What are the boundaries between genres, and how can we subvert the tropes that exist within them? On Thursday, October 6, the first day of New York Comic Con, Popverse presented its very first panel. Traps, Tropes, and Tribulations: The Genre Comics Panel was an in-depth discussion about storytelling within the genre space. The panel was moderated by Popverse deputy editor Tiffany Babb, and included comic creators Sara Alfageeh (Squire), Ram V (These Savage Shores), Nadia Shammas (Squire), Soo Lee (Carmilla: The First Vampire), and Amy Chu (Alpha Girl Comics).
Babb began by asking the panelists about their favorite genre to partake in.
“I grew up on science fiction. Currently my favorite to write and explore is horror,“ Chu answers.
“The hallmark that goes across books I enjoy is weird fiction,. I keep switching between fantasy, horror, and sci-fi,” Ram V says.
“I love romance. It’s about those little moments. These interpersonal connections,” Alfageeh shares.
“Horror and fantasy,” Lee answers. “So with Rings of Power it’s been a very good week,” she added with a smile. She also shared her love for slice of life stories, and mused that she wants to write more of those.
The panel began talking about the pros and cons of each genre, and Ram V brought up that no creator has to be tied down to a single one. “I don’t like the idea of sticking with one genre,” Ram V said.
Soo Lee talks about the joy of changing her art style based on the genre she was illustrating. “It’s fun to tailor a certain style to fit what the project it is. If it’s horror you get to go a little darker, but if it’s lice of life I could go a little softer or easier with the colors. I like experimenting."
Alfageeh brings up manga, where the relationship between storytelling and genre seems to have different boundaries. “In manga they don’t feel like they have to compromise genre when it comes to storytelling. Everything suits the story. I have not seen as much of it in western comics,” Alfageeh said .
Writing an established story
“The writer’s job is to take the familiar and make it unfamiliar all over again,” Ram V muses. He then turns to speak about his time on the DC Comic title Swamp Thing. According to Ram V, his editor warned him that the book had not been a bestseller since the departure of the critically acclaimed Alan Moore. He jokingly thanked his editor for the discouraging words. This brought up a point about why Moore’s Swamp Thing run was so iconic.
“Alan Moore’s reinvention of Swamp Thing was such an interesting take,” Ram V says. He added that it was a great lesson in writing for an established intellectual property. Ram V considers Swamp Thing’s mission statement and how that evolved over the years. “What does that narrative look like in 2022? Once you understood why that emotional core works, you can take the character apart and put them in different directions,” he continues, while adding it’s important to understand what made them popular in the first place.
This prompts Amy Chu to share her experience with writing for established intellectual property. “My first DC story was a Wonder Woman story. I think people have a mistaken impression that you have to know the character and continuity inside out. You have to know the emotional core of the character. Find out what makes them tick and put them in a new story.”
Art and genre
The panelists also speaks about visual history, and how preconceived notions and feelings guide character designs. “If it’s a specific character, the selfish thing is to draw it the way I always envisioned, but as you’re doing the designs, it’s like what fits this characters,” Soo Lee muses. “It’s all very feelings based.”
Sara Alfageeh built on that point by talking about how first impressions shape how we view others. “We are trained to make snap judgements on people. We need to understand that as an artist, and sometimes subvert it,” she says.
As the discussion continued, she elaborates this thought by bringing up an interesting point about the boundaries between expectations and reality. “What do people know, what do people expect, and where is that fun space I between?”
Nadia Shammas speaks about how art can subvert expectations, and brought up the cover to her graphic novel Squire. She praises Sara Alfageeh’s work, adding that she knocked it out of the park with her first submission. “Squire’s cover was a first draft. It was just so perfect,” Shammas says. “I do feel that it was a quiet contemplative cover for a traditional war story which said a lot about how we were approaching the story.""Please judge a book by its cover. We work so hard on it,” Alfageeh adds, which made the room laugh.
Shammas also shares her experience working on Ms. Marvel. “I think the way I approach all genre stories is what are my favorite bits, what are my favorite tropes, and what has historically failed and what can I do to rectify that gaze."
She continues by adding that Ms. Marvel didn’t need fixing. She also says that she paid careful attention to Kamala’s relationship with her parents. She wanted them to be portrayed as well meaning in their conflicts with their daughter. “They have to reach over the divide,” Shammas continues.
Exploring genre boundaries
Ram V wants to put an end to a storytelling myth he’s often heard. “My biggest pet peeve is when people say there are only six original stories. It’s a lazy take. There are only six if you don’t mine other cultural backgrounds.” He brought up Neil Gaiman, who has looked to other cultures in his work. He also brings up the concept of death, and how the idea is different depending on where you came from.
Shammas then speaks about the three-way relationship between writers, tropes, and readers. “I’m always taking all my favorite genre tropes and figuring out all the ways they’ve personally failed me as a reader,” she says. “What am I adding to this conversation? What am I trying to say?”
As the discussion went on, Ram V raises a point which built off of Shammas’ question. “Every story you do now is a product of what came before. And you could use that to your advantage,” Ram V said.
Sara Alfageeh reminds everyone not to write off tropes that haven’t worked for them. “I never write off any trope because I want to see what could be done with it,” she says.
Before the panel wrapped up, there was time for a single audience question. The panelists were asked what types of projects they hoped to work on in the future.
Soo Lee says she wanted to do something similar to a Korean gangster movie she had seen. Sara Alfageeh wants more weapons. “I want to go back to drawing girls with swords. That’s my comfort spot,” Alfageeh says.
“I’ll do anything that subverts people’s expectations of me. Because we get pigeonholed so quickly,” Amy Chu says. She then shares a story about how a guy came to a table she had at a con, and DMed her later, saying she seemed nice and it was a surprise to see she wrote something so dark.
For Ram v the question was harder to answer. “I’m the worst person to ask because I jump so many genres. If something catches my fancy I just do it,” Ram V says.
“I want to do a band comic real bad,” Shammas says.
Amy Chu says she wanted to continue subverting people’s expectations. After finishing the question, the panel wrapped up.
As I left the room I pondered Ram V’s earlier comment about how fiction is more than the same six stories. Genres and tropes are an unending river of possibilities, and the scope keeps on evolving. The panel made me reconsider the boundaries between genres, and how I relate to them as a reader. The panelists gave some interesting perspectives on working within genres, while subverting their tropes. The panel might be over, but the conversation about genre won’t be ending anytime soon.
Throughout all of New York Comic Con 2022, Popverse is going to be keeping up with everything that happens, from panels and breaking news to interviews and the best cosplay on the show floor. We’ll be sharing everything as it happens — including exclusive livestreams from the biggest panels at the show — so let us keep you in the loop all weekend.
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