Comic Conventions Not Just For Nerds

People from across the country are gathering at the 2011 New York Comic Con to share their love of comics, anime, games, graphic novels and more. Michel Martin gets the dish on this year's event from Latoya Peterson, editor of the blog Racialicious.com and an anime fan who's attending the convention.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to stay in New York. This week, thousands of comics enthusiasts are attending New York Comic Con.

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MARTIN: That event brings together comics lovers from all over the world to share their passion for comics, graphic novels, video games and much more. The action kicked off on Wednesday and wraps up this weekend.

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MARTIN: To talk about Comic Con, I'm joined by Latoya Peterson. She's been with us before. She's the editor of the blog, Racialicious.com, but she's also a comic fanatic and she's attending the convention. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

LATOYA PETERSON: Thanks for having me again.

MARTIN: So you've already been there a day now. What's hot?

PETERSON: Well, first day was kind of like a presser and a preview session. So, they were talking a lot more about comics in classrooms, comics for educational use and kind of like digital rights, civil liberties and libraries. So, it wasn't quite open to the public yet. Today is the first day it's open and they're already, like, limiting capacity at the doors and already people are clamoring to get in. There's a huge, huge line.

MARTIN: OK.

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MARTIN: Well, thank you for stepping out for a minute to talk to us. I understand that this event isn't just big with the public, but celebrities are also making appearances there. Who's there?

PETERSON: I mean, so there's tons of celebrities that normally come to Comic Con. We have, you know, what we call our geek celebrities, so people like Seth Green. And there's a lot of folks who have risen to kind of like sci-fi fame, so Eliza Dushku is there. A lot of the folks who are on huge shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" will still come around. Even like Kevin Sorbo who was from "Hercules." Right. So, this is like a decade ago and he's still walking around. It's like a build to the top person, so a lot of like minor level...

MARTIN: OK, OK. So now you're being mean because I know who he is. OK.

PETERSON: So you know who Kevin Sorbo is.

MARTIN: Yeah, I know who Kevin Sorbo is. Thank you.

PETERSON: But I mean, like, you know, "Hercules" has been off air for, like, what? Years at this point. I watched it when I was in high school.

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MARTIN: OK. Now, you're really being mean, but we're going to move on.

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MARTIN: So, I understand that you have a particular passion for anime. For those who aren't familiar, that's the Japanese animation style made popular by the Pokemon, you know, video games and the animated series and so forth. There are tons of anime children's cartoons. So, what is new in the world of anime?

PETERSON: See, I am actually the worst person to ask that because I got older, right? So I've been into anime for a very long time, since I was at least maybe 16. And so, as I got older, I noticed that the comics they were importing from Japan weren't getting older with me. They tend to focus on high school audiences in the U.S., whereas in Japan, there's comics for young women, there's comics for older women, there's comics for essentially everyone.

And so, a lot of things have been coming out. So this year, since I found out that New York Anime Convention and Comic Con have merged, I'm really looking to see what's new in the space and if they've brought over any more anime that would speak to someone that's of my age and I'm 28. I don't want to read about high school anymore.

MARTIN: Well, you know, but you're raising an interesting question, though, just about the diversity of the genre and the crowd, in general, you know, on many levels, you know, age and gender and race and so forth like that. How diverse is the crowd there? I think people may have a stereotype, which is probably an old one of the comic book nerd and I know you embrace the term.

PETERSON: Yes. I embrace the nerd.

MARTIN: The comic book nerd as being, you know, kind of a scruffy white guy in Converse sneakers or something like that, but...

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PETERSON: Yeah, there's plenty of those. But I mean, most of us are, at this point, kind of - as my friend Evan put it yesterday - out and proud. New York Comic Con is extremely diverse. Like, I remember when I first started going to anime conventions, I was one of, like, five black girls in the entire floor. I mean, this would be out of 20,000 people.

And now, as the years have gone on and it's become more popularized and more mainstream, you're seeing a lot more diversity and there's a lot of panels that are even devoted to it. So, you know, there's a panel on black super heroes that's coming up. There's a panel on women in queer comics that's coming up. And then, you know, from the anime side, there's always been these other genres like Yowie, which is kind of what's called boys' love comics, which features romantic intimate relationships between men that are very popular with women readers. And so, they have their own panels and their own discussions with it.

So the diversity has, you know, hugely increased and the comic fans that I think people will be surprised to know if you walk around the convention, they look like everybody else on the street at this point. It looks just like the streets of New York in there.

MARTIN: And, finally, is there something - I was curious whether these comics - are they intended to serve niche audiences or do they crossover? Do you see what I'm saying? Are there certain sort of genres that are intended to serve African-Americans or intended to serve, you know, LGBT community or is there a lot of - is it diverse or is everybody just kind of diverse in their own corner?

PETERSON: Everyone's kind of diverse in their own corner. So with anime, you know, they have these very fragmented niches that they're like, this is what we target to, like young women that are 12 to 16, whatever, whatever. Comics are a little bit broader because they're supposed to be aimed at this very mainstream audience. The mainstream audience has been understood for a very long time as white.

But that's changing and we're seeing that in, like, the DC Comics reboots of a lot of their huge classic heroes and giving them new spins or inviting new people into it, characters that are queer, characters that are mixed race and so there's a lot of different interesting things that they're playing with because the audiences are now very visible and very different and very diverse.

MARTIN: And finally, before we let you go - and I understand you're eager to get back over there - is this something that everybody wants to get to? Is there an event, you know, you'd better get in line now because everybody wants to go?

PETERSON: Yeah. I mean, like, at this point, all the fandoms have converged. So, like, what I'm going to go to right now and I'm going to run to is this Final Fantasy pressure that's happening because Final Fantasy is this huge epic video game series that's been rolling for years and it gets better and better with time and they're doing a huge art preview for it.

For some people, you know, if they're really into comics, and creator Stan Lee is going to be there debuting his new things with MTV, so there's, you know, a huge line and huge demand for that. And then, of course, there's always, like, the marquis comic creators that people who've had their work translate over into Hollywood that people are really following. So, it just really depends on where in fandom you're coming in and what's most important to you.

MARTIN: Latoya Peterson is the editor of Racialicious.com. That's an online publication that addresses all the things we've been talking about here. She joined us from our New York bureau to talk about the Comic Con event that's taking place there this week. Thanks, Latoya. We'll let you go now.

PETERSON: Thank you, Michel. All right. Bye.

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