Intrusive comic book research, literary misbehavior & pop-cultural observations.
May include nuts, personal opinions and non-academic language.

perjantai 15. toukokuuta 2015

Popping into the First Popcult

I hereby declare open the Great Conference Summer!

And what an opening it has been! Popcult Helsinki, a media fan convention held in Helsinki Hall of Culture on April 25 and 26 was not only a rewarding venue for popularized character theory but also a compact package of assorted geeky awesomeness!

The program guide was very well made.

For those of you who don't know the Finnish con scene, there are no comic cons on this forsaken tip of the planet. There are some annual comic book festivals (in Helsinki, Tampere and Oulu), which are perfectly nice, but perhaps aimed more at the common reader than at the hardcore fan. So, if you really want to immerse yourself into international fandoms - as a researcher and as a fellow geek - you have to parasitize the other kinds of cons we have in Finland. 

The most venerable two are Finncon and Ropecon. Both are usually held in the heart of summer and attract more than 3 000 visitors. In addition, some smaller animecons (like Desucon or Yukicon) have been sprouting all over of late. Finncon is mostly geared towards genre literature and Ropecon towards role-playing games, but there is definitely some cross-pollination between all Finnish cons: the cosplayers and anime enthusiasts are everywhere now, you can probably buy something Tolkien-related at any con and, yes, they are generally fruitful places to find some comic book connoisseurs as well.

Still, if we are not to get a con dedicated solely to comics, a con environment open for any and all kinds of popular media is definitely the second best thing! In its first year at least, Popcult leaned quite heavily on films and TV-series, but in this day and age, they have become essential fields for comic book fans and researchers as well. With convergence culture and all, comic book fans are basically just a sub-category of "media fans" - and comic book researchers a sub-category of media researchers. (I mean, have you seen Age of Ultron yet?)

Incoming: some complicated blah-blah-blah. Photo: Katja Kontturi

Even I shifted my perspective away from comics studies in my presentation: I lectured under the title "'Kaikki ystäväni ovat fiktiivisiä': Henkilöhahmon ja fanin suhteesta" (rough translation: "'All my friends are fictional': On the relationship between a character and its fan"). I mostly spoke about identification - how it's a fuzzy concept with potentially tangible consequences - and the commoditization of fictional characters. Marvel, DC and pals don't really sell comics anymore; they sell characters - idols and identities. And so, fictional people are arenas where commercial mainstream culture and different fan cultures fight important battles over the boundaries of humanity, gender and other building blocks of identity. Popular culture can spew at us characters that are poorly made in more ways than one but, either privately or together, fans can mold them into something that is alive, meaningful or even empowering to them. 

Well. Mostly, I just enjoy talking about the Werther fever and The Hawkeye Initiative...

I had barely slept or eaten as I had taken a bus all the way from Jyväskylä to Helsinki early that morning, but I managed to pull my brains together with caffeine tablets and happy-con-fun-time, so the presentation went ok. As usual, I blabbed about some really impromptu ideas in the beginning, but still said everything I really wanted in the allotted 30 minutes. (I can talk pretty fast if I'm given caffeine and a microphone.) The room was packed with listeners that seemed quite keen and laughed in most of the right places, so maybe I wasn't tooooo lectur-y. (Another bad habit of mine.)

A sexist comic strip I fixed with adhesive paper.

Despite my sudden disloyalty to the medium, there was some program focused solely on comic books. Unfortunately, I missed Hannu Kesola, who talked about his comic book writing career in the United States, but I did attend - once again - as my friend and colleague Katja Kontturi talked about her career in comic book research.

Katja defended her doctoral thesis on Don Rosa's Donald Duck comics last December and is now asked to speak in all sorts of events around Finland. Her main points: Rosa's Disney comics are fine examples of postmodern fantasy and you can make your passion into profession. She mostly works in Finnish, as Finns are suckers for Donald and Rosa, but you can find her research blog (and her account of the same con) here.

In addition, a group of feminist comic fans ran a workshop where the guests could sensor, fix, tune and pimp up photocopies of racist or sexist comic strips or excerpts. I spotted, for example, some Tintin in Africa, some League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, some Disney adverts, a couple of Calvin and Hobbes strips and loads of Viivi and Wagner strips (by Finnish comic artist Juba Tuomola). 

Personally, I've never found Calvin and Hobbes sexist, but some of the other material really was quite icky. You can see my contribution to sequential feminist art in the photo above. For those of you who know Finnish, it might be semi-readable. For those of you who don't, it's definitely not. But the male protagonist is revealed to be Edward Cullen in the end.

A little arts and craft project like this would be fun and thought-provoking at any sort of comics-related event, so snap up the idea in hordes, please! Focusing on an ideological point is by no means mandatory; tampering with comics like this could also be a great way to learn about the narrative techniques of the medium.

My new Hellboy bookmark didn't seem to enjoy the X-files presentation very much.

The comic workshop wasn't the only ace in Popcult's eye-hole, though. Geeky garage sale was also a new concept for me: heaps of old Pokémon toys, cosplay accessories, collectible figurines and manga TPBs, even some original Japanese ones. Although I didn't score any great finds, the idea is very commendable: environmental, affordable, and you'd probably struggle to find most of the stuff anywhere else.

Instead, I did my shopping in the artists' alley and the antiquary booths set in the lobby areas. I'm proud to note that the artistic level of the fan-made material was just as high in Popcult as in British and American cons I've been to. I got a pretty Victoriana-style glass pendant, a fanart print of Death and Dream from The Sandman, a fantastic Miyazaki-style pillowcase, some adorable owl stickers from Myrntai and an art book that collects illustrations from White Wolf's role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. Also, two bookmarks. I'm the kind of person who's simultaneously going through a dozen books between work and free time, so I never seem to have enough bookmarks.
The world needs more video game metal!

The very best treat, however, was the two musical numbers. Day one started gloriously with Another Castle's choir performance and ended with a big boom, courtesy of Polygon Black.

Another Castle is a Helsinki-based all-female a cappella choir whose repertoire draws from geeky media franchises. We heard, for example, Dr. Who and Game of Thrones themes as well as a little Lord of the Rings potpourri.

Polygon Black, on the other hand, concentrates on doing rock/metal covers of game music. We all remember how amazing teedle-dees and beepy-boops those 90s Nintendo games had, don't we? Add some real instruments, a whole lot of attitude, and the results are unavoidably awesome! I've been a big fan of symphony orchestra adaptations of game and film music for a while now. (Final Symphony in Tampere almost made me cry, and I'm not one to be teared up by anything but life and literature.) But metal might be even better - for metal is forever! \m/ (Until it rusts.)

Ending ceremonies in the huge Aalto Hall.

All in all, it was great weekend to be a geek. And there will be another edition next year!

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