• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Rainbow Rowell Gets the “Ringo!” Treatment

An author with a fan base.

 

October 8, 2017
 
 

The Girl is 13, and quite vocal in her insistence that Rainbow Rowell is our Greatest Living Author. TG believes that “Carry On” is a work of utter genius, even better than anything J.K. Rowling ever wrote, and she loves Rowling. Her friend (hereafter HF) believes the same. She and HF share cultural obsessions with weirdly precise timing; at any given moment, they’re both all about Rowell, or Hamilton, or Sherlock.  

I mention this because Comic Con came to New York City this past weekend, and Rainbow Rowell gave a talk as part of it.

You would think the Beatles had reunited to do a show of Hamilton covers from the way that TG reacted to the news. (Ringo would be a good Hercules Mulligan, come to think of it.) It quickly became clear that this was Not To Be Missed, which meant that I was drafted into chauffeur duty.

We didn’t do Comic Con proper, which had sold out some time ago. Rowell’s event was at an affiliated venue, with separate tickets. That was good, in that in kept costs down and allowed us actually to get tickets.  But just walking there from Penn Station, we got quite the flavor of Comic Con.

People-watching is great sport in Manhattan on an ordinary day, but Comic Con takes it up a few notches. There were the expected variations on Spider Man and Batman, but most of the characters were more obscure than that. One inspired young men dressed as Crash Bandicoot and darted through traffic on 8th avenue fully in character. A slightly older man came dressed as Bob, from Bob’s Burgers, complete with mustache and spatula. Anime-inspired costumes were everywhere; I won’t even pretend to know what the characters were. Body positivity seemed to be the theme this year, with lycra or spandex ending somewhat before one might have expected it to, but it added to the charm.  Everyone could be anything, and nobody was allowed to snark about it.  As inhuman as many of the characters were, the feel of it all was deeply humane.

TG and HF were patient at lunch, gamely killing time and commenting on particularly vivid costumes. But when we got to the venue and started standing in line, they were palpably vibrating with excitement. The only other time I’ve seen TG that worked up over something was when we saw Hamilton. A woman right behind us in line struck up a conversation with TG and HF, initially asking whether they were in high school or college. They beamed when they responded “eighth grade.”  

The event itself was about forty minutes. A journalist from Buzzfeed whose name I missed asked questions, and Rowell answered them.  Rowell even presented several drafts of the cover art for “Carry On,” offering commentary on each. She was disarmingly funny, particularly in explaining how she wanted the two lead male characters to look. When her illustrator got them right, she asked him “have you been eavesdropping on my heart?”  TG raised her hand repeatedly during q-and-a, but never got a chance to ask. She didn’t seem to mind.  Someone asked about “Eleanor and Park” becoming a movie; Rowell responded that she’s protective of those characters because “Hollywood doesn’t do overweight women and Asian men well.”  The “meet her and get a book signed” tickets had sold out, but the girls still were handed signed copies before we left.  TG and HF were excited, immediately pawing through the pages to find the signature, and then rereading favorite passages and squealing.

As a card-carrying academic and a writer myself, I have to admit taking some pride in seeing TG and HF get as worked up about an author as most people would about a rock star. They were able to nerd out with kindred spirits, and to imbibe a bit of the inclusive spirit of Comic Con, at an age at which I don’t remember even having the option.  

In my perfect world, most kids would be voracious readers, and fangirling over favorite writers would be entirely normal.  We’d all be body-positive, and there’d be no contradiction between civility and letting freak flags fly.  We’d even have decent mass transit and unquestioning acceptance of all sorts of genders and combinations.

I caught a glimpse of that world on Saturday.  I’ve never read Rowell, but I enjoyed the day almost as much as the girls did. Thank you, Rainbow Rowell, TG, HF, and the various folks in costume. I needed that.

 

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