The University of Dundee tam at San Diego Comic Con 2018 with Scott McCloud (centre)

San Diego Comic Con 2018: The Academic’s Eye View!

The University of Dundee tam at San Diego Comic Con 2018 with Scott McCloud (centre)
The University of Dundee tam at San Diego Comic Con 2018 with Scott McCloud (centre)

Phillip Vaughan from the University of Dundee reports on this year’s San Diego Comic Con, casting an academic’s eye over one of the biggest annual comics gatherings in the United States…

I have been lucky enough to attend four San Diego Comic Cons now, presenting academic papers at the Comics Arts Conference and, from last year, running a booth on the main floor. We kicked off on the Thursday with a signing by friend of the course Dave Gibbons. Dave was given an honorary degree by the university a few years ago and has been one of our most frequent guests. He generously gave up his time to meet fans at our booth.

A busy Dave Gibbons signing at San Diego Comic Con 2018
A busy Dave Gibbons signing at San Diego Comic Con 2018

Dave has an even stronger connection to Dundee, of course. His dad lived in the city for a while, plus some of his first published work was for DC Thomson. We go into much more detail about this in my new podcast, Masters in Comics, which launches on Wednesday 8th August, and features Dave as the first ever guest.

Dave had a great Comic Con, going on to be inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame on the Friday night – well deserved!

The Univerity of Dun dee's Chris Murray and Phillip Vaughan with artist and designer Rian Hughes (centre)
The Univerity of Dun dee’s Chris Murray and Phillip Vaughan with artist and designer Rian Hughes (centre)

On Friday we had constant visitors to the booth, and it amazes me how many people have heard of Dundee and the course, the word is out there! Comics artist and designer Rian Hughes dropped by the booth to have a chat. Rian has actually been up to Dundee twice to deliver presentations at two of our Comics Days, where he gave us a unique insight into the design methodology he employs in comics and beyond.

We hope to welcome him back to Dundee soon, where he would be ideal as a guest lecturer on my Comics Production module, which is part of the MDes pathway and looks at the design issues of comics and graphic novels in a more practical way. Friday night we attended the aforementioned Eisner Awards.

Scottish comics invade San Diego Comic Con
Scottish comics invade San Diego Comic Con
Promoting Scottish comics at San Diego Comic Con 2018
Promoting Scottish comics at San Diego Comic Con 2018

Saturday consisted of pounding the floor and making contacts with various creators and publishers. I dropped by Drawn & Quarterly’s booth to say hello to Tom Devlin and Peggy Burns, who very generously welcomed me to D&G’s HQ in Montréal earlier in the year; again, we hope to get them over to Scotland soon!

The networking continued into the evening with the Comics Arts Conference meet up at the Hyatt, where all the academic presenters get together and talk all thing comics! It was great to chat with academic conference organiser Kathleen McClancy and presenters Michael Connerty and Nicholas Sammond.

After this I bumped into writer and comics editor Tim Pilcher, who co-authored the fantastic How Comics Work with Dave Gibbons. This book was nominated for an Eisner Award, and it is now one of the main books on my MDes Reading List. Sadly, he and Dave didn’t win (the Award going to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels, by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden ) but we agreed to arrange for Tim and Dave to come up to Dundee and talk about their collaboration on this book.

I also heard about a new international comic arts festival, NCSFest from Julie and Carole Tait of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. This launches next year at Huntington Beach in California.

Phillip Vaughan presenting his paper on Saltire and the 2018 San Diego Comic Con Comic Art Conference
Phillip Vaughan presenting his paper on Saltire and the 2018 San Diego Comic Con Comic Art Conference

On Sunday, things got academic again with all of us from the University of Dundee presenting our papers at CAC. First up was me, and I presented on the “Imagined Communities” panel. My paper was on Scottish Superhero, Saltire. I looked at his creation from a personal point of view, having been heavily involved in the development process with the publishers. Almost all of the art team have originated from my courses at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, which is part of the University of Dundee.

Up next was our new lecturer in Comics Studies, Golnar Nabizadeh and her paper entitled “Social Justice and Migrant Memories: Henry Kiyama’s The Four Immigrants Manga (1931)”. Golnar did a great job presenting at her first San Diego conference and her paper sparked a very in-depth debate at the Q&A session, particularly about translation.

Finally Chris Murray, and Damon Herd presented with Bill Cromer from Penn State University on our joint TransMedia project, International Collaborative TransMedia Narrative Comics II, which came into fruition earlier in the year. Students from the US visited Scotland in April and collaborated with our students and artists from our Inkpot studio, which is part of Dundee Comics Creative Space. The team presented the outcomes of the collaboration in this session.

It was here that I noticed Scott McCloud in the audience. We managed to chat to him after the session, and he kindly agreed to come over to our booth and meet our student helpers, plus get a photo taken with us all! His work is a great inspiration to academics and students alike, so it was a great honour to finally speak to him.

Some of the Univerity of Dundee team with comic creator Sergio Aragonés
Some of the Univerity of Dundee team with comic creator Sergio Aragonés

We managed to squeeze a final run-around of the convention floor on the Sunday afternoon and connected with Sergio Aragonés as we made a final dash to meet people who had dropped by our table or pick up last minute Comic Con bargains (I managed to pick up a copy of The Official Marvel Try-Out Book from 1983). Sadly the Con bell rang at 5pm signifying the end of SDCC 2018. With military efficiency we took down the stand in record time and had time to reflect on the experience. We had a lot of attention about our courses, with lots of potential applicants dropping by, as well as great interest in our students work which populated the table.

However my biggest take home this year’s San Diego Comic Con was the fact that this felt the most ‘comicy’ of Comic Cons that I had attended. I definitely picked up more (and saw more) comics there than I usually do!

Hyatt Regency silliness!
Hyatt Regency silliness!

Perhaps this was down to the lack of a major film release/presence at the con (although it was good to see Jodie Whittaker and Doctor Who dominate proceedings!), or maybe the tide is turning back to the original inspiration for all the big film and TV franchises… comics!

Phillip Vaughan is the Course Director for the MSc Animation & VFX and the MDes Comics & Graphic Novels programmes at the University of Dundee. He is also the creator and coordinator of the Level 3 Comic Art & Graphic Novels module at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. In 2015, he became the Art Director of the Dundee Comics Creative Space.

• Bookmark his new podcast Masters in Comics here, launching in August – www.soundcloud.com/mastersincomics – or follow using the Soundcloud app on your mobile device

• San Diego Comic Con returns 18 – 21st July 2019 – www.comic-con.org

Read our news item on the new NCSFest taking place in May 2018

All photos courtesy Phillip Vaughan and used with permission

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