Wittenberg Students To Analyze Popular Culture Through Innovative Course

Springfield, Ohio – A group of college undergraduates, including five Wittenberg students, will share program billing with the likes of Marvel Comics' writer Stan "the Man" Lee, the cast of Heroes and "Iron Man" star Robert Downing, Jr., at the annual Comic-Con International in San Diego, Calif., July 25-29. They aren't there to trade magazines or get autographs - this is an academic opportunity, part of an innovative summer course that explores the intersection of fans and marketers at the convention.

"The combination of engaged fans and targeted marketing make Comic-Con an ideal setting to study popular culture," said Matthew J. Smith, associate professor of communication at Wittenberg. "The event affords us a look at how consumers are enticed to embrace the consumer-oriented culture of the media industries."

While discussion of comic books and their fans have been brought up in the college classrooms before, this field study experience takes a whole college class and puts it within the context of a comic book convention. The students will explore the fans, their culture, and the marketing that targets them through detailed observation of the programming and participants at this year's Comic-Con, an annual event that draws more than 100,000 attendees annually. Comic-Con is not only the premiere event in the comic book industry, it is also a draw for marketers in Hollywood films, network television, manga, anime, toys, gaming, trading cards and many other popular culture industries.

The students will present preliminary results of the field study on Sunday, July 29, at a panel sponsored by the Comic Arts Conference, an academic program which is held in conjunction with the Comic-Con, on Sunday, July 29, 2:30-3:30 p.m. in Room 30AB of San Diego Convention Center. The title of the panel is "The Culture of Popular Things: Ethnographic Examinations of Comic-Con 2007" and will feature the students and responding comments from Matthew Pustz of Endicott College and author of a book titled Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers.

Smith, who teaches courses in media studies, is also co-author, along with Randy Duncan of Henderson State University in Arkansas, of the forthcoming book The Power of Comics: An Introduction to Graphic Storytelling to be published by Continuum Books. This will be the first textbook published expressly for college-level courses in comic books and graphic novels.

The student participants are Nicholas Langley from Henderson State University and Melissa Andrada from the University of Washington. The Wittenberg student contingent includes Cameron Catalfu, class of 2010 from Loveland, Ohio, W. Stephen Combs, class of 2010 from Chesterfield, Mo., Pamela Geranios, class of 2010 from Saratoga, Calif., Julia "Kit" Moran, class of 2008 from Cleveland, Ohio, and Karen Stover, class of 2010 from Enon, Ohio.

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