SDSUxCOMIC-CON: From Star Wars to Superpowered Sea Urchins, Scholarship Sharpens the Panels

More than 15 faculty, students, and alumni will participate in 13 panels at the 2023 gathering

Monday, July 17, 2023
(L-R): Jordan Smith, Mike Catron (Fantagraphics), Frank Forte (filmmaker), Beth Pollard and Pam Jackson at Raising the Dead: Horror Comics and the Comics Code. (Brad Kirkegaard)
(L-R): Jordan Smith, Mike Catron (Fantagraphics), Frank Forte (filmmaker), Beth Pollard and Pam Jackson at "Raising the Dead: Horror Comics and the Comics Code." (Brad Kirkegaard)

Researchers from across colleges and within the Center for Comics Studies at San Diego State University will share their knowledge — and the stage — at the annual San Diego Comic-Con. Scientists, artists, librarians, and historians will come together to showcase research on topics of social and racial justice, activism, science, and academics, all tied to comics.

Here are some highlights of panels with SDSU participants (unless otherwise noted, locations are at the San Diego Convention Center):

In “Fear and Fungi” (11 a.m.-noon Thursday, Grand Ballroom DE, 4th floor, Omni Hotel), Kari Sant, an associate professor and toxicologist in SDSU’s Division of Environmental Health, will join other scientists to examine the science of the HBO series “The Last of Us” (adapted from a video game), in which a zombie-like epidemic arises from a fungal outbreak. Sant will serve as a public health resource, presenting on how environmental stimuli such as fungicide use and climate change can change the interaction between humans and fungi.

“My background in toxicology and environmental health, on top of my love of the games and show, will be on display,” Sant said.

In “Comics Pedagogy: Teaching Outside the Panel” (5-6 p.m. Thursday, Shiley Special Events Suite, San Diego Central Library), students Fawaz Qashat (biology), Bradley Medina (studio art), alumnae Breanna Rohde (multimedia art) and Grace DeVega (history and political science), along with faculty Elizabeth Pollard, Pamela Jackson, and Neil Kendricks discuss comics in the classroom. 

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Students from Kendricks' Visual Odyssey art course will showcase their artwork. “Hearing from the students who thrived in this experiential art course and were able to publish their final comic-book projects outside of class will be inspiring for anyone who loves comics and graphic novels,” he said.

Ethan Banegas, Luiseño Kumeyaay and lecturer in American Indian Studies will discuss how tribal historians are taking the lead in developing community-engaged comics in “Honoring the Kumeyaay Nation Past, Present, and Future Through Visual Storytelling,” (5-6 p.m Friday,  Room 29AB).

Lecturer Desmond Hassing, from the Department of American Indian Studies will participate in “Star Wars Andor: Making a Rebel, Making a Rebellion” (7-8 p.m. Friday, Room 7AB).

“My contributions to the panel will likely focus on Andor's construction of the Rebellion's creation as the formation of Narrative Warfare against the Empire, a counter narrative that seeks to build counter-hegemonic power,” he said.

Hassing will be joined by Robert Dagnall, a rhetoric and writing studies master’s candidate Jake Rowlett, a doctoral candidate who is a critical film and media geographer researching the influences of on-screen representations and real-world impacts.

“Comics Change the World: Comics Activism Then and Now” (4-5 p.m. Saturday, Shiley Special Events Suite, San Diego Central Library) features the co-directors of the Center for Comics Studies, Jackson and Pollard.

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Panelists will consider how comics have been used in the past to address issues of social justice, civil rights, racism, censorship, and now more contemporary issues like LGBTQ+ rights and BLM movements, among others. “Comics can serve as a support system (and feeling less alone) for people who see themselves and their lived experiences reflected on the page,” Jackson said. “At a time when so many of our rights and identities are under attack, comics may be more important than ever.”

Jackson will be present on five panels this year (her 14th year attending Comic-Con) and Pollard will join four panels in her 17th year at the conference.

Alumna Grace deVega (‘23) will share her research “Sound of Comics” (compiled while an SDSU history and political science student) at “The Poster Session: Sound of Comics” (2-3:30 p.m. Saturday, Room 26AB). She created a digital exhibit “to explore both the variance in depictions and the variance in purposes for sound in comics.” Her research covers music, sound effects, and disability in sound.

Cell biologist Catherine Schrankel will join “The Science of Superpowers: Radiation and Mutation and Aliens, Oh My!” (2-3 p.m. Sunday, Grand 10 & 11, Marriott Marquis, San Diego Marina) to showcase the supernatural, yet very real  abilities of marine invertebrates.

“Examples include the ability to regenerate (sea star arms), to ‘see and hear’ with sensors all over their bodies (sea urchins and sea stars), to camouflage instantly (squid/octopuses), and the presence of a highly expanded set of molecular tools against infection (sea urchins),” Schrankel said. ”I will also have fun anecdotes that describe how studying these animals in the lab has led to some superhuman health benefits.”

Additional panels and their SDSU participants:


The Comics Memoir: From the Beginning, Pamela Jackson, 8-9 p.m., Room 9


Centers and Certificates: Comics Go to College, Elizabeth Pollard and Pamela Jackson,  5-6 p.m., Shiley Special Events Suite, San Diego Central Library


Comics, Social Justice, and Libraries, Pamela Jackson and Elizabeth Pollard, 10:30-11:30 a.m., Room 26AB

Creators Assemble: Comics Camaraderie, A Networking Event, Moni Barrette, 4-6 p.m., Marriott Marquis Marina D


Comic Justice, Jess Whatcott and Diana Leong, 10:30 a.m.-noon, Room 26AB

Afrofuturism: Black to the Future, Ajani Brown, 4-5 p.m., Room 25ABC


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