The San Diego Comic-Con, possibly the largest convention of its kind in the world, has faced criticism for attracting and supporting all that is unwholesome in pop culture and the media. Comic-Con is not just an innocent gathering of artists, fans, and celebrities supporting their industry, and the annual event promotes worldly values and only serves to corrupt young minds, critics charge. So what could Jesus Christ and Comic-Con possibly have in common?
Plenty, according to Scott Shuford, Vice President of the Christian Comics Art Society (CCAS), whose group, along with Chalice Press, has several events organized for this year's San Diego Comic-Con International.
Shuford insists he and his CCAS associates are following Christ's example by engaging the culture. For him, Comic-Con is not just about networking and fostering potential business opportunities.
“The comics industry, as evidence by the blockbuster summer films, is the heart and center of pop culture-at least one of the heart and centers,” Shuford explained. “For Christians not to be here would be basically silly. We would be completely abandoning Christ in the context of that discussion.”
Comic-Con, which attracts more than 100,000 attendees every year, kicks off Thursday, July 21 and runs through Sunday, July 24, has made San Diego the place to be for comic book fans, sci-fi geeks, and all-around pop culture junkies.
Fans get to meet their favorite artists, writers, actors, snap up collectibles, get autographs, and more. Some do the Con decked out in costumes, dressing like their favorite superhero, movie character, or video game figure.
So where exactly does CCAS fit in?
The Christian Comics Art Society, a collective that supports Christian professionals in the comic book industry and their fans by offering mentoring and fellowship opportunities, currently has more than a thousand members online so they expect to get plenty of traffic this year at Comic-Con.
CCAS will not only be showcasing art work, screening short films, and mingling with fans, but also sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ-which is their main business every year at Comic-Con.
“Part of it is just having a presence, giving a voice to the Gospel and Biblically-related themes so that we are involved in the culture and the discussion that's going on,” Shuford explained about CCAS's yearly presence at Comic-Con.
Shuford, who is also the founder of FrontGate Media, which produces various faith-based products, has helped organized a variety of panels to engage convention-goers who may be curious about how Christ fits into the culture.
Saturday's panel is focused on the emergence of popular religious-oriented works in comics, film, and even on Broadway that in no way glorify Christ but instead seem to lambast religion. Panel organizers pose the question: “Is Mass Media our New Church?”
Sunday's discussion seems to delve a little deeper as the discussion centers on “The Calling of the Artist” and the fine line some Christians in the creative arts face when it comes to staying true to their faith while working in the secular market.
Several industry professionals will be on hand for that discussion, including: Sergio Cariello, illustrator of The Action Bible; John Shore, author of I'm OK-You're Not OK; and Buzz Dixon, a stalwart in the industry who has written for dozens of popular comics and cartoons.
Last year, members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church picketed the convention, blasting the gathering of fanboys and fangirls as ungodly. Westboro often pickets the funerals of service members and directs much of their attention to gays and lesbians, proclaiming that God hates homosexuals.
There has not been any sign of the controversial group's presence this year at the Comic-Con. But what would Shuford say if confronted with a sign that read “God hates comics?”
“It's easier to judge from the outside,” Shuford said of those who may want to criticize him for participating in Comic-Con.
“We certainly espouse to the 'be in, but not of the world' philosophy," Shuford explained. “Just because the Comic-Con draws a cross section of every part of society, that is not a reason to not have a Christian presence there.”
And God is moving in the comic book and pop culture industries, according to Shuford.
“It's just very clear that, along with the placement or the position the industry holds in pop culture, God has got a very vibrant movement. He's called an army of Christians into that environment to serve at various levels and it's just amazing to see what everyone's doing.”