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Pop Culture, Comics, and Book Ban Conversations at C2E2

C2E2 entrance

The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) rolled through the Windy City April 26-28, bringing with it thousands of fans and exhibitors of everything pop culture—from comics books to role-playing and video games to movies and beyond. The Midwest’s largest pop-culture convention, C2E2 welcomed more than 85,000 people for its three days at McCormick Place Convention Center just south of Chicago’s Loop.

At every turn, attendees cosplaying as Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Fallout characters, superheroes, and anime/manga favorites posed for photos and interacted with fans. Gamers practiced combat skills and discussed strategy. Hundreds of comic and graphic artists were on-hand to sell their wares, and vendors hawked everything from rare comic books worth thousands of dollars to toys and memorabilia. And, of course, the star power was out in force. Notable guests included “Stranger Things” and "Wildcat" star Maya Hawke; “Back to the Future” and "Taxi" star Christopher Lloyd; “Hannibal” co-stars Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen; filmmaker Kevin Smith and actor Jason Mewes, who were there to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Clerks;” “Ted Lasso” stars Phil Dunster and Cristo Fernandez; “Alien” co-stars Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright; and many, many more.

Amidst the pageantry and friendly chaos, however, was a multitude of panel discussions and workshops. These programs existed in the shadow of the commotion in the exhibit hall, but they gave C2E2 an essential education and learning component. Attendees had opportunities to learn about everything from comic book character creation to how to write a successful horror story. Given the literary underpinnings of almost every bit of media showcased at C2E2, it’s no surprise that book bans and libraries would be represented.

At “Keep Bans Off Our Books," Eti Berland, youth services school engagement librarian at Wilmette (Ill.) Public Library, led a panel of comic creators in a discussion of their works, graphic novels and literacy, and censorship. Guests included Hope Larson, Eisner Award–winning author of “Salt Magic,” “Batgirl,” “Be That Way,” and the Eagle Rock series; Ralph Shayne, author of “Hour of Need: The Daring Escape of the Danish Jews during World War II: A Graphic Novel;” Tony Dawkins, author of “Titan King;” and Chas! Pangburn and Kim Shearer, the brother-sister duo behind “Double Booking: The Tail of the Mummy Cat.”

“It’s really important when combatting censorship—at least in the classroom and in the library—to demonstrate that comics have literary merit and you can use comics as a vehicle for high-level learning,” said Shearer, who is also a school librarian. “I think some censorship is coming from a place of hatred, unfortunately, but the good news is that a lot of it is coming from people just not understanding the value in comics. And that one we can tackle much easier in terms of using it as a teachable moment.”

Shayne, whose graphic novel is about his family’s experiences during the Holocaust, looked to history to explain why book bans and information suppression are omnipresent.

“When I think of book bans, I think back to what I learned watching “Roots” in the 1970’s, which was how they subjugated Black people in this country in part by keeping them illiterate,” Shayne said. “And if you go back further to how the world changed with the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. That was really the first information revolution that took literacy from like 2% of the population and controlled by the churches to the mass population. [It shows] how important it is and how scary it is when you have a party trying to control information.”

When asked about resources that we can use to combat book bans, Shearer stressed that we need to do our civic duty.

“Vote,” she said. “Don’t sleep on those local elections. Think about your school boards. If you have a school-based decision-making council or local representation, tap into that local network. Use local librarians as a resource, retired librarians especially—they’ve got nothing to lose! They’ll get out there for you.”

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A small selection of the cosplayers at C2E2 2024.

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