, these companies are hesitant to flood the industry with new characters because of the….$$$$$, time and energy and when they do, they are still hesitant to promote because they don’t know if these multicultural characters will generate heavy revenue or continued readership for that character. What some critics are starting to realize is that when diverse characters are given a chance and when the creators incorporate artists whose culture parallels the character’s, the magic truly shines for them.
A prime example is Black Panther. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, decisions were made to choose people of color to direct, design and showcase the film, rather than take a ‘non-melanin’ stance to the blockbuster. From the director to the actors, this decision catapulted the movie to be one of the biggest Black movies ever made encompassing $1.34 billon. This movie proved to the industry that ‘Diverse Voices Mattered’ and that inclusion rather than exclusion could lead to a ‘flooding’ of new and exciting scripts, characters and an influx of cash.
By incorporating writers and co-writers of multiple ethnicities and diversities into the fold, the characters can be accurately portrayed and highlighted showcasing the best of their cultures. Additionally, it also allows viewers and readers to get a better grasp of these new characters and perhaps create a visual that will transition readers to view multiple cultures and people in the real world in a positive.
Anime Promoting Stereotypes?
Anime has slowly crept into mainstream pop culture and has become the new face of animation and cartooning thus changing the way we look at action scenes, emotional dramas, comedies, etc. Additionally, as anime is becoming more mainstream through the use of streaming services such as Crunchyroll, Netflix, and other services, these companies are scrambling to ‘sub/dub’ anime for a hungering audience.
What some viewers of the anime/manga industry are noticing is that racial profiling and stereotypes are taking place in anime and manga for some of their ethic characters; all the while glorifying others. The panel I attended: Racism and Stereotypes in Anime, noted these factors and highlighted anime’s relationship with LatinX and Black characters.
For LatinX interpretations, characters are highlighted by wearing ‘stereotypical clothing (like sombreros), are characterized as wrestlers, criminals, and/or have the ‘quirk’ of strength and/or brute force’. Additionally, LatinX anime characters are given a Latin name and country of origin (with no background story), are sometimes used for aesthetics and are simply placed in the scene for mystery purposes with no understanding as to how they are a part of the storyline in the first place.
For Black anime characters, the struggle continues as black characters are identified as having over-exaggerated features, big lips (either red or brownish to black), very dark skinned features and a somewhat limited power ability, thus making them a disposable feature rather than an added hero to the protagonist’s story.
As I was trying to understand the treatment of how both African Americans and LatinX characters are viewed in anime’/manga form, I started to think about the movie and television industry and remembered how minority characters were portrayed in the media from past to present. For African-Americans and Latinos, they would play roles that glorified negativity and hopelessness, whereas, Whites would play the full gamut of diverse characters being either the villain or the protagonist. Reflecting further into the past (and currently), they even played African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians; trying, with fail, to reflect their culture.
In defense, not all anime’ are disrespectful towards other races. As a matter of fact, there are some out there that take ownership of various cultures allowing them to shine in their own right. Anime’ such as Afro Samurai, Boondocks (drawn in anime’ style), One Piece, Bleach and many others have highlighted these groups and allowed them to shine. The problem is that there are so few positive anime’ compared to the many negatives that exist that highlight these cultures. And while our love for this newfound genre is growing, the question that I ask is this: ‘Is our love and hunger for anime also leading to the perpetuation of stereotypes and negativity in our perspective cultures?’ I leave that for you to decide.
Aside from the panels, the cosplay here was so amazing. To the left and right of me were so many cosplayers of different diversities, I had a hard time trying to take pictures of all of them. Some cosplayers were natives of DC, while others traveled specifically to this ‘con’ to showcase their best and brightest costumes. Additionally, a lot of families were here for the experience as well. Below are some of the best family and individual group cosplay in DC, others can be found here.
Science Reigns Supreme
In DC, ‘Nerdom’ reigns supreme as this area holds the CIA, NASA, NSA, and many intelligent branches of government. Normally, at comic cons, I would see the public library of that particular city, but the NSA!!! Wow!!! Additionally, the CIA sponsored the information section of this con as well (Worry face here). Well, at this con there was a section that was specifically science related: the National Science Foundation and NASA was there to answer any questions you had for them. Challenging the National Science Foundation, I asked one scientist about how the researchers were going to stop the amphibian fungal epidemic that was plaguing various species of frogs…they didn’t have a response…
Artists Galore…and many more!!!
For those who are unfamiliar with the history of Washington, DC; it was once called ‘The Chocolate City’ for their massive African-American population. However, that moniker has changed, as gentrification has allowed more groups, with a higher income level, to move into what is now considered one of the most expensive cities to live in. Well, diversity also had a place here, as many artists inhabited this convention selling their artwork, novels, and products.
EXO: The legend of Wale Williams
At the heart of Awesome Con resided a DC native, whose creativity coupled with a Bachelors and Masters degree in Computer Science led to the creation of YouNeek Studios and to the creation of one of his most prolific, iconic characters EXO. The artist’s name is Roye Okupe. A graduate of George Washington University, He has wrote, produced and directed several animated productions including, but not limited to, 2D/3D animated short films, TV commercials, show openers, and music videos. His graphic novel: EXO – The Legend of Wale Williams has received critical acclaim and has been featured on The New York Times, CNN and many other news media. His graphic novel, which is also featured on Amazon is a testament to his passion as he is retuning the lens on how people view Africa.
The Legend of Marcus the Visual
On the gram’ and in many ‘Blerd groups’, there exist an artist who has been grinding and showcasing his work on the ‘con circuit’. Venturing up and down the east coast, his artwork is legendary as his colorful graphics and action poses has drawn thousands of subscribers to his instagram account and website. We’ve also covered him on a few articles and he is the illustrator of the famous comic book Tuskegee Heirs. His name is Marcus Williams.
If you haven’t seen his artwork on the Internet, then you are truly missing out as his blended focus on pop culture and superheroes in the black experience has made his artwork truly legendary. One of his most famous series is his ‘grownish’ spin on the Boondocks. If you look at Wiley and Huey Freeman, you would buy his pieces right away. Furthermore, his analysis of Miles Morales is spot on as he blended a venom costume into a hip-hop styled outfit. I immediately bought 3 pieces of #blackgirlmagic in the form of Supergirl and Wonder Woman for my family. He Also, he is creating a comic called the Super Natural Woman (pictured left), which will be on sale later this year.
Below are some artists who I felt deserved praise for their work. I didn’t get the time to fully interview them, but their work definitely caught my attention and deserves some acknowledgment:
Ashley Riot!: Art Savage
Too good not to mention, Ashley Riot! blessed Awesome Con with her presence as her artwork in a 3-D layout is out of this world. So colorful and bright, she incorporated her love of cyberpunk anime and science fiction to create awesome posters and prints that are known the world around. A native of Chicago, her artwork is one of a kind. If you click here, you can definitely see what I mean as her prints,Tears of the Sheikah and Samurai Champloo, are futuristic.
Along the East Coast at various cons, there was the story of a Native American, by the name of Little Wolf. I’ve seen this graphic novel along the con floors and this time I started paying attention. Looking closely, the person who created the graphic novel, Jesse Cowen is now creating an animation short about the character.
The collectible life is very expensive. Aside from the traditional Funko products, there were other vendors that specialized in pop culture from the past and sell for the present. For Awesome Con, I decided to focus on the ‘old school video game’ market and see how they are shaping the collectible industry.
Nestled in a corner section in the land of vendors lay a booth that specializes in custom designed light boxes. We’ve seen them before, how particular images on the front screen are illuminated by a light in the background. Well, these light boxes are of a different breed as the front screens for these beauties are the panels of old arcade video games. The retro scene is back in full effect with fashion, haircuts, and now video games. As Pac-Rats are creating new items to promote old school wares, they have every panel from Asteroids to Super Street Fighter II: Turbo. These light boxes can be in your home for just $155 with $5 shipping.
At every con, there’s that one type of collector that specializes in collecting original content, especially when it comes to video games and technology. Here at Cartridges Galore, they specialize in selling older console gaming systems and of course cartridges. Here the prices are pretty reasonable, but one thing I didn’t realize was that a cartridge in its original packaging went for more than the price of the console itself. For example, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Turtles in Time fetched for $130. Retro gaming has truly changed.
Saturday’s Awesome Con 2019, was a great experience in that this con provided a diverse scene of cosplay, eccentric vendors and artists. I consider this one of the best events in pop culture for the DC area and a great start in fighting inequality in the pop culture industry. Leftfield media nailed it with this con as they attempted to highlight diversity in all its many forms and succeeded in the process. This convention showcased the best and brightest in pop culture as this con had the intent of making everyone comfortable in their own skin.
In the famed Chocolate City, Awesome Con 2019 will hopefully continue to inspire people of color and other diversities as they offer a place to decompress from the worries of the world and to be for one moment a superhero (or villain) of the dreams.