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MegaCon Postmortem: Colored in More Ways Than One

Everyday at MegaCon started with the adventure of parking. To be honest, I thought the parking and shuttle service worked fine coming in (I tried to arrive early everyday), going out there was always a line and I walked back. Still, taking the bus in was cool because it helped to create a sense of community. Granted, I don't think very many people on the bus would be willing to articulate it that way, but that is what happen. You wanna feel loved? Dress up at MegaCon and people will love you. If you do a good job they will scream, they will ask to take your picture, they will celebrate your accomplishment and they won't care who you are or where you came from. It starts the second you get out of the car.

Despite this truth, MegaCon is not divorce from larger issues of identity. Indeed, academics have written about the sublimation and distortion associated with costuming in fandom. A quick search will lead you to that literature. Indeed, identity always plays in the background at MegaCon. Consider this fact, on the bus ride in I heard one latino youth mention, "I see white people." The line was funny, and representative of the assumptions surrounding race and identity we linked to the cultural space occupied by comics in the United States. As I have written and spoken about in the past, superhero comics are linked to the U.S. experience negotiating the global other. Superhero characters externalize U.S. values. The irony is that the creators, such as Jack Kirby, were not white. As immigrants and the children of immigrants, they were ideological adherents to the United States, before the were culturally accepted. Thus, the comment reminded me that Orlando, and indeed Florida sits at the heart of the demographic transformation taking place in the United States. As my colleague, Gabriel Barreneche has demonstrated in his research on the Orlando Puerto Rican community, for all the imagined Americana linked to Disney, Central Florida has a large and growing Latin population. Thus, the assumption underpinning the comment in question is that this space defined by white American identity and desire is being penetrated by the Latino youth and his friends. At some level he is right, once on the floor at MegaCon, you see white people everywhere.

Still, I want to suggest that while you may see white people, the sight is misleading. In fact, comics and related popular culture offer a multicultural vision built upon diverse cultural understanding. Consider, Angel Comics, the independent company I stumbled upon while walking the floor. With the recent death of Dwayne McDuffie, and the announcement that DC Comic would publish a special issue featuring. McDuffie's Milestone Media character Static, scholars, professional, and fans have asked about the level of diversity in the comic book industry. MegaCon forces me to read closely the assumptions in these comments. Indeed, the major superhero comic publishers (Marvel and DC Comics) face questions about diversity in every way. Yet, the overall comic genre has example of diversity. As I have discussed in the past, superhero comics are the best selling comic genre, but far from the only comics available.

Independent publisher struggle to find an audience, but the implication from MegaCon is the future of digital media offers the opportunity for innovative creators to find an audience in a way they could not have in the past. MegaCon also suggests that the audience and the creator will create product more diverse and less Eurocentric.

Pulling, as the fans of modern pop culture are, from multiple genres, they are open to Oriental, South Asian, African, and American (North and South) fusions that allow for characters to be more diverse. The often heard quote from millennial students, "I don't see race" is not a lie exactly. A more accurate statement is I don't see the full cultural weight of racial identity in everyday life. The student's statement is noteworthy nonetheless because it allows the coming generation immerse in anime,comics, and gaming to trade in the cultural markers from around the world. A suburban youth in Orlando, dressing up like a character from Death Note (and there were a lot) is likely to be more concerned about the Japanese earthquake and nuclear disaster than one dressing up as Star Wars character (maybe).

On the other hand, creators drawn to this media from diverse backgrounds are themselves helping to create a more diverse pop culture landscape. Racial diverse, but cultural American, minority creators pull from the multicultural milieu to create products that appeal to the popular market, but perhaps are a little more diverse. The digital market place allows for them to find and audience, but the product they produce must reference the mass culture shared by everyone enough to be successful, even as they infuse a more diverse perspective into the product. Thus, Angel Comics' offering are not the Afrocentric characters and adventures associated with African-American creators from the early 1990s. Instead, they reflected the influence of Manga and Anime that have exploded in popularity over the last decade.

I will not suggest that adoration of cultural product from another country represents cultural understanding. Indeed, the surface interpretation associated with popular culture may prevents the "fan" from understanding the deep roots behind symbolism in culture. Thus, while a U.S. anime fan my live and die with every character, they will like never come to grips with the cultural trauma from the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that inform Japanese anime. Nor will they question seriously the decision to use atomic weapons on Japan or the subsequent threat to use them throughout Asia during the Cold War. Still, idea of Megacon as a space for cross cultural urban bleed remains strong for me.
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