By Adam Bicksler
In the middle of October, I had the pleasure of attending San Diego’s very own Comic Fest. In its third year, “the San Diego Comic Fest is the friendly comic convention with a casual atmosphere and an intimate scale that allows fans to mingle directly with professionals and exhibitors. It’s the place where you can indulge your love of comics, science fiction, and films, and meet an outstanding array of professional creators without high-priced tickets, crowding, or long lines.” This is not meant to be a dig at Comicon, merely a draw to attract con-goers.
While the entire Comic Fest was a fantastic experience, one panel particularly stood out to me. Professor Ajani Brown from SDSU’s Africana Studies Department presented on a burgeoning field in academia, that which he has dubbed “ethno-horror,” specifically, the treatment of people of color in horrific situations in the context of comics/graphic novels, film, and literature. Professor Brown has created guidelines to identify what is considered ethno-horror. They are as follows: The focal point must be a protagonist or community of a certain ethnic group AND include at least one of the following: The media in question (comics/graphic novels, TV shows, movies, novels, etc.) must display a social issue, specific to the ethnic group. For example, the comic “Feeding Ground” by Chris Mangun and Swifty Lang, focuses on the maquiladoras that border Texas and Mexico. An historical event, specific to the ethic group, must be referenced and be central to the story. The aforementioned comic discusses the issue of immigration.
The story provides the expression of a mythology/folklore or religion, specific to the ethnic group. In “Voodoo Child” by Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, the religion and rituals of Vodun, a West African religion, plays a strong part in the plot of the comic. And finally, the last guideline would be to include other cultural markers that identify the ethnic group. Think signifiers, that is, what one would normally associate with a specific ethnic group.
The discussion about the topic at hand was immensely interesting: it ranged from the 1970s movie Blacula to Octavia Butler’s novel Fledgling as well as the aforementioned comics “Feeding Ground,” a border tale, by Chris Mangun and Swifty Lang and “Voodoo Child” by Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, which focuses on the character Dominique Laveau, descendant of Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau.
Personally, I learned a lot from this panel. The topic is relevant to today’s society more than ever and everyone can take something home from a discussion like this. Works by people of color in our predominantly heterosexual, white male curriculum is often times swept under the rug. What makes the literature of heterosexual, white men more “literature” than the works of black men, females, or queer people of color? Why do we categorize equally important works, such as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, by the ethnicity or sexuality of the author (e.g. African American Literature, Queer Literature)? Ethno-Horror explores these questions and more.
If you’re a fan of comics, science fiction, cultural studies and a whole host of other topics, I would highly recommend attending next year’s Comic Fest which promises to be even bigger and better than ever.
Information on the Comic Fest can be found HERE.
An interview with Professor Brown can be found HERE.