A DiasporaCon will bring Black comics creators and scholars, as well as such celebrities as “Spawn” star Michael Jai White, to Quinnipiac University’s North Haven campus on April 23.
The event is “for people across the board: fans, collectors, people who want to know what a graphic novel is. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” says acclaimed comic historian and professor William Foster, who arranged many of the talks and presentations.
It is billed as being “created to cultivate awareness of the creativity, innovation and representation of the African Diaspora in the comic and graphic novel industry.” The “Con” in the title stands for “conference” rather than “convention,” but along with the talks, presentations and how-to discussions, there will vendors selling comics, original art and other items.
And as with any other comics-themed event with a “Con” suffix, celebrities are involved.
Among the guests are White, acknowledged as the first Black actor to play an established comic book superhero in a major motion picture (as Al Simmons in 1997′s “Spawn”); graphic novelist and media studies professor John Jennings; and cartoonist Joe Young of the Hartford Animation & Film Institute.
There’s an element of local pride to DiasporaCon. White recently opened a film production facility, Jaigantic Studios, in New Haven. Young works and teaches in the Hartford area. A New Haven artist, Alana Ladson, designed the conference’s logo, which shows a pair of Black superheroes.
The event grew out of the Elm City LIT Fest, a local literary festival started by IfeMichelle Gardin in 2019. LitFest, which happened virtually due to the COVID pandemic in 2020 and was held live in September 2021, is “a celebration of the literary art of the African diaspora,” Gardin says. Through those gatherings, she realized “the movement of comics and graphic novels is really huge. A lot of colleges are adding them to their curricula. So I called Professor William Foster, who has worked with us on every LIT Fest.”
Foster is a noted comics historian known for his educational presentation “Changing Image of Blacks in Comics” and the essay collection “Looking for a Face Like Mine,” both of which explore Black representation in comics.
“There are a lot of comic conventions already, so we said ‘Let’s do a conference, and bring awareness to this,’” Gardin says. “We reached out to Quinnipiac because I think it’s underutilized. We wanted to use their beautiful campus.”
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The DiasporaCon is separate from Elm City LIT Fest, which will hold its next festival Sept. 11 and 12, with an Afrofuturism theme.
A comics fan since childhood, Foster, who recently retired from Naugatuck Valley Community College, has known many of the DiasporaCon participants for decades. For instance, he says, “I met Joe Young back when he was doing the world’s biggest comic strip,” a 1999 project that yielded an 8-by-300-foot comic.
“And this is the answer to the question everybody might be asking,” Foster says: “Can white people come? Please y’all! This is not 1949!”
Don C. Sawyer III, Quinnipiac’s vice president for equity, inclusion and leadership development, says hosting DiasporaCon is the result of the university “connecting with different people in the community, building relationships. This is the important stuff, where you show action, show that the university is open to all.”
- DiasporaCon begins at noon with introductory speeches. At 12:15 pm Reggie Augustine speaks about his own “Self-Published Comic Journey, from Circumstance to Fruition” as the publisher of Elm City Comics and the creator of the New Haven-set comic “Aphro Physt Vs. Protector Force.”
- At 1 pm animator Joe Young teaches discusses “Opportunities on Expanding the Brand.”
- At 2:15 pm it’s Milford-based artist/publisher TC Ford of Obsidian Matador Studios with an address on “Surviving the Comic Industry.
- At 3:30 pm, illustrator Raheem Nelson talks about “Understanding and Creating NFTs,” since non-fungible tokens are rapidly becoming a critical source of income for artists.
- The main event, at 4:45 pm, is a panel discussion on “Black Images of Comic & Graphic Novel Characters in Film,” moderated by Foster and featuring White, whose upcoming films include “The Outlaw Johnny Black” and “HeadShop”; and John Jennings, whose recent comics artwork includes the graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.”
DiasporaCon happens April 23 from noon to 6 pm at the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences on the North Haven campus of Quinnipiac University, 370 Bassett Road, North Haven. Admission is $20. Vendor tables are available for $75. Register at eventbrite.com. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.