To spend a day at Denver Comic Con is to get a glimpse of what it looks like when lots of very different people unite around a common interest.
I was one of about 115,000 people who traveled to the Denver Convention Center during the first weekend of July to attend the city’s sixth annual Comic Con. According to the Denver Business Journal, the event matched last year’s attendance and brought about $10 million to the local economy. The day I attended, July 1, was sold out.
People go to Comic Con for many reasons. Some want to show off their cosplay (elaborate costumes inspired by fictional characters), either in the official costume contest that runs every night of the three-day event or at one of the many photo opportunities that present themselves on the show floor. Others go to meet their favorite celebrities, find a new fandom or just check out the merchandise in the exhibit hall.
But although Comic Con is mainly associated with entertainment, many people, like myself, also go there to learn. The event is organized by Pop Culture Classroom, a nonprofit that promotes literacy in Colorado with the help of comics and other entertainment media. This year’s Comic Con included panels hosted by NASA, the Colorado Symphony and many professional artists, authors and filmmakers.
While I enjoyed watching NASA scientists debate with a sci-fi author about the importance of scientific accuracy in fiction, one of my favorite parts of the day was a small, sparsely attended panel hosted by some of the artists and writers behind Native Realities Press, a comic book publishing company created by and for Native Americans.
They discussed the various ways Natives have been depicted in art throughout American history, and how modern artists are trying to combat harmful stereotypes that persist today. Jon Proudstar, author of the comic book “Tribal Force,” said indigenous people have rarely had a say in how their own culture is portrayed, and he hopes to change that by writing a book based on an insider’s understanding of Diné, or Navajo, beliefs.
He and some of the other panelists were also behind the first Indigenous Comic Con, which took place in Albuquerque, last year. The second one will be held this year on Nov. 10-12.
Pop culture hasn’t always been kind to minorities, women or other groups who don’t quite fit the Superman mold. But things like skin color and physical fitness don’t seem to matter very much at Comic Con. I saw superheroes in all colors, shapes and sizes. I saw a gray-haired Imperator Furiosa and a tiny, dark-skinned Snow White. Total strangers posed together for photos or stopped to chat about their favorite stories. Despite the constant long lines and large crowds, the atmosphere always stayed friendly.
Everyone loves a hero, and Comic Con is one place where people can come together to celebrate and learn about those heroes without cultural barriers getting in the way.
It’s also the rare place where Batman can be found hanging out with Star-Lord and taking pictures of Han Solo and Maleficent.
I go to see that, too.