Summer field study takes students to Comic-Con International

A trolley station outside the convention center where Comic-Con is held.
A trolley station outside the convention center where Comic-Con is held.

In a field study experience hosted by Radford University, students from around the country took part in a unique research experience that brought them into the heart of pop culture.

Students from Radford University, Hollins University, Lynchburg College, Auburn University, the University of Southern California and Arizona State University participated in the one-of-a-kind summer field study at Comic-Con International. In all, nine students participated in the experience that was supported by Radford University’s International Education Center, the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences (CHBS), and the School of Communication.

“I’m grateful that students around the country are drawn to the program and participate in it with Radford students,” said Interim Dean of CHBS Matthew J. Smith. “I think it is wonderful for them because they get the opportunity to meet people who share the same passion.”

As part of the field study, each student conducted and presented their own unique research in a span of just a few days.

Radford University junior Jordan Bennett, of Bristow, said that she enjoyed the experience and how much she learned by attending the convention. For her project, Bennett focused on the accessibility services available at Comic-Con.

“It was one of those things that after 13 years of attending myself, I was always aware that there were disability services, but I was never cognizant of how they were carried out,” Smith said. “Her study, informed by the fact that she has disabilities, was eye opening to me.”

Bennett said that she focused her study on her immediate observations and interviews with other people with disabilities.

A view of part of the Comic-Con floor.

A view of part of the Comic-Con floor.

“Overall, the convention was not accessible for the majority of disabled people who attended, despite ADA compliance,” Bennett said. “If they want to be welcoming to around 20 percent more of the population, then they need to improve the multimedia accessibility of panels, how they count disabled bodies in a room versus a line, and the convention floor itself, because I and others were excluded from experiences and knowledge that everyone else enjoyed.”

Bennett said she “loved the academic side of the conference. Being able to engage in discussions on the trolley with my classmates, go around the convention with a purpose and interview attendees really made the experience worth having.”

Emil Ferris (left), an award winning graphic artist and writer, with Jordan Bennett (right).
Emil Ferris (left), an award winning graphic artist and writer, with Jordan Bennett (right).

Auburn University student Anthony Dannar researched the how Comic-Con participants worked to form their own identities of nerdom and fandom.

“I created a characterization of the Con goer that participants were describing and it listed some of the characteristics of attendees that people were describing – some of shared identity qualities,” Dannar said.

The three characteristics, according to Dannar, are authenticity, the need to reject the stereotype of the fan, and reinforcing and maintaining the rules and regulations of the convention.

“The most interesting thing was reinforcing the rules to me,” Dannar said. “The Comic-Con goers saw this as a positive and saw it as enhancing the fan experience. Comic-Con is seen as a special place where people are protected from ridicule and everyone is very supportive. They see it as a barrier from all the negativity in the world.”

After the Comic-Con experience – and the experience presenting at a panel at the conference – Bennett said she will continue to work on the skills she gained from conducting research in a challenging environment.

Radford University’s panel is open to anyone who attends Comic-Con. During the panel, each student joined in the discussion in a round-robin presentation style.

“We are the only university that has this kind of relationship with Comic Con.” Smith said. “While other academics are there, we are distinct in terms of our visible presence. A lot of people come to our panel. It’s great to have the university’s name out there on the national forum.”

Aug 21, 2018
Max Esterhuizen