Anything-goes Comikaze expo has its serious side
Stormtroopers, the Joker, Gandalf the Grey, Data from “Star Trek” — no, this wasn’t West Hollywood on the night of Oct. 31, although it looked pretty similar. It was “Stan Lee’s Comikaze” — a sort of Comic-Con for Los Angeles, which recently held its fifth annual expo from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, virtually assuring its attendees an early start and a late finish to Halloween.
Devotees — children and up — of comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, video games and various corners of the pop culture world descended upon downtown Los Angeles dressed in cosplay that ranged from the hilarious to the revealing to the scary and downright bizarre.
There was even a weapons-check booth, and it wasn’t a joke. Attendees had to follow a strict “costume weapons policy,” which prohibited, for example, swords that could be removed from their sheaths. One official sign humorously informed parents that lost children would “be taken to the show office, and given to the goblin king.”
It also was, well, just a little bit Jewish — above and beyond the fact that Lee, the world’s most famous comic producer, is a Jew. In Sunday’s panels covering diversity in comics and entertainment, and also the religious bases behind some well-known heroes and villains, Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists in the industry included Phil LaMarr (“Pulp Fiction,” “Futurama”), Aly Mawji (“Silicon Valley”), David Sacks (“The Simpsons,” “Third Rock From the Sun”), Jeffrey Alan Schechter (ABC Family’s “Stitchers”) and moderator Jordan Gorfinkel, a Jewish comic book artist and cartoonist who managed the Batman franchise for DC Comics for nearly a decade.
During a panel titled “Heroes, Villains & Faith,” Gorfinkel kicked off the discussion by relating an experience where he was concerned that the dietary choices of one of his superheroes would make the character less relatable for
“The idea behind these superheroes is that we want the maximum number of people to be able to relate to them,” Gorfinkel said, describing a situation in which a draft scene had Nightwing, from the Batman series, in a cave with Batman eating a pepperoni pizza. “I’d rather make it a vegetarian pizza, so that way, if somebody’s halal or kosher or vegetarian, they won’t feel like, ‘Oh, well, he eats salami on pizza. I can’t relate to that character anymore.’ ”
He added that agnosticism “seems to be the better approach” in order not to alienate any readers.
Mawji, who’s an Indian Muslim, when asked how he feels about being cast as a Muslim terrorist for any shows or films, said he feels “a lot of responsibility representing minorities in general on screen,” and that if he does agree to such a role — which he suggested would be a tough sell — he would need to try to “humanize” the character so that he’s not just a “cardboard cutout.”
He said he would have to weigh the impact that playing the role would have on him and his religious community against the benefit that the money would have for him and his family.
“[A] million dollars is a lot of money but I don’t know if I could live with myself,” Mawji said. “Everybody has a price, and I’m no different, because we all have needs, and we all need to provide.”
In the previous panel, “Comics and Diversity,” the main issue, as Gorfinkel said, was whether the industry should pursue diverse casts and characters as an end, “because it reflects the real world more, because it’s what the audience demands on the business side,” or if the attitude should be a “post-racial” one that focuses solely on merit, even if “the most talented person that comes into the audition room happens to be white for 15 years in a row,” referring to a comment by Asian comic artist Joyce Chin, who said a well-known local comedy troupe hasn’t had one minority comic in its main company in 15 years.
“I know plenty of intentionally funny Asians,” Chin said. “There are lots of unintentionally funny Asians.”
“Do you feel, then, that there should be an enforced racial diversity?” Gorfinkel asked.
“Oh no, I don’t think it’s that,” Chin said. “I think they need to switch who’s doing the hiring or who’s doing the casting.”
LaMarr, an original cast member of “Mad TV” and the voice of Hermes Conrad on “Futurama,” said people could “eliminate the dynamic of racial issues” by not “identifying it as such an issue.”
“It doesn’t have to be one,” LaMarr said.
Abdul H. Rashid, a graphic illustrator and Muslim who is Black, agreed that “it’s about the merit of the person, not the color of the skin,” then stopped himself and added as a joke, “I sound like a cliché after-school special.”