Between American Comics and Hollywood

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During the summer months, Dickinson College’s campus is largely uninhabited, save for a small collection of staff members, faculty, and students. So when folks who saw me at the college then asked me to explain why I chose to spend my vacation from the academic halls and the library—where I exhausted countless hours studying, writing papers, and snacking on Kashi granola bars and Chobani yogurt cups (I admit that I am among the few who survives without caffeine)—back in those spaces, you might imagine, reader, that I felt motivated to offer some spectacular response. To satisfy most inquiries, saying very plainly “I’m doing research on comic books” was an exciting enough phrase.

In the presence of interrogators who possessed stronger senses of doubt, though, I needed to elaborate in order to show them that research on comics is a real thing; “Greg Steirer, a professor in the English department who taught of few of the classes I have taken, is writing a book with Alisa Perren, a professor at University of Texas at Austin, about the relationships between Hollywood studios and American comic book companies,” I would start.…

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Cosplay vs. Nerd Elitism

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If you’ve been to any comic, manga, or video game convention within the past twenty years, chances are you’ve encountered some convention-goers masquerading as fictional characters in colorful, creative costumes. What you’re seeing are not amateur actors, untimely trick-or-treaters, or delusional folks going through cartoon-based identity crises. These are passionate fans, dedicated to representing their favorite TV, movie, game and comic book characters. These are cosplayers.

Cosplay, coming from the Japanese term, kosupure (コスプレ), is a portmanteau of the words ‘costume’ and ‘play.’ It’s a growing hobby in which fans create and wear costumes in order to show them off at conventions, enter contests, meet fellow fans, and further embrace their interests in the characters they’re portraying. Though originally the majority of cosplay was devoted to anime characters, the hobby has expanded to include characters from a variety of genres including science fiction thrillers, blockbuster action movies, and even occasionally characters that are entirely made up by the cosplayers themselves. Some are incredibly complex, such as the woman with sword and pink hair pictured on the left below, while some, like that handsome devil on the right, are a tad simpler.…

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Frank Miller’s Martha Washington

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Writer and artist Frank Miller is a sort of paradoxical figure among comic book readers. On the one hand, he wrote The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Year One. I mean, he basically invented the modern Batman. Those titles, along with his Daredevil run, helped usher in comic books “adult” enough for us to read in classes. But it’s also pretty widely understood that Miller is kind of, vaguely, a fascist. And sort of a racist. And I guess if we’re going to get into it, he’s not particularly fond of gay or disabled people either. It also seems really hard for him to write a female character who isn’t a sex worker and he certainly doesn’t like Muslims. These exaggerated, though not entirely unfounded, accusations make for awkward conversations about the roots of modern comics. Though Miller’s written some of the greats, he’s also written a few of the worst. Miller is thus one of the last people we would expect to write a strong, believable woman of color as a main character or deal with real social issues without being preachy or disrespectful.…

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Ms. Marvel & The Power of Tropes

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Bursting on the scene with the exuberance of youth comes the new Ms. Marvel, superhero extraordinaire. Premiering from Marvel comics in February of 2014 the story starts with sixteen-year-old Muslim Kamala Khan living in a New Jersey where spandex heroes are commonplace celebrities. She spends most of her time writing stories about them. Or hanging out with her friends at the 7/11 EXPY. After sneaking out for a night on the town, Kamala acquires shape-shifting and healing abilities. Now instead of only having to balance her identity as an American teenager with her Pakistani background and her faith, Kamala also has to balance it with new superhero responsibilities. Naming herself in honor of her favorite superhero, the blonde Captain Marvel who can lift cars over her head, Kamala decides to actively help her community, in the same way that the heroes she admired from behind her computer screen do.

Though not the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel universe, Kamala Khan is the first to have her own title.…

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Grant Morrison’s Multiversity

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Ever since I really started reading comic books, I feel like I’vve been waiting for Multiversity. Each year since 2010, I read that this would be the year when Grant Morrison’s follow up to Final Crisis would come out. Multiversity became almost a mythical comic in my mind. I heard rumors of a page in it that had 300 panels, and that the series would change the way I read comics. Whether or not Morrison intended it to be, in my eyes Multiversity was going to be the writer’s magnum opus. With DC Comics’ New 52 revamp in 2011, I had all but given up hope of seeing the series. But here, at long last, it is. And it’s weird.

Multiversity is a 9-issue miniseries; so far 5 of the issues have been published. Each story is written by Morrison and set in a different universe with drawn by a different artist. The stories seem somewhat connected, but it’s not easy to summarize how.…

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