Geek Love: Day 1 at New York Comic-Con
New York Comic-Con featured several giant Lego characters, including this re-creation of the Incredible Hulk.
If the librarian is the original pop culture geek and the arbiter of taste for the library, then New York Comic-Con—the upstart sister to San Diego Comic-Con—is a librarian’s paradise.
Librarians and library lovers are an integral part of comics, TV, film, and books, both as characters in media and creators of media: a celebration of the love of information, from the obscure to the mundane and everything in between. With that in mind, the New York Comic-Con (or NYCC) organizers, dedicate the first of their four-day gala of geek love to all those who use pop culture as an education tool, which, of course, includes librarians.
NYCC started in 2006 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York by ReedPOP (not affiliated with the nonprofit that organizes the larger San Diego Comic-Con). Attendance has grown from 33,000 that first year to more than 100,000 in 2011. The event now attracts major celebrities throughout pop culture, including filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats), Mark Hamill (Star Wars), and actress Felicia Day (Supernatural, Eureka). This year’s guests include actress Vanessa Williams, celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, and author Anne Rice.
I'll be attending all four days of NYCC and reporting the sights, sounds, and smells (yes, smells—particularly bacon!) of the convention for the American Library Association, from the perspective of librarian and fan. You can follow the conversation here on this blog and on Twitter (#nycc and (@librarian_kate).
First up: The day of librarian love and the ALA-sponsored professional panels.
The Library as Mythic Oracle
It was appropriate that this panel kicked off our day, as it set the tone of the other two panels and gave everyone a “big idea” to think about in their professional and fan life. Panelists Craig Anderson of Kean University in Union, New Jersey; Megan Kociolek of Nutley (N.J.) Public Library; Michael Mazieken of Rockaway Township (N.J.) Public Library; and Tyler Rousseau of Monroe Township (N.J.) Public Library explored the connection that information plays in hero development, and how history and folklore are portrayed in the library.
Anderson provided a bird’s-eye historical view of heroes and myths and how they relate to information needs. By looking at the mythic characters through time, we see the increase in the importance of information.
Early heroes such as Gilgamesh and Hercules rely more on their brawn than brains—representative of the society of the time (based in agrarian and manual labor). It was not until the legend of King Arthur that we see the smart sidekick in Merlin. But even then, Merlin is second banana to Arthur. It is not until the 20th and 21st centuries that we see information as power, particularly in the BBC’s remake of the King Arthur stories (Merlin) and Doctor Who.
We move from person to place in Megan Kociolek’s panel, exploring the library as the start of the hero’s journey. The library is the safe space, the place where the intellectual finds joy. Thus, the librarian is the cultural hero, the guardian of information. Kociolek challenged the librarians in the room not to become too complacent in this role.
Michael Mazieken provided a great follow-up to Kociolek’s thoughts, exploring the idea of mistaken identity and disguise throughout history, starting with Achilles and coming through modern day and the different images (good, bad, and sometimes ugly) of librarians in the media. The positive portrayals have increased in the previous generation, but outside of children’s books, they’re not always accurate. We leave with this oft-debated question: Is librarianship in its own identity crisis, and is there a means to an end to resolve it?
Heroes have changed throughout time, and Tyler Rousseau ended the panel with a brief history lesson on “The Changing Hero.” The first comic heroes came from clear-cut morality in the 1930s, “where the men were men, the women were women, and evil was an obnoxious thing.” This changed slightly in the 1940s with the mix of politics and entertainment via World War II, but the morals remained black and white.
Comics saw their decline throughout the 1950s with the publication of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, equating comic books with juvenile delinquency and the fall of society. Self-censorship in comics begins shortly thereafter. The doubt of the power of the comic hero continues into the 1960s, what I call “superheroes need therapy.” The loss of the comic book’s identity from the prior decade leads to a loss of the hero identity, the rise of the antihero, and the psychologically flawed Batman we see in Christopher Nolan’s movies.
I left this panel not just with a great history lesson but also with a fabulous psychology lesson. Do book smarts and street smarts have to be mutually exclusive? What motivates our heroes—faith, choice, or both?
I’m reminded of a quote I heard from the late soap opera writer Irna Phillips, when discussing some of her most popular characters: “People are people. We’re all greys.” It’s important to accept the mix of light side and dark side in us all, the kaleidoscope of beliefs and values, but what does that do to the cultural perception of librarianship? Or is it just part of our hero’s journey?
KATE KOSTURSKI received her MLS from Pratt Institute and is currently the Institutional Participation Coordinator (UK and Northern Europe) for JSTOR. She is a member of GameRT. Visit her site at www.katekosturski.com,and follow her on Twitter at @librarian_kate.