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October 17, 2018

Teenreads and New York Comic Con 2018: Part 2, Panel Roundup

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Teenreads kicked off October in one of the best ways imaginable: heading to New York Comic Con, a celebration of all things bookish, nerdy and just plain awesome. Between editorial manager Rebecca Munro, interns Dana and Ana, reviewers Katherine and Matthew, and Teenreader Joe, we had a full team covering the panels, showroom floor and the whole atmosphere of the weekend. Read below in-depth coverage of the panels we all attended or click here for a quick overview of our NYCC experience.


Junta-position the Politics of Modern Speculative Fiction
The speakers on this panel were all sci-fi/fantasy writers who write books based in politics, whether they immediately seem to be or not. I initially wanted to attend this panel because of Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, who co-wrote DRY, a book about a drought, but I ended up learning a ton from the other authors as well. Because all of the authors wrote about different topics (from droughts to surveillance states and even fantasy kingdoms) the conversation was constantly moving and never lingered too long on one political topic or another. I think that author Jason Kirk really put it best when he said that there can be no stories WITHOUT politics, because as soon as you put ten people in a room (or story) and add a conflict, you immediately have politics. It is not always about Democrats or Republicans, but more about people fighting for what they want. I had never really thought of it that way, but it made perfect sense. All of the authors agreed that their books are more about moral choices, and that putting them into space or fantasy kingdoms allows readers to process what is happening in the real world much more easily. I left the panel really wanting to buy Eliot Peper’s book, BANDWITH, a near-future thriller. Eliot was really eloquent and well-spoken, but also laugh-out-loud funny, and his book sounded really cool. --- Rebecca Munro

Pop Culture Witches
Being the direct descendent of a mean ol’ witch, I was as prepared for this talk as much as anyone could have been short of actually being a witch.   Moderator Ben Blacker did a fantastic job asking pertinent questions of authors Jill Thompson, Zoe Quinn, editor Heather Antos, and actress Valorie Curry.  All of the guests seemed so comfortable discussing the darker arts, crystals, rituals and traditions that you knew they not only “talked the talk”, but their works were a large part of their daily lives and routines.

It was most interesting listening to how they were all influenced by a variety of experiences, and what they enjoyed mostly in what each of them does today.  Much of Jill’s work with comics today, and inspiration for creating Scary Godmother, derived from reading superhero publications.  It was funny to me that Zoe (Vertigo’s Goddess Mode) grew up in small town isolation and had the magic of technology and discovering the Anarchist’s Cookbook as influences to bridge the gap from the real world to the fantastic.  Being drawn to “unliked” characters, Valorie finds herself preferring roles of those who don’t like following rules in her portfolio.  As an editor, Heather spoke more about how she enjoys interacting with others to make the stories the best they can be, and that there are a lot for women to feel great about today.

Ben's final question, “How are your emotions these days?” as it pertains to the current political climate (the same weekend of the controversial vote for Justice ‘Cava-no!’) was at the heart of about every panel I attended this weekend.  Valorie “gets angry in a productive way” and spends much of her energy with her non-profit working with immigrant women.  Taking an even more physical approach to keeping emotions in check Jill has taken up the long sword, while and Zoe is attending professional wrestling school.  Heather quite calmly responded, “therapy”.

In the end, I’m really glad I had the chance to attend, take pictures, and listen to this very articulate panel.  I learned a lot more about each of them on a personal level than I could have learned about them reading a blog on the internet, and my long reading list just got a bit longer. --- Joe Dubyuh

Tor Presents: #FearlessWomen
This panel consisted entirely of female sci-fi/fantasy authors who have actively taken a stance towards incorporating the empowerment of women and girls into their work. The writers touched on many important social and cultural topics, one of these being the concept of a gender spectrum and how to write characters that don’t conform to gender stereotypes. V.E. Schwab in particular noted that it is intriguing how we judge characters based on where they fall on the gender spectrum, and specifically how this practice discourages women to exhibit strength and authority. Charlie Jane Anders also pointed out that there needs to be more opportunities in fiction for women to embody male archetypes, and vice versa. I believe Annalee Newitz summed it up best by stating that there is a necessity for the creation of new, diverse characters and stories that are supportive of intersectional feminism. It was really interesting to hear this incredible group of women, who all come from entirely backgrounds, discuss how gender inequality affects their lives as well as how they deal with this issue in their work. Schwab also mentioned how VENGEFUL is the embodiment of the current “female rage” in today’s society, and how writing is a form of catharsis for her. Overall, I came away from this panel feeling hopeful about the future of gender equality and female empowerment, especially since we have such great role models who will continue to produce work that inspires a positive change. --- Ana Couto

Fandom for Teachers: The Educator’s Guide to Comic Con
How can we inspire children to develop an interest and fondness for reading, and one that will continue throughout their lives? This was the central theme surrounding the discussion from this panel, and essentially all the varying responses from the different speakers culminated into the following conclusion: that comic books and graphic novels ARE equally as important as novels, and as long as children express an interest in reading some form of literary work (whether it contains illustrations or not), we should encourage them to read what they naturally gravitate towards. This led to other important questions, such as what is the role of comics and graphic novels in education. Tim Smyth, a high school social studies teacher and creator of historycomics.net, noted that graphic novels help to instill readers with empathy because of the visual component incorporated into these works, and he also made the excellent point that the current generation of young readers engage with both visuals and text equally. I think this is one of the most important topics in education today. As noted by Dr. Katie Monnin, the Director of Education at Pop Culture Classroom, we’re creating the next generation of readers, and therefore it is the duty of educators and parents alike to recognize that not every child reads the same, hence we should encourage the teaching of multiple literacies. --- Ana Couto

Revisiting History
As someone who’s a big history nerd, I was very excited to attend this panel --- and it definitely did not disappoint! All of the authors present discussed their individual research process and how much liberty they take regarding the element of historical fiction that is incorporated into their novels. Lisa Maxwell, author of THE LAST MAGICIAN, particularly noted that she wanted to implement New York City’s history of immigration into her novel, which is where the narrative is set. She believes that her personal opinion regarding the outcome and effects of the historical occurrences integrated into her novel should be kept private, and that the main goal of the story is to entertain the reader, which all the panelists seemingly agreed on. There was also great emphasis on the element of “fun” that history can bring to a novel, especially when combined with the concept of magic. Nevertheless, the panelists agreed that, although several liberties are necessary to mix these different categories, it is equally important to make certain historical elements appear believable to the reader. In her response to this discussion point, Maxwell described how a tremendous amount of research goes into the history of New York City so that the setting of her novel remains as true to reality as possible. In other words, she wanted to make city recognizable for her readers. I came away from this panel with an even greater respect for writers of historical fiction, and hearing about all the work and creativity these authors put into their work made me appreciate this genre that much more. --- Ana Couto

Super Asian America
There was a lot to celebrate at this panel, such as the recent successes of two book-to-film adaptations featuring primarily Asian American characters and actors, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians. There is an interest in incorporating Asian American pop culture into film now more than ever, which is why it’s extremely important to continue supporting these projects. This seemed to be the main theme for this panel: the successes this year have been fantastic in a myriad of ways, but it means we need to keep pushing for, and investing in, content that reflects a diverse population. Marjorie Liu spoke about Hollywood’s obsession with “yellow face” and its refusal to understand why it’s not appropriate to cast white people in Asian roles, but that recently there has been crack in the entertainment industry’s perception of what people want to see. A very important point was made about how we’re finally starting to reverse Asian stereotypes in pop culture by telling a variety of stories about different Asian American experiences. Although this panel had a very lively and fun atmosphere, the panelists---particularly Liu---repeatedly made the point that there is still a greater need for structural diversity both in texts and film. --- Ana Couto

Family-Friendly Fantasy: Keeping it PG in the Age of Grimdark & Game of Thrones
I don't have a problem with gore, horror, adult situations, etc, but I am old and gnarly now and my children have all grown up.  Attending this panel gave me a sense of nostalgia back to a time when I had to screen books, video games, and other media outlets when my kids were younger.  They are now legal adults and have had uncensored access since their mid-teens, so it's easy for me to forget what a challenge it was, and how much time was spent as a parent trying to minimize exposure to adult content.

Quite enjoyably, I had the opportunity to listen to amazing authors Katherine Arden, author  of The Winternight trilogy, Emily King author of THE HUNDREDTH QUEEN, and Elle K. White author of The Heartstone Saga, remind me that there is a different perspective than my own as to what's considered appropriate in books.  Each seemed to agree in their own words, there are differences when it comes to sexuality and romance in books, but there is a subjective view as to how far you can take it as a writer and still be PG.  Emily mentioned it was important to write about issues that exist today which concern her directly into her stories.  Katherine seems to write in a more traditional Russian folklore style, which avoids some of today's modern adult topics altogether.  Whereas, Elle tends to focus on "marriage and relationships" to a good degree, so you can imagine how hard it can get.

Hearing the author's early influences, it was funny to me they many weren't necessarily clean influences.  Classic youth book influences such as A Wrinkle in Time were definitely on the list, but also authors like Stephen King & Dean Koontz, and even "steamy novels" in general received honorable mention.  Though influential, everyone seemed to agree that others like the Harry Potter books and the Outlander stories may seem very young adult on the surface, but have very serious and dark undertones that (to me) seem to go beyond the PG.

In the end, I enjoyed listening to the overall conversation, recommendations and influences, and a small peek the minds of three very creative authors.  I'm looking forward to following up with some of their recommendations and upcoming works in the not too distant… --- Joe Dubyuh

What's So Great About YA? A Fierce Reads Panel
The speakers on this panel were all Young Adult authors published by Macmillan as part of the national Fierce Reads tour. It was an all-star line up of bestselling authors including Tomi Adeyemi author of CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, Alex London author of BLACK WINGS BEATING, Marissa Meyer author of the Renegades and The Lunar Chronicles series, April G. Tucholke author of THE BONELESS MERCIES, and Ngozi Ukazu author of CHECK, PLEASE!: HOCKEY. One thing was very clear about these panelists, they had spent a lot of time together while on tour. I laughed so much during this panel because of the banter between Alex London and Tomi Adeyemi. One question that the moderator asked that I found really interesting was about inspiration and every author had a different way of explaining how a small idea can become the basis for a story. Alex London described it as a creative bonfire in that it’s never one singular idea but an amalgamation of things that light the fire. For Alex London, he wanted to write a fantasy story where a queer character goes on a quest and he had also read about birds who eat mainly bone marrow and then drop the bones from the sky. Tomi Adeyemi added to this by saying that for her it is also like a bonfire but sometimes she can’t put it all together until two things spark. She had originally wanted to write a book that discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, but she couldn’t find the right story to tell until she found the Orisha in Brazil. Research was another interesting discussion of the panel with Ngozi Ukazu sharing her intensive research of hockey for a film script that inspired her webcomic and Alex London who spent a long time researching birds of prey and falconry. He shared some of his random knowledge. One great take away was from Marissa Meyer who spoke about all of the rewrites that occurred with RENEGADES as it started out as a school for superheroes and supervillains but that element was something she couldn’t make work. As an aspiring author, it helps to hear that even established authors struggle with writing. Lastly, I loved hearing about the type of music they listen to while writing (or don’t in the case of Marissa Meyer) and April G. Tucholke was very passionate about the types of scores she likes to listen to. --- Dana Cuadrado

Women in [Everything]: Intersectional Feminism Across Genres
I was really interested in this panel because it featured Charlie Jane Anders, a bestselling science fiction author, and I really want to read her books. This panel was amazing in that it featured women of different racial backgrounds from different areas of pop culture (publishing, comics, games, and film) and they were able to dissect what it means to be feminist in our current political climate. It felt like this wonderful call to action to write the representation we want to see in media we absorb. They discussed recent castings in the DC Comics movie universe, while it seems like there are strides being made with films like Bird of Prey in the works and Wonder Woman, there are still movies like Justice League with one female character who acts a stereotype. The discussion of romance novels was very interesting because the panel was divided until Charlie Jane Anders spoke about the reason the genre is looked down upon is that it is written and read by women. She shared that she is working on a YA series currently and I am very excited for it. --- Dana Cuadrado

Disney Publishing Presents: Let’s Talk YA
This panel featured authors published by Disney Books and was moderated by Alexandra Bracken, author of The Darkest Minds series, as she talked all-things YA with Liz Brazwell, author PART OF YOUR WORLD, Serena Valentino, author of MOTHER GOTHEL, Dhonielle Clayton author of THE BELLES, and Christine Lynn Herman author of THE DEVOURING GRAY. Of the panels that I saw this was the only panel that was also moderated by a fellow author, which gave a very different spin to the questions she asked. It was very craft focused, which was great for anyone in the audience who was interested in writing. All of the writers on the panel are writing in the realm of fantasy/scifi so Alexandra Bracken asked if they usually think of their world or characters first. Each author had varied answers; Dhonielle Clayton is world first and then she creates the character that lives in it where as Alexandra Bracken and Christine Lynn Herman both create very developed characters first who then dictate the world they live in. It was very interesting to hear from Serena Valentino and Liz Brazwell because their processes are very different as they are working on series that have established Disney characters. It was fascinating to hear how they both have to try to find motivations for the villains they write about. I definitely came away from this panel wanting to read all of these authors books and was so glad to get an advance copy of THE DEVOURING GRAY. --- Dana Cuadrado