Given the wildly fluctuating highs and lows of 2017 (let’s face it, mainly lows), this past year’s GeekGirlCon represented the perfect space to reflect on the progress that has been made in the media we love, as well as the work that still needs to be done. One panel which perfectly encapsulated this blend of nostalgia and foresight was Lassos, Lightsabers, and Stakes: Assessing the Heroine’s Journey 20 Years After Buffy.
Image Description: Buffy twirls a stake in her hand. Source: Giphy.
Since 2017 was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of the complex and groundbreaking Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, this panel highlighted the ways in which the entertainment industry still struggles to accept the lessons demonstrated by the enduring impact of the show, its characters, and its fans. Simultaneously, panelists celebrated the gains made through media ranging from Wonder Woman and Star Wars at the movies to Supergirl, The 100, and The Crown on television.
Drawing on the theory of the Heroine’s Journey – a counterpoint, most notably presented by Maureen Murdock in her 1990 book of the same name, to Joseph Campbell’s famed Hero’s Journey – in which characters experience a cyclical journey of personal and communal growth, the panelists analyzed the state of affairs in media representation for women and other underrepresented communities.
Image Description: A gif of Buffy squinting her eyes and looking intense. Source: Giphy.
The panelists included B.J. Priester, a law professor, novelist, editor, and self-professed “lifelong geek;” Tricia Barr, an engineer, novelist, and writer at the FANgirl blog; and Jennifer K. Stuller, a writer, editor, and pop culture critic and historian specializing in the history of American female superheroines and action heroines in comics, film, and television.
Image Description: A gif of Buffy and Willow, with Buffy sucking on a lollipop. Source: Giphy.
Fittingly beginning with the enduring significance of Buffy, the panelists discussed the modern-day resonance of its values, especially the themes of community, friendship, mutual support, and female empowerment and leadership. The panelists argued that, while many shows shaped the values of young people at the time, Buffy truly defined those values. However, the show is not without its flaws. The panelists noted the egregious lack of diversity in the show’s cast as a particularly frustrating limitation. Similarly, the actions of the show’s creator Joss Whedon – which have been incredibly problematic and disappointingtosaytheleast– are important to grapple with for fans who continue to glean insight, comfort, and empowerment from the series.
Image Description: A gif of the character Rey from Star Wars, with the caption saying “Follow me.” Source: Giphy.
The panel subsequently analyzed Star Wars and Wonder Woman, pieces of media which represent both how far we have come in terms of representation for women in film, as well as highlight the limitations that we still encounter time and time again. With the emergence of the character Rey, the Star Wars universe has introduced an exceptional new example of a heroic arc, as well as an inspirational figure for audiences and storytellers to connect with. At the same time, the film series needs to ensure that all female characters are depicted as full human beings, with agency and complexity of their own.
Image Description: A gif of the character Diana from Wonder Woman, deflecting a bullet with her forearm cuff. Source: Giphy.
As Jennifer noted, Wonder Woman not only became the highest grossing DC comic film ever, but had a “visceral, resonant impact,” due to the care with which director Patty Jenkins crafted a narrative of empowerment and the struggle for power and self-determination in a world marred by war and misogynistic violence. However, as Trisha noted, Wonder Woman is far from perfect, and it too falls far short in terms of full representation for women and marginalized groups as a whole.
This panel is a perennial staple at GeekGirlCon, a chance to check in on the state of affairs in feminist media. As the panelists noted, every year there are more stories to talk about, more examples of exciting and necessary representation, and more opportunities in the future to look forward to. But as with the Heroine’s Journey itself, the progress of intersectional feminist representation is never-ending, and we must constantly challenge ourselves to support diverse media, to fight for greater representation, and to create our own narratives which challenge all of us to extend our knowledge, understanding, and empathy.
Image Description: A gif of Dawn from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the caption saying “Cause at least I admit the world makes me nuts. Source: Giphy.
I should be fanning myself, really, as I recollect Fryda Wolff’s Q&A at GeekGirlCon ‘17. So buckle up guys, because I’m about to reiterate why her panel was one of my absolute favorites at the convention, and how Fryda easily became one of my top girl crushes of all time (nice and snug between Maggie Stiefvater and Danai Gurira).
GeekGirlCon was Fryda’s first ever convention as a voice actor, and we couldn’t have felt more honored or humble to have her with us. She was a force to be reckoned with, whose voice didn’t demand but immediately earned my absolute attention when I first heard her speak during the Voice of a Hero panel the day before. Her confidence was intoxicating, and made live-tweeting her panel almost impossible, as nearly everything she said was a quote that could be used to inspire the masses. She was truly amazing, and was eager to share her experience getting started in gaming and how that got her into voice acting.
While Fryda began her voiceover journey in 2013, that’s not where her career in gaming started.
She graduated high school a year early, in fact, the week she turned 17. She wanted to be a campaign manager back then, and didn’t have a clue how far from that she’d end up (although it did play a pretty big role in how she got there).
Even though Fryda ended up in the gaming industry, it wasn’t until high school when she got her first PC. She then dubbed herself a PC gamer, and got really into Blizzard (because I swear, all us cool kids started our Blizzard phase when we should have been studying). The interest sort of sparked from there, she really loved to game. “This is what happens when you don’t let your kids do things,” Fryda joked. Gaming wasn’t something she did a lot growing up, so the infatuation was serve. It was fun and exciting.
…and then it just happened.
Sony was hosting an event in Vegas, Fryda’s home town. The event was supposed to host about a thousand people, but unfortunately the venue could barely hold two hundred and fifty. She put that prior interest in campaign management to work and did something about it. She started organizing people, and eventually ushered those who couldn’t get in to all meet at a nearby GameWorks.
Long story short, someone from Sony hunted her down and nonchalantly asked “do you want a job?”
One of my favorite things about GeekGirlCon is the way provides a space to critique the media we love and discuss how it could be made better. The Do Black Heroes Matter? panel was a perfect example of this. The panelists included writer, filmmaker, performer, and self-described hater on twitter Isabella L. Price, writer and GeekGirlCon twitter administrator Kristine Hassell, and tech professional and self-described Superpowered Diva of Dopeness Risha K.
Isabella set the panel’s tone in her introduction when she explained that this was the panelists’ third time doing this panel and said, tongue-in-cheek, that, “this is old hat. We’ve already solved racism; this is just a refresher course.” Once the introductions were done, she went on to dedicate the panel to Darrien Hunt, a twenty-two year old black man who was shot and killed by police in 2014 while cosplaying as Mugen from Samurai Champloo. Police saw him as a threat, she explained, which is one of the reasons why the fight for representation is so important.
Going into my second Con as both an attendee and a copywriter, I was incredibly excited to attend the panel “¿Como Se Dice ‘Nerd’?” Last year, this panel was without a doubt one of the highlights of my entire convention experience, and this year proved to be no different. Moderated by Sylvia Artiga, a writer and the creator and manager of ¿Cómo Se Dice Nerd?, an online spaced dedicated to celebrating Latinx nerds and their contribution to art, music, and pop culture, the panel explored the fraught yet joyous intersection of Latinidad and geekdom. Artiga’s fellow panelists included Tristan J. Tarwater, a prolific comic and fantasy writer, Isabel Ann Castro, an illustrator who acts as co-founder and art director for St. Sucia, an international Latinx art and literature zine, and organizer for the San Anto Zine Fest, and Joamette Gil, an illustrator, cartoonist, curator, podcaster and publisher.
Image Description: Panelists speak at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel was guided by a variety of questions surrounding creativity, community, and identity. How does language, nationality, race, and history influence the way Latinx nerds interact with fandoms, hobbies, and geekery in general? What are some of the works or places that make Latinx nerds feel welcome and represented and what feels isolating? How can geeky interests be used to confront issues of colorism, colonialism, and culture clashes in the Latinx community?
The beginning of the panel focused on introducing the panelists, a diverse group of self-identifying Latinx nerds from a wide variety of backgrounds. The panelists immediately reflected on the difficulty of the time in which the panel was taking place. This year, the convention took place during the utter devastation of Hurricane Maria, and the ensuing governmental and aid response (or lack thereof). Artiga and her fellow panelists noted that it was a “heavy time” for the Latinx community, and that GeekGirlCon provided an opportunity for those carrying so much stress and heartache to still recognize how much they simultaneously deserve joy and fun.
The panelists then highlighted some of the ways in which their geekery interacted – and often clashed – with their Latinx identity growing up. As fledgling nerds within a Latinx community, the touchstones of nerd culture that they loved were often seen as “American” (read: white), leaving the panelists in a difficult position in which “American-ness” was both venerated and discouraged. As Tarwater pointed out, “the whiter you acted, the better you could do,” highlighting pressure from within the Latinx community to comply with the forces of assimilation in order to get by. Artiga underscored this point, noting that there is a “painful and complicated narrative of passing into ‘Americanness.’” Ultimately, many of the lessons that the panelists absorbed growing up played into the false narrative that if marginalized people play by the rules of assimilation they will succeed and be accepted. Part of their individual and collective activism lies in recognizing the damage of this narrative, making sure that the Latinx community knows that it doesn’t “have to play the game anymore,” and creating new spaces for Latinx people to thrive without having to adhere to the strictures of a white, capitalistic, colonialist society.
In order to create these spaces, the panelists spoke about the crucial importance of the internet as a tool for communicating, collaborating, sharing work, finding your voice, finding an audience, and, ultimately, expressing yourself independently and authentically. In this way, Latinx creators can push for their own representation, creating media that speaks to their experiences far more directly than anything in the mainstream. The internet also tends to have a snowball effect, creating large-scale change out of small-scale projects and mobilizing people around common goals and experiences. To this end, the panelists highlighted the hashtag #latinxscreate, which provides one such space to share and celebrate Latinx work that is also inclusive of the Black community.
Image Description: Audience members at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel moved on to a discussion of the challenges facing Latinx nerds and how to face them. The panelists noted how much guilt can be involved in the process of creation for Latinx individuals – a sense that pursuing their passions means betraying both their community and their ancestors. They reflected on the importance of being self-centered rather than selfish, of paying attention to what you are and what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt others. They spoke of the fact that guilt will inevitably crop up, but alongside it there must be space for a reclamation of happiness and joy, and a recognition that incredible suffering has occurred in the hopes of building a better future.
The panelists then offered a few examples of great representation of Latinx identity within mainstream media, such as characters from “Jane the Virgin” and Cisco from “The Flash,” as well as the re-vamped America comics from Marvel. Alongside these positive representations, the panelists also expressed uncertainty about Claire Temple from “Luke Cage” and frustration over the fact that white brunette actors are often substituted for Latinx characters and that Afro-Latinx women are usually cast as Black characters. Because of the disappointing nature of so much media representation of Latinx identity, many of the panelists spoke about purposefully avoiding content that promises Latinx characters in the understandable fear that they won’t deliver. The representation that is necessary is of Latinx characters as authentic, well-rounded, diverse people – a low bar, but one that mainstream media all too often fails to meet.
Image Description: Panelists speak at the “Como se dice ‘Nerd'” panel at 2016’s GeekGirlCon. Source: Sayed Alamy via GeekGirlCon flickr
The panel concluded with a question and answer period. One attendee reflected on the fact that too many Latinx characters are written by white people and the result is almost uniformly terrible. They wondered where consumers should be looking right now to nurture Latinx creators. In response, the panelists pointed to the aforementioned #latinxscreate hashtag along with the #comesedicenerd hashtag as valuable resources, as well as the power of writing and creating for yourself. They noted that it’s important for Latinx creators to allow themselves space to fail and get it wrong, but that putting their work out their is too important to stay silent out of fear.
Another attendee asked about Latinx-owned businesses to support, to which the panelists noted that many creators at the Con itself were incredible and more than worthy of support. They also highlighted zine fests, creator Patreon pages, and the importance of supporting friends and utilizing community resources, as well as prioritizing money to support independent creators of color. One of the final questions centered around “passing privilege” as a light-skinned Latinx person, and wondered how they could interact within Latinx spaces without bulldozing and taking advantage of their privilege. In response, Artiga noted that “there is space for people to be the scaffolding and make the space” for others to speak, to provide crucial behind-the-scenes support and signal boosting and to use privilege and the energy that privilege provides to call out racism and prejudice where those with less privilege might feel unable to. Ultimately, the panelists also emphasized the fact that light-skinned Latinxs are “part of the story too,” and have an importance space within the larger fight for greater representation of the incredibly diverse Latinx community.
This panel was thought-provoking, beautiful, and an important reminder of the power that creators have when nurtured by an inclusive and committed community. Here’s hoping that the panel will be back to provide additional insight and inspiration at this year’s Con!
(Also, a reminder that, more than three months after Hurricane Maria, nearly half of Puerto Rico’s residents still do not have power and the devastation from the hurricane (and the lack of an adequate governmental response) means that attention and support is as necessary as ever. Alongside supporting Puerto Rican creators, please consider checking out the following links and directly contributing to disaster relief efforts:)
I have a confession to make: I haven’t been a “Riverdale” fan for very long. I’m sad to say that I never read the Archie comics growing up, and my major investment in the Riverdale universe pre-CW adaptation was an extreme love for “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and a sneaking suspicion that Betty and Veronica should almost definitely be the major romantic pairing in the series.
When the TV series debuted in January, though, my ignorance quickly turned to true love. With my newfound enthusiasm and rookie knowledge securely in place, I arrived at GeekGirlCon ‘17 convinced that the panel The Road to Riverdale: A Look at the Evolution of Archie and the Gang was going to be a joyful, geeky celebration of all things Riverdale, and it did not disappoint.
Source: Giphy. Description: Betty Cooper clasping her hands together and looking excited.
Moderated by Mary Gallacher, panelists Mia Gipson, Devi Sword, and Jeremy Huff explored not only their own hopes, ships, and disappointments surrounding the show itself, but delved into the history of the Archie comics as well.
They described how the characters of Archie and his friends have been staples of pop culture for 75 years, encompassing multiple comic and television spin-offs and becoming a sprawling and beloved franchise. After each of the panelists spoke about their own journey with the Archie comics, and their arrival at “Riverdale,” they explored the way that Archie characters have populated other films, television shows, and spin-off series, such as the Melissa Joan Hart “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” series and the “Josie and the Pussycats Movie.” In fact, all the major characters from the Riverdale universe have been given comic spin-offs of their own, leading to a rich and highly populated universe. As part of this background, the panelists highlighted a YouTube video from NerdSync called “The Bizarre Origin and History of Archie: From Comics to Riverdale Explained!” This video gives a fascinating glimpse of how such an iconic franchise has expanded and evolved over its long history.
After providing background to the series, the panelists were able to fully delve into their love for “Riverdale,” pointing of the show’s highlights, exploring concerns and critiques, and expressing their hopes for the series as it continues.
Though many aspects of the show were enthusiastically celebrated in the panel, a couple specifically stood out. One was the level of diversity in “Riverdale.” While the show has a long way to go to provide adequate representation for many identities, its portrayal of Veronica as a latinx character and the strength of the characters Josie, Valerie, and Melody are highlights that point to where the series could go in terms of greater representation in the future.
The panelists also agreed that the moment when Alice Cooper stands up to Hal over what has happened to Polly (only vague spoilers here!) felt absolutely triumphant, especially given the fact that so many parents on the show are problematic to say the least.
Concerns and Critiques
One common criticism of the show is that it diverges from the comics. The panelists, however, believe that while the show has put its own signature spin on the original stories and characters, it retains the spirit of the Archie universe, and, moreover, was never meant to feel exactly like the original. Part of what makes it so compelling, after all, is its darker tone and more mature themes, capturing the concerns of its teenage-and-beyond audience.
On the other hand, a critique that is merited is the major, deeply unfortunate change in the Ms. Grundy storyline. This problematic storyline proved controversial for fans and represented a huge overhaul – and, for many, a betrayal – of Ms. Grundy’s character. The panelists pointed out that they were at least satisfied that none of the characters treated the predatory relationship between Ms. Grundy and Archie as though it was okay or acceptable.
Source: Giphy. Description: The character Ms. Grundy looks up with a sad expression on her face as she plays the cello.
Another major controversy is the portrayal of Jughead’s sexuality. In the comics, Jughead’s sexuality has been portrayed in various ways, but as of 2016 his asexuality has been part of the canon. The show, however, has not identified Jughead as asexual, and his relationship with Betty has caused fan concern that this aspect of his identity won’t be addressed at all, leading to even further disappointment and a near-total lack of representation for the ace and aro community in TV and media. The panelists agree that the handling of Jughead’s sexuality has been disappointing, but notes that there may be cause to hope. After all, long-term the show could be providing representation of ace people who have relationships if Jughead is identified as asexual, or even that this characterization of Jughead could be demisexual rather than asexual.
Source: Giphy. Description: The characters Betty and Jughead kiss.
At the time of the panel, the second series was about to premiere in only 10 days, and the panelists were feverishly excited about what they were looking forward to seeing as the upcoming season, as well as hopes for the show’s future more broadly.
Among these hopes and expectations was more representation for Josie and the Pussycats, since Josie, Valerie, and Melody are often under-utilized characters, a more in-depth exploration of Moose’s sexuality, an appearance by Jughead’s little sister Jellybean, more screen time for Kevin, and a bigger glimpse at Riverdale’s Southside.
Apart from their hopes for the series itself, the panelists were all deeply excited about the upcoming adaptation of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Though this new show means that the character of Sabrina most likely won’t be a regular in “Riverdale,” the panelists were hopeful that this series might provide representation for paganism or wicca.
After the bulk of the panel, the panelists opened up the discussion to the audience, welcoming a variety of questions from fellow enthusiastic “Riverdale” fans. One audience member spoke about the Ms. Grundy storyline and how it furthered the problematic trope of predatory student-teacher relationships in TV (such as the uncomfortable love story between Aria and her English teacher Ezra on “Pretty Little Liars.”) Another question revolved around what forms of diversity the panelists would love to see represented in “Riverdale,” especially representation of trans and nonbinary characters. Another audience member wondered hopefully if the CW might legitimize the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica as a polyamorous relationship. Lastly, the problem of queer-baiting in “Riverdale” was addressed, with an audience member hoping for more actual queer femme representation and a move away from this destructive trope, which has especially been present in the relationship between Betty and Veronica.
With the show about to wrap up its second season in January, and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” on its way, this panel couldn’t have come at a better time and served as a fun-filled, hilarious, and thoughtful reminder of all the reasons that so many of us have fallen hard for “Riverdale,” whether we’ve read Archie comics our whole lives or – ahem – only began our infatuation a few months ago.
Source: Giphy. Description: The character Cheryl dancing in her cheerleading uniform.
I have been more than a little bit obsessed with romance novels, erotica, and romantic fanfiction for most of my life. It started with sneakily checking out books from the library and skim-reading to get to the “good parts,” then moved on to scouring Archive of Our Own, Fanfiction.net, and other glorious sites for all of my slash fic needs, no matter how niche (Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini, anyone?), and now, at long last, I can finally say that I am a proud sex nerd and devourer of all things romance and sexuality.
Given this extensive history, I think it’s safe to say that I couldn’t have been more excited to sit in on this year’s GeekGirlCon panel A Geek Girl’s Right to Erotica. This panel was the first live episode of the certifiably awesome Podice Rippers podcast, hosted by Natalie Warner and Lainey Seaton. When not podcasting “at length and girth” about romance novels, Natalie and Lainey are a cyber-security technical writer and an account manager, respectively. Together, they host a podcast that is an incredibly funny and thoroughly geeky exploration of all things romance, smut, and erotica.
Image Description: podcast hosts and panelists Natalie Warner and Lainey Seaton sitting at their panel table at GeekGirlCon ’17. Source: Twitter
One of my favorite things about gaming is that it is transformative: you get to become someone (or something) else: you can be a warrior mouse, an anthropomorphic mushroom, a dragon, or anything else that the game setting allows for.
You can also become a new friend to someone who shares the same passions for games that you do.
There are plenty of stories about players creating groups to play together, forming real-life relationships, or whose lives evolve because of the game and the people they’ve met playing it. This year, at GeekGirlCon, I got to sit in on a panel with Featured Contributor Elaine Chase, who has a direct hand in influencing people’s lives in this way.
As a pop-culture geek, I’m all about the suspension of disbelief. Give me mythical creatures, interdimensional travel, and fireball explosions in the vacuum of space—I prefer creativity to realism. But I also enjoy digging into whether or not fictional realities play by their own rules, and GeekGirlCon ‘17’s “The Science of Wonder Woman” panel did not disappoint.
“The Science of Wonder Woman” was a fantastic discussion of the Wonder Woman film from a scientific perspective. The panelists included astronomer and physics professor Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, forensic chemist and GGC DIY Science Zone project manager Dr. Raychelle Burke, and science writer R.K. Pendergrass.
One of the priorities of GeekGirlCon I am most proud of is its commitment to creating space for communities that have been traditionally left out of mainstream geek culture. In the case of GeekGirlCon’s identity-centric panels, it is actual, physical space that is being created. My favorite panel of this kind that appeared at GeekGirlCon ‘16 was called ¿Cómo Se Dice “Nerd”?and set forth to discuss the reality Latinx nerds face when engaging with geek culture.
Panelists Sylvia Monreal, Olivia Hernández, Jorge Albor, and Tristan Tarwater began the conversation by addressing, outright, how fundamentally linked mainstream geekdom is with consumerism. In other words, one’s ability to participate in geek culture is defined by their access to capital. Therefore, historically poor communities have had to innovate new and different ways of interacting with nerdy content.
The room was abuzz with anticipation. David-Bowie-loving con guests talked amongst themselves, excitedly trading ideas about what would be discussed at a panel about Bowie’s influence over the genres they love.
Then the panelists began singing “The Man Who Sold the World.” It only took a few lines before the audience joined in, turning a simple, beige conference room into a wonderland of magical notes.
As the first verse came to a close in the transformed room, the panel began. The panel moderator, Evan J. Peterson (author and teacher), introduced himself, followed by Grace Moore (podcaster), and Sara Depp (musician).
Evan explained that the panel would focus on Bowie’s influence on visual content, such as film and television, although his music would be touched upon as well.