U-M Lecturer Explains Comic-Con, Geek Culture

U-M Lecturer Explains Comic-Con, Geek Culture

Erin Hanna is a newly-minted PhD and LSA lecturer. Her academic interests? Fan cultures and media history, which makes Comic-Con International an important event for her. Started in 1970 by a small group of comic book enthusiasts, Comic-Con International has grown into a worldwide cultural event. She explains more about why this convention has entered the mainstream. 


Fan conventions have a long history in the U.S., according to Hanna. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York held the First World Science Fiction Convention, generally considered to be the first modern fan convention. 

Erin Hanna researches fan cultures at the University of Michigan. 

As media grew and became more accessible, so too did fan conventions. San Diego Comic-Con International was founded in 1970, largely created through the work of Shel Dorf, a Detroit native. That first convention drew 300 people, while today attendance regularly tops 130,000 people. 


“Once Hollywood industry promotion began taking place—thats when the profile of Comic-Con as an event that spans much more than just comic books began to blow up.”

“Superman” star Henry Cavill takes questions at Comic-Con. 

“It’s easier to be a fan because the industry recognizes value in cultivating fan audiences.”

As Hanna explains, media companies encourages these enthusiastic fan bases because it makes promotion easier. Instead of working to create a grassroots movement to advertise a new movie, you can cultivate and encourage your existing fan base to do a lot of the work for you. 


It’s not the worst thing in the world to be called a geek anymore. In fact, it’s kind of in. Why is it cool to be a geek?

“Once the internet began to take hold, it made it much easier to be a geek. A big reason geeks can be cool now is that they are being talked about in the mainstream media.”

The geek-centric Big Bang Theory is one of TV’s highest-rated shows.


Hanna describes the “free labor” that goes on at Comic-Con, with fans circulating industry news and material. But she sees the possibility of a tipping point, with fans now being asked to contribute more than just time. This is the subject of her dissertation that helped her earn a Michigan PhD, “Making Fandom Work: Industry Space and Structures of Power at the San Diego Comic-Con .”

“The Veronica Mars Kickstarter got tons of funding and tons of attention, but essentially, fans were financing a Warner Brothers film.”

KickStarter is a crowd-funding platform for creative projects, but now major studios are using it to finance their films. 

So, are you geeky enough to help pay for the creation of something you are a fan of? Let us know in the comments. 

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