Ithacon held at Ithaca College for the first time
The smell of old comics hung outside of Emerson Suites on Saturday April 5. That day, I attended my first Ithacon — Ithaca’s local version of the larger ComiCon. As someone who has presented himself as being a nerd, it felt imperative that I attend an event that seemed designed to support other people who also self-identified as nerds, geeks or fanatics. Ithacon’s history manages to support the idea that something as nostalgic as comics can bring people together, while also providing an outlet for potential discussion about what comics mean to our society.
Ithacon originated within the Comic Book Club of Ithaca, the country’s oldest comic book fan club, according to its website. Since the club’s foundation in 1975, it has helped put on events such as Ithacon to share the love of comics with a larger audience. This year’s Ithacon was the 39th since the club’s inception. Katharine Kittredge, professor of English at Ithaca College, helped host the event and schedule volunteering this year. It was also her first year being involved with the convention.
“The convention has had a number of formats over its many years,” Kittredge said. “In most recent years, it has not offered any programming or additional activities, but has been a gathering for artists, writers, vendors and collectors. We expanded that to include panels and lectures, and also offered a hands-on crafting opportunity, badge decorating, which was aimed at our youngest attendees.”
I heard about the event because of Kittredge, who had introduced Wonder Woman comics to me and the rest of my freshman seminar last semester. Kittredge’s appreciation for science fiction and fantasy was apparent from that seminar, which included an analysis of the character of Wonder Woman. Looking at Wonder Woman as an icon of superheroine feminism made me a new fan of comics.
My fascination with nerd culture also includes Japanese manga and anime. At Ithacon, Kristiina Korpus ’13 gave a lecture called Anime Amazons, discussing the view of strong women in anime through a Western lens. I used this intersection of interests as a way to gauge the event’s usefulness on a broader social scale. Other panels and lectures focused on topics such as fan fiction and breaking into the comic business. While Korpus is a recent graduate of the college, Ithacon was not her first experience with presentation at a fan conference.
“I’ve been presenting since 2011, when Anime Amazons was first debuted at Anime Boston,” Korpus said. “At this point I’ve presented nearly every year at nine different conferences and conventions. Most notably I’ve spoken at the Popular and American Culture Associate National Conference (PCA/ACA) where I presented on dystopian novels and their direct relevance to us today. My most enjoyable presentations are always at fan conventions, though.”
Korpus’s attachment to the topic made the lecture feel very personal. She discussed several different anime and manga series with female characters that showed strength in different ways. While Korpus did not go into great detail about every presented franchise, she did use the lecture as a way to encourage audience members to watch a few specific series. She was available for one-on-one discussions afterward. Korpus’s discussion of women and feminism made Ithacon feel like an inclusive community, something that fan conventions can often lack in favor of classic male-dominated topics and discussions.
Ithacon also had the benefit of community involvement beyond the college. Local comic book sellers and artists were present at the convention in order to sign stock, meet fans and sell comic books to other comic readers. Tim Gray, owner of Comics for Collectors and founding member of the Ithaca Comic Book Club, was one of the vendors.
“We don’t try to do everything,” Gray said. “Certainly the collectors in the area really like the show and some have been coming to it for decades. We have friends that have moved on to other parts of the country and always write to tell us how much they miss it. It’s become a family gathering of sorts, or old home days, where you finally come home to people that talk about the same things.”
The ability for this convention to bring a community of interested people together has stayed with me the most following the convention. Something about the people, the atmosphere and the excitement felt genuine in a way that only a true fan convention could convey. Ithacon’s history is rich; the incarnation it has taken today is one that brings together community members and even interested college students. I left with a plastic bag full of vintage Dazzler comics and the scent of old ink under my fingernails, ready for Ithacon 40.
John Jacobson is a freshman integrated marketing and communications major who is working on his Dazzler cosplay. Email him at jjacobs1[at]ithaca.edu.