Last fall I reported on the Owl House panel at New York Comic Con. Prior to that panel I didn’t know of this animated Disney show about a bisexual Latina girl who ends up in a magical fantasy world, nor of the stories behind it—the diversity of its characters, the boldness of its storylines, Disney’s sudden decision to shudder the show, forcing the creator Dana Terrace and her team to wrap the series up in three extra-long episodes.
More importantly, I wasn’t aware of the kind of fandom that The Owl House has. At NYCC I attended the last Walking Dead panel, where people went quite literally crazy to see a clip of Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon stabbing some dude in the hand. (It was A LOT.) I also attended one of a very expensive weekend of events for hundreds of fans obsessed with Outlander star Sam Heughan.
But believe me when I tell you those groups didn’t hold a candle to the Owl House fans.
But believe me when I tell you those groups didn’t hold a candle to the Owl House fans. Near the beginning of their panel (and the one this weekend, too), the MC asked anyone cosplaying Owl House to stand up. Dozens and dozens (and dozens) stood to serve the stunningly visual lewks of the Owl House characters. The same is true at san Diego.
But there’s something else about Owl House fans. In a world where most fandoms have at least a soupcon of toxicity (and usually more like a garbage truck-full), the Owl Housers are so genuinely nice. In the fall they had plenty of reason to be angry about what Disney had done to their favorite show. This weekend a dad at the Con decked to the nines in Owl House cosplay along with his partner and children (pictured above) told me Owl House was the first time his children were confronted with the ugly reality that a network can suddenly cancel a beloved show without warning.
But outrage is absolutely not the Owl House vibe. Soon after I sat down in the room this weekend someone came and sat next to me, and immediately began talking to me like we were old friends. Then someone else sat down between us and everyone around her did the same. The title of this weekend’s panel was “Us Weirdos Have to Stay Together,” a key line from the show, and that same joyful combination of laughter and welcome seems to be present anytime the Owls are in the House.
But the panel after a show has ended is a very strange thing. Where in October everyone was so excited about the promises of the final three eps—main character Luz finally back at home reuniting with her mother, and bringing her new friends with her; and then the resolution of so many big storylines—now it had all been done. There was no new trailer to drive fans wild, no more plot twists to dissect or guest stars to announce.
Much of the early part of the panel in fact had production associate Rebecca Rose asking cast members about their broader experiences in voiceover work and auditioning. The crowd listened attentively, but it felt off-topic, like the warm-up before the real panel.
About halfway through the panel Rose gave fans the chance to ask their own questions, and the cast—which included Sarah-Nicole Robles (Luz), Cissy Jones (Lilith) and Avi Roque (Raine, Disney’s first canonical nonbinary character)—answered a ton, way more than your typical Comic-Con panel. Because that’s what weirdos do for each other, and probably also because this is it. The last Owl House panel.
Because that’s what weirdos do for each other, and probably also because this is it. The last Owl House panel.
There were moments when trans and nonbinary fans shared how much it meant to them to see themselves represented onscreen, and you could feel the shiver of that truth in the room, the sense of something important being shared. But still, I had the sense of waiting for something else to happen, something that would truly tap into the love of this happy community.
And it never did. Time ran out, the panel ended, and we all went home.
Maybe that’s appropriate for a series that got shut down before it should have. There’s a sense of a gift interrupted.
But I wonder if it’s also just the way of con panels for a show that has ended. We come to those moments having been on a journey that while shared is also so personal. And having reached the end of that path, what is left to say? It’s fun to hear which character each of the actors wish they could have played if not theirs—Robles saying King, Owl House’s adorable tiny Titan, got a huge response—or which element of the series they wish could be real—honestly, I was waiting for someone to say, “The part where the world accepts transgender and nonbinary people as a fabulous and enormous gift to the universe.” But in retrospect it feels like this should have been a chance for the cast to sit back like Sam Heughan before his devoted and listen to fans express to them what that journey was for them—where it took them, what they learned, and where they’re going.
In a sense that wouldn’t just be a gift for the cast, either. I think maybe we come to post-show panels hoping someone will be able to put into words what happened to us, too, that someone else’s experience might be able to add another, last and beautiful layer to our own. I don’t even know the show very well, and yet I found myself pining for that.
And maybe I found it, too. Before the panel Annika Miller and their mom were standing in line outside on the stairs behind the convention center, far from the panel room, waiting in line with the hopes they’d get in. The two were in Star Trek uniforms, and they looked amazing; Annika’s mom was serving fantastic Number One, and Annika was giving me so much Tilly from Star Trek: Discovery I wanted to ask how teaching at the Academy was going.
As we sat under the hot sun, I asked Annika how they discovered Owl House and what it meant to them. “There was just an evening in college where we started watching and I immediately related to Luz so much. I very much feel the desire to be fully immersed in the fantasy world that you dreamed of and to have the powers that you experience in media,” they said. “And then all of the additional characters were just so interesting and relatable, and every single character arc was so fulfilling. I could not get enough of it.”
I expressed a little surprise to hear this animated show about a middle school kid that was clearly marketed for children was a favorite among college students. “There’s a lot to say about where media is today,” Miller told me, “and how different kinds of media relate to different audiences. From what I have seen, younger audiences are not interested in a lot of the shows that are being marketed to them. They have a lot of drama that we already get in the real world, and we don’t necessarily want more of that stress.” Owl House, they said, was a show that “tackles important things that so many different people relate to and can find comfort in.”
“So many of my friends are trans and nonbinary,” Annika explained. “It’s something really special to see characters like Raine, older queer people who are like you. The AIDS epidemic wiped out a large portion of adult gay people; seeing that representation of adult queer people shows us that there is a future for us.”
In the classic arc of the hero’s journey, the hero finishes their quest and then goes home and uses what they’ve learned to save their own community from disaster. Miller says the journey of the character of Willow, who goes from being shy to holding everyone together at the end, really spoke to their own transformation this year. “I wasn’t necessarily picked on as a kid, but I was very much not anyone’s favorite person, not anyone my age,” they confided. “Before I went to college this year I wouldn’t be here wearing a Star Trek uniform in public, I would not have had the confidence to do that. But I found the things I’m interested in, and I found the things I’m good at that inspire me to do better, just in the way that Willow did.”
The Owl House not only imagined a reality in which fans could live in their favorite fantasy, but revealed that its community of friendship and acceptance was something they could find in their real lives.
It’s clear they found a community, too. Maybe that’s the enduring legacy of this short-lived, much-loved show: much as Miller identified in Luz, The Owl House not only imagined a reality in which fans could live in their favorite fantasy, but revealed that its community of friendship and acceptance was something they could find in their real lives.
Reflecting on my experiences with what may be pop culture’s nicest fans, I find myself hoping that they have many more events like this, big and small, to keep that Owl House spirit alive in them. Maybe their experiences can help them to make braver, happy, loving weirdos of us all.