Written by Shawn Bourdo
THE BLACK PANEL
Here’s an example of another duplicated panel that’s been going on for years. I’ve been to the past few and I find it different than any other panel I’ve attended. There is always a description in the guide but this is the most free-form, anything-goes 90 minutes that I sit though in the weekend. This year was no different.
We started with Wayne Brady, the intended host, not being able to attend because of work but “appearing” temporarily through the magic of FaceTime. There was an obvious anti-Trump feeling permeating the room and fear for the future of our country. It was so palpable that I am wondering if the three people that left the room were possibly Republicans that couldn’t take the rhetoric.
Panelist included Karen Hunter (Pulitzer Prize winner), Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik (Recall and Given) and Tomiya Gaines (author of The Perfect $20 Date). They each had brief chances to talk but the theme of this panel was consistently about black artists having positivity and confidence. That was a little odd message juxtaposed against the negativity of the Trump candidacy. The overall message that black artists need to quit knocking each other down and start supporting each other is one that resonates in this climate. It’s also what I was hearing in a similar vein from the Nerdist forum.
The world is full of negativity, and the artists of the world and the fandom together need to create a peaceful and nurturing space. This is our safety zone. We read and interact and play in other universes to escape our reality. But in many ways, like in Rosalind’s book, which deals with the reality of severe disabilities, we filter our reality into books as creators and try to help it make sense.
Everyone was most impressed with a young man of about 15 in the panel who introduced himself as an artist who wanted to create a positive role model Muslim character in comics. By showing confidence and a knowledge of the community, he was able to actually earn himself a job on this panel. It’s great to see mentors at work. These older artists rail against stereotypes that we often don’t even acknowledge. I was at the Luke Cage panel the night before. I saw that trailer. Something didn’t sit right but I couldn’t identify it. Then they pointed out – here was a black man in a hoodie that was full of bullet holes. That’s a powerful image regarding current events. Yet we just accept it. They talked about the smartest scientist in the Marvel Universe, a black man who had mentored Bruce Banner, who received the powers of the Hulk with his full mental capabilities intact. And what did he do? He became a drug dealer and no one in the industry batted an eye.
The challenge to come out of the Black Panel is for black artists to earn respect. To create the best comics and not just expect respect but earn it. The product will win the day. Marvel has the most African American writers and editors but they are still lacking in representation for women of color – the inclusive term to include Latinas.
GOD IS DISAPPOINTED IN YOU 2: APOCRYPHA NOW
Another sequel panel but this is acceptable because they actually have a new book available. The creators of the book, Mark Russell (Prez and Flintstones comics) and Shannon Wheeler (The New Yorker and Too Much Coffee Man) were in attendance to talk about religion and comics. Both are from the excellent hipster paradise of Portland, Oregon. The origin of the book came about at a bar (don’t most best ideas ever happen there?) when Mark and Shannon wondered exactly what they knew about the Job story even though it was so often referenced in popular culture. When they realized it was essentially God being a jerk and a severe retelling of the Eddie Murphy Trading Places movie, they decided to write and illustrate some of the really wrong and not so popular stories of the Bible. The first book contained stories from the current canon and this sequel is stories from the Gnostic Gospels, Jewish traditional texts, and the Apocrypha.
I have to admit that I was more fascinated and intrigued by this panel than any other during the weekend. I am still trying to distill it down while I write this instead of just transcribing the whole hour. This is why I love this weekend. It’s art and creativity and history all rolled into one entertaining ball. I can’t recommend the books enough. In its own way it’s almost a MST3K take on Bible stories.
The discussion of the different books of the Bible is interesting. We don’t often think of them as “books”. Each book has a different author and were written in a different time and have a different voice. Because the authors are humans, the different writers sometimes contradict each other. They likened it to a family argument where each member saw the same event from a different perspective. There is a fun story involving Paul from classic Jewish texts that illustrates that the Torah is handed down to humans and is no longer the property of God but to be interpreted by the people.
There are really great stories here that have disappeared from our culture. Most were suppressed because they didn’t comply with the “old boy’s network” of the early centuries. The story of Lilith is mostly unknown. The first wife of Adam refused to lay with him sexually and was defiant to the point of being told by the angels that all of her children would be killed. Her story would be paramount for current feminists and yet seems pretty much unknown.
The story of Thecla is the most interesting. Here is a woman that threw herself at the prophet Paul and was rejected over and over again until Paul realized that she was a true prophet. Thecla ended up being one of the first female priests. Her story was eliminated from all of the texts because the men didn’t want women becoming clergy. There are still random references to her, especially in the art, that show she was an important person in history. At this point, she is rarely referenced because her story didn’t make the cut of the final books of the Bible.
I appreciated one quote in particular. When the authors were questioned about the role of religion in particular in today’s world, they said “Religion is what we use to photoshop the world around us.” That’s a powerful statement. We use religion to fill in the gaps and explain things that happen around us in an average day. I can see that. We want to have logic to our days and when we don’t, that’s where religion kicks in. I loved this panel and I hope they write another book before next year.
BRAVE NEW WARRIORS
What’s the opposite end of the spectrum from watching The Black Panel and talking about religion? A laugh-filled panel with pretty much every hot dude on TV currently. This discussion presented by Entertainment Weekly featured Josh Holloway (Colony), Dominic Purcell (Legends of Tomorrow), Theo Rossi (Luke Cage), Eric Dane (The Last Ship), Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy), Clive Standen (Vikings), and the real star of the panel Dominic Cooper (Preacher). Don’t fool yourself that there possibly could have been more excitement at the Women Who Kick Ass! panel. The love for hot guys at this Con is more than enough to fill every chair in Ballroom 20.
I thought that it’s interesting to just sit and watch stars interact and talk. But it doesn’t really entertain me the way that the other panels have through the weekend. The general purpose of a panel like this and other ones of hit shows is to let us feel that we have a background insight to our favorite actors. But very little is actually said that we couldn’t find on a TMZ or Wikipedia webpage. All you are getting is that you were in the same room as a really great-looking dude.
The other takeway was two-fold. First is that Theo Rossi appears to be the happiest and smilingest guy in Hollywood. His smile and laugh lit up the room and I found him the most engaging of the panel. The other thing was the once you open it up to the crowd, every question is going to be for Dominic Cooper. But here’s the kicker that you wouldn’t have guessed. Most of the questions weren’t about his role in Preacher but about his role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Agent Carter. I like being surprised now and then.
MARVEL TELEVISION: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
Jeph Loeb hosted another promotional hour for a Marvel product. The cast including executive producer Jed Whedon showed up to show some behind-the-scenes footage from last season. The exact type of footage that I wouldn’t be surprised to see show up on the next DVD. There wasn’t much to clue us in to details of Season Four more than a little teaser and that the show is on Tuesdays an hour later in the Fall. This had even less actual information that the Luke Cage panel or the Brave New Warriors. I will say that like most successful shows, the chemistry of the cast is solid. Clark Gregg is a freaking superhero. Ming-Na Wen looks like she could fight off an army of ninja right now. Chloe Bennet is my favorite and smiled the whole panel. Lastly, Henry Simmons is so darn cute in person that you could get a cavity looking at him.
Chris Hardwick who hosts 90% of the panels at the Convention now talked to Trey Parker and Matt Stone about the previous 20 seasons of South Park. The guys that were the bad guys of television back when they started are just the old men of television now. Much like The Simpsons, this show is just a fixture on television schedules and I don’t hear much talk about their episodes anymore. In fact, I don’t really know who is watching it mostly. All I really came away from this was that there is a new video game coming out that has the clever name of South Park: The Fractured But Whole.
My fanboy highlight of the weekend was watching this cast reading of what was the next episode of Preacher. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg joined creator Garth Ennis and cast members including Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, and Joseph Gilgun not to mention guest stars like Kevin Smith as they read through the script of the episode from this past Sunday. Once again you don’t come away from a reading like this with much information on the show. The cast is awesome. Ruth Negga can come stay on my sofa any day she wants, and I’ll buy her dinner at her choice. Reading a script is a fun, different thing that I haven’t encountered at any other panel other than one for The Cleveland Show. It forces you to really concentrate on the words and I think it helped me understand the episode even better.
The day that started with such a serious collection of thinking panels ended with the chocolate sundae of panels where you just dig in and enjoy the empty calories. My brain was emptied by the end of the day and ready to attack Saturday.