Syracuse University Magazine


Superheroes for an Inclusive World

It’s hard to ignore the person dressed like a superhero in a flamboyant red cape, running around to arrange every detail during the fourth annual “Cripping” the Comic Con symposium. Diane Wiener, co-coordinator of this year’s event, which was held at the Schine Student Center in April, spoke proudly of the glowing “D” on her cape. “My purpose is to promote the comic con,” says Wiener, director of the Disability Cultural Center (DCC) at SU. “The letter can represent ‘disability,’ ‘Diane,’ and ‘dynamic.’”

“Cripping” the Comic Con uniquely combines a conference and comics convention, engaging participants in discussions about representations of disability—especially such popular culture phenomena as comic books, graphic novels, and manga.  “We really wanted to make it a combination of an academic conference and a convention that has a collaborative and ‘nerd-fest’ feeling,” Wiener says.

This year’s theme—“Deaf-initely Ironic…?”—centered on the portrayal of disability within popular culture, nationally and internationally, particularly deafness, humor, and comedy. For example, Matt and Kay Daigle’s discussion of their webcomic, That Deaf Guy, captivated people’s attention. Their keynote was presented entirely in American Sign Language (ASL) with English language voicing provided by interpreters. Based on the real-life stories of Matt, a cartoonist who is deaf, his hearing wife Kay, and their bilingual (ASL and English) son, the webcomic resonates with people who experience the cultural differences between the worlds of the able-bodied and those with disabilities. “It’s so exciting to meet people here with a variety of disabilities,” Matt Daigle says about the comic con. “Even though we’re disabled, as artists, we all have a similar goal in life through our work with color and art. I’m so glad to be here.”

Another focus was on the depiction of people with disabilities in television and film. “For the most part, people with disabilities in mainstream media are represented in troubling and problematic ways,” Wiener says. But there are some positive changes occurring. She points to the example of the Glee TV series, in which an actor with Down syndrome plays the role of a character who has Down syndrome. “I’m so glad that, increasingly, we see that people with disabilities are representing ourselves,” Wiener says.

The 2016 event again highlighted the work of illustrator Gilles Stromberg G’12. To debunk stereotypes of people with disabilities, as well as to question why most superheroes are white and male, Stromberg worked with Wiener and Rachael Zubal-Ruggieri, communications coordinator at the Center on Human Policy, to co-create the “Access Avengers” for the inaugural symposium in 2013. These comic characters are a team of multicultural superheroes with varied disabilities and other identities who join forces as activists for social justice. “I’m here to build more representation that can elevate and celebrate those with disabilities,” Stromberg says. “If your type of activism is not multifaceted and not representing the diversity of a community, then who is it for?”

Although the themes of the symposium vary each year, the key spirit remains constant. “Disability is not about triumph over adversity. It is one among many ways that people live meaningfully in the world,” Wiener says. “Disability is a part of diversity, so the goal is creating a representation that more accurately reflects the array of human life.” —Liu Jiang

Photo by Steve Sartori

For more information, click on the links below:

“Cripping” the Comic Con website
“Cripping” the Comic Con on Facebook
“Cripping” the Comic Con on Twitter
SU Disability Cultural Center website
SU DCC on Facebook
SU DCC on Tumblr
SU DCC YouTube Channel

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