by Liz-Marie Lee, Contributor
On Oct. 30, 2018, Manhattan College held the inaugural JasperCon, a place where comic book and pop culture fanatics can gather and meet original artists, cosplayers and more!
Hayden Greene, director of the Manhattan College Multicultural Center, sat down to discuss the importance of diversity in film, comics and a glimpse into the making of JasperCon.
The Quadrangle: This is the first year of JasperCon. What is JasperCon exactly, and what should the Manhattan College community look forward to when it arrives?
Hayden Greene: JasperCon is our take on ComicCon, and it’s an effort to showcase comic book culture, nerd culture and sci-fi culture. We are looking at it from a point of view of showcasing all of those different identities, and people that really haven’t had a large role in comic book culture, either being displayed in comic books, or having a love of comic books. You often hear people of color say that it’s a struggle to have their identities represented in on screen or in print. The same goes for women, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. We really want to highlight these people at JasperCon, so we’re bringing in vendors that are the people we’re talking about, putting them on the pages and on screen, as well.
Our goal is to expose the Manhattan College community to the many different aspects of identity and many identities and our hope is that people on campus that come from varying backgrounds are properly represented in JasperCon, for their identity, culture, and ideas.
TQ: Why did you decide to come up with JasperCon?
HG: So, 2018 was a sort of a watershed moment for a lot of representation for people of color and [an increase in] black representation in sci-fi, from “Get Out” to “Black Panther,” the Avengers Movies, Miles Morales in the Spider-Man comics, there was a watershed moment of diversity showing itself. Then there was a comic book that got a lot of notoriety, La Boriqueña, which featured a Puerto-Rican female superhero. Then the hurricane hit in Puerto Rico, and then [there was] Puerto Rico Strong, which was a graphic novel amalgamation of many books, so there was a real ground-swell of, “Hey, we’re here too!”, and I thought it was time for Manhattan College to really embrace that as well. We have a strong gaming and comic book community on campus, and I felt it was something that the community would embrace, and it was poignant for the experiences of our particular time in society. In the day and age where everyone is finding reasons to be at odds with one another, coming together and having what seems to be a farcical conversation about comic books can be a place where can finally come together.
TQ: Walk me through the process of making this entire event happen.
HG: The greatest thing about having a great idea, is that you then must figure out the next step. While I knew this was going to be something amazing and worthwhile for the community, I had absolutely no idea about who to contact, or where to even start. So I turned to Facebook! I put up things like, “Hey are there any people who do multicultural comics?” or “Are there any people who are interested in presenting?”, so I was doing research and finding out that there are black comic book conventions in New York City and I reached out to people involved. A friend of my wife, who is connected with a lot of the writers and artists in the industry, and she literally sent me a spreadsheet of all of these artists and writers’ e-mails. We e-mailed everyone on that spreadsheet! One woman who reached out to me, Deidra Coleman, came to me and said that she’d like to help me out. It’s been a cohesive effort with those involved in Black Comics Collective, and the office here, Patricia [Carey], our office assistant, is the logistics mind behind this, and one student, Jamie Urgiles, had really helped out. There were several vendors who agreed with us and ready to go. Then ComicCon happened a few weeks ago, and everyone we contacted had to first handle that affair, and then finished up. A lot of the vendors we then reached out to had come back into contact with us, and the number of vendors we had increased. We then got to planning– planning out the keynote speaker, the events and activities and the workshops, now we’re all ready to go!
TQ: You mentioned workshops. What will the workshops entail?
HG: We have four workshops. The first one is Cultures in Comics by Design, which looks at being intentional about putting certain cultures in an actual comic book, as opposed to having an ancillary thing happen just because a character happens to be of a specific background or identity. Being intentional about cultures in comics that will include characters of varying backgrounds and the proper representation in comics.
The second workshop will discuss women in comics, on both sides of it, what women have been part in regards to the writing process, the artistic process, and also, what representation has there been in actual comic books and in film. At 5 p.m., we will be discussing Careers in Comics. For example, if you wish to become an artist or writer, and you want to break out into the field, then this might be the workshop for you! Later in the evening, the next workshop, Representation Matters, which is looking at why is important to have women in comics, those of varying cultures in comics. From my point of view, we have these fictional characters being created and it says something about the fact that often comic creators in the past are able to go into the depths of their minds and create a universe in which a character could be an alien, but not consider characters that could be people of color. This is why representation matters. You can imagine everything to be worthwhile to be something that should be discussed in this book, except for something that looks like me, or a woman, or other minorities. These issues are things we’ll be discussing in our workshops.
TQ: Do you hope to make it a tradition at Manhattan College and hopefully foster a greater interest in comic book culture for Manhattan College students?
HG: That’s the goal! The goal is to have this be a part of the Manhattan College fabric, and have people see this as a new place to go when it comes to the multicultural way of looking at comic book culture. We hope to make it a yearly event! This year, we planned it to happen during the week because we wanted to receive as much support as we possibly could from the MC community. Hopefully next year, it can be done during a weekend, and have it become even bigger.
TQ: Who are some of the vendors that will be at JasperCon, and what will they bring to the table?
HG: That’s a good question! We have everything from people who are artists like Alison Conway, Lee Walls, and Greg Anderson Elysee to major comic book distributors like Forward Comics, BulletProof Comics, and The Black Artists Collective, Polygraphic Studios, West Village Comics and Eric Orr, who’s been considered the first hip-hop comic book artist, and more! It’s a really rich grouping of vendors, writers, artists and distributors.