At the inaugural Madison Comic-Con at the Alliant Energy Center this past weekend, even zombie hunters had a sweet tooth.
After an extensive Saturday of shooting down artificial zombies, gawking at Gandalf as he strolls by and avoiding Bruce Campbell’s sharp wit, we were standing at the coat check. While awaiting our garments, we slurped down massive snow-cones, a refreshing treat after a day of sensory overload.
It was in this vulnerable state that Michael Rooker, star of “Walking Dead” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” quickly materialized in front of us. Before we could comprehend the famous actor being a mere foot away, he took one look at our enormous snow-cones and exclaimed,
“Woah! Look at those things!”
Rooker laughed and then disappeared, our happy exasperation the only trace of his presence. One moment we were college journalists covering an event and the next we were young fans consumed by adrenaline. Our eyes twinkled like the eight-year-olds dressed as Jedis seeing Darth Vader sauntering about and the middle-aged couple chuckling at William Shatner’s “Star Trek” anecdotes.
Comic-Con is where fans distant from the vibrant worlds they admire and the people who create those worlds collide. Adults feel like children again and children get an opportunity for their imaginations to flourish. Madison was not an exception.
Mayor Paul Soglin expressed a similar sentiment, from the young cosplayers roaming the booths to “90-year-olds who think they are 12,” it’s the people of Madison who made Comic Con an interesting event.
“There has been sort of a hole in our universe up until now,” Soglin said.
We explored every inch of Exhibition Hall, no panel or booth unturned. These are our stories.
Feminist & Underground Wisconsin Comix
Wisconsin is known for its revolutions. From the grassroots of contemporary socialism in Milwaukee to the famous Vietnam protests in Madison, the state has witnessed and fostered some of the largest social phenomena of the last century. One of the most understated of these phenomena is the underground comix movement.
The panel describing this sub-culture, entitled “Everything & the Kitchen Sink: Wisconsin’s Underground Comix Scene,” was the first of Madison Comic-Con.
The local comic experts, including professor Justin Farrell, explained that in 1954, Comics Magazine Association of America developed the Comics Code Authority, which could regulate comic publishers without governmental intervention.
But instead of liberating the content, the CCA inhibited it, censoring any hints of violence or crime (Batman often murdered before 1954), homosexuality, drug use, sexualization of female characters and many other attributes.
“Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority,” the CCA ruled.
But the Dairy State isn’t always keen to follow authority. In 1970, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumnus Denis Kitchen began Kitchen Sink Press, distributing underground comix defying the CCA to college and underground newspapers.
The comix tackling prevalent social and political issues, ranging from drug addiction to abortion, began to overtake the work of Chicago and even breached the comix mecca of San Francisco, making Wisconsin an epicenter for the movement.
Kitchen also helped women comic authors break into this medium previously dominated by men. Even Wonder Woman, created in the 1940s, was created for male consumption.
Greatly inspired by the second-wave feminist movement, Trina Robbins and UW-Madison alum Sharon Rudahl were two artists who pioneered the first female-driven comix including “Teen-Age Horizons of Shangrila,” “Wimmen’s Comix,” “Wet Satin” and “Mama’s Dramas.” In addition to depicting complex female characters, these comix depicted birth control, housewife woes and even erotica for women.
WI Real Life Superheroes
Real Life Superheroes are exactly as they sound. They don homemade costumes fashioned of household wares, patrol urban streets at night, participate in homeless outreach and donate to charitable organizations.
Much like the underground comic scene, the Real Life Superhero subculture has found a home in Wisconsin’s urban areas.
On a panel Friday, a local heroes Electron, Adsum, Remnant and Smash Cat gathered to talk about their experiences as super heroes and their perspectives on the movement.
Tea Krulos, author of “Heroes in the Night,” led the discussion on his field of expertise. Krulos became interested in the subject in 2009 after reading a blurb about the movement.
As a Milwaukee native, he looked for local heroes. He came across a hero called Watchman, who turned out to be a catalyst for his book detailing the experiences of Real Life Superheroes nationwide and the inspiration for the panel members to enter the underground subculture. Krulos described his findings in a brief history of Real Life Superheroes under the framework of small successes and failures.
“There is a fine line between helping your neighbors and taking the law into your own hands, and it’s hard to tell what that line is,” Krulos said.
Some Real Life Superheroes include the Human Fly, a masked stunt double who donated his earnings to charities and was the subject of a short series by Marvel Comics, to the first female hero called Terrifica who assisted inebriated women in Manhattan bars return home safely.
He cited Bee Sting of Flint, Michigan, as small failure. After being called to trailer park for a noise violation, he engaged in a hand to hand confrontation. A handgun was discharged and hit an empty trailer, and Bee Sting spent several months in prison.
While groups like the Challengers in Milwaukee fight crime together, most have chosen to go on patrol alone, but Electron stressed the importance working in conjunction with peers and police.
“What people don’t understand is that it is all about collaboration, there’s not going to be one group that is setting the rules for everybody,” Electron said. “It’s less of an organization and more of a group of like-minded individuals who just want to solve a certain problem.”
Smash Cat and Remnant are Madison-area residents and the most recent additions to the panel. They patrol mostly in Milwaukee with Watchman and Superhero Blackbird because Madison police don’t allow them to patrol freely.
Krulos shared stories of simple acts of kindness that turned to violent brawls, but at the end of the day, the panel agreed, the benefits outweigh the risks.
“I can’t think of a more justifiable injury or possible death than while helping someone else,” Adsum said.
Overall, Wisconsin’s first Comic-Con was a success, suggesting Wizard World and all of its heroes, villains and zombies will return.