This year, NerdLush had no staff on the ground at SDCC so we adopted one, in his own words-
My name is Asher Johnson. I am currently a graduate student in Clinical Psychology mentored by Dr. Janina Scarlet. My interests include Forensics, Personality Assessment, and Superheroes. Currently, I am working on a project in which I will be combining Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with Superheroes to reach the inmate population in order to cultivate empathy and compassion. I grew up with a love for Superman, Hulk, Rocky Balboa, and Star Wars episodes IV, V, and VI (specifically Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader)… recently I’ve developed an equally special appreciation for Dr. Who. I’ve learned several values from these characters, with the initial lesson being that strength is found within the depth of pain—no matter what that source of pain is. Pain is a necessary force in life. It keeps us alive. It reminds us that we aren’t dead, which gives us the hope of a better tomorrow. The second lesson is the value of humility. Humility is the greatest force of life. Many might argue that love is the greatest force, but perhaps love and humility are one in the same. It takes humility/ to do all the things that superheroes do, such as sacrifice, persevere, see others through the lens of compassion and love, and hope. Third, I have learned the value of wisdom and humor. The two really do go hand in hand. Teachable moments are so much more impacting and longstanding with the patience and kindness of humorous, but wise advice. The fourth and final lesson I’ve learned is the greatness of resilience. We don’t have to be strong all the time to survive, but we do need to know how to cope, stay centered, and be accountable. If we do this, we won’t forget who we are and then we are easier able to find purpose.
Hip Hop and Comics
Ted Lange IV
Meme & Deity (Skateboard girls/Graffiti Artists)
Mix Master Mike
Patrick A. Reed
This panel discussed how the worlds of hip hop and superheroes cross over in different ways. For instance, both genres take on secret identities or alter-egos and they both serve as sources of strength and hope for their fans. As a biracial person, I was better able to embrace the combination of these two expressions without the fear of one contaminating the other. There certainly is beauty in the ability to design art from the perspective of more than just one’s own experiences.
It was interesting listening to how each of them get inspired to do their work. There was a range from drawing comics without any hip hop music playing in the background at all to taking the emotion of the beat and translating it into the comic. David Brothers mentioned how there is something special about music and comics in that we can tell right way if that tune or picture resonates with us.
Psychology of Cult TV
Billy San Juan
Scarlet opened the panel with contagious enthusiasm. The panel was filled with great discussion and the way the panelists fed off each other was amazing. The discussion began with the topic of the value of TV shows. Billy San Juan responded with the thought that TV is like an investment in which we place time and energy and it is something that can either inspire us or take from us (when we do not use it in moderation). Travis Langley said, “Fiction helps us to see reality… you get to be yourself when you watch TV.” Janina Scarlet brought up the interesting point that we learn how to open ourselves by opening up to the characters to which we connect. Then an interesting question was posed: What is the difference between Cult TV and Popular TV. Ali Matteu gave my favorite differentiation to this. He said the difference lies in the extent to which the program and/or its characters live on in the viewer’s life. The neuroscientist in Janina Scarlet reminded the audience about the chemical known as oxytocin which is released in our body when we’re around friends and how it physically heals us. Her hypothesis is that when an individual creates this type of relationship with a fictional character, then this should bring the same type of oxytocin healing. Ali Matteu backed her up with, “These shows really do become a social experience. Relationships online do become relationships in person.
This brings on the next panel discussion topic: What do TV shows teach us? Almost immediately, Dr. Langley responded with, “Persistence is a good quality.” Billy San Juan pointed out that we learn vicariously through our characters’ experience. Ali Matteu added that there is more equality in this particular medium. Dr. Janina Scarlet added the point that, “shows can teach us acceptance of diversity and things like not leaving your friend behind—what it takes to be a good friend.” Dr. Langley reflected on how TV shows make it easier for individuals to cope with the hard facts of life. Hearing them through fictional stories make it easier to face. Ali Matteu added that TV shows make it permissible for us to talk about the “undiscussable” because we can now refer to current events from an abstract and safer angle.
Finally, the discussion ended with each panelist giving a personal example of how fictional characters helped them through a touch personal or professional experience. Billy San Juan brought up an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when Wil met his father for the first time. This episode helped Billy to come to terms with his own father. Ali Matteu shared that there was a time when he was going through a new transition in life. He had a lot of anxiety about it but there was an episode of Lost in which he was able to help him identify who his “constant” is to help him through the transitions. Travis Langley talked about how he was always trying to find a way to bond with his grandfather and he finally discovered that watching Maverick episodes would be what opened the door to a beautiful and openly communicative relationship with his grandfather. Lastly, Janina Scarlet revealed that she had immigrated from Ukraine when she was 12 years old. She did not know the American language or culture and she started watching Family Matters. She felt inspired by Steve Urkle because no matter how pick on he was, he was never afraid to be himself.
Wonder Women of the 21st Century
Eisenberg (voice of animated Wonder Woman) talked about how comics can reflect back to the audience who the audience is. She feels that Wonder Woman is about female empowerment. Adrianne Curry, full of cynical wit and humor, spoke about her love for Aeon Flux “because she answers to no one.” Adam Simon simply could not say enough how “bad ass” Wonder Woman is. He said that growing up watching Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman influenced him to be able to write strong female characters. The best part of the panel was when an audience member asked Susan Eisenberg to say her favorite line in her Wonder Woman voice to which she said, in her sultry voice, “Oh that’s right; no dating for the Batman. It will cut into his brooding time.”
Although, I’ve got to hand it to Adrianne Curry when discussing people’s perspective of beauty. She shared that when people tell her that they wish they could look like her, she thinks to herself, “Okay. Get a 6’7” dad, have a horrible diet where you only eat vegetables and lean protein—no fun food! Then make sure you work out for 2 and a half hours every single day, and then just basically be miserable on the inside.” Again, her delivery had that perfect tone which induced much laughter. She said several profound things, of which my favorite was, “Flaws are awesome. That’s why I think scares are cool.”
DC Comics: Superman, the Man of Tomorrow
John Ramita Jr
The panel can be summed up by this statement that was made by one of the panelists:
Superman represents hope and optimism. Hope for a better tomorrow. He inspires us to be the best we can be.
The audience seemed to want to know where’s DC’s love for Superman lately! This was in reference to the fact that it seems that Batman has been the one coming to save the day and Superman not quite getting the credit he deserves. The panelists appeared to either be struggling for a direct answer or simply did not want to give one. One remark the panelists did say that I can appreciate (as a Superman fan) was: “Superman can’t win them all…otherwise he can’t develop.” This is exactly true. This is the same logic we seek to teach the children in our community—how to lose, learn from it, and then come back stronger and better.
An interesting note is that there appeared to be a common theme of these writers and artists that it is almost intimidating about being responsible for Superman. Superman is such a large icon and has meant a lot to many people. The fan-base has a way of referring to him as, “my Superman”. There is definitely a relationship and an expectation of how Superman “should be” and the panelists agreed that the job of writing Superman comics is a job that is larger than each of them.