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Oakland Museum of California Presents New Exhibition Exploring Phenomenon of Comic-Con in Collaboration with San Diego State University

(Oakland, CA)—Heroes, tourism, and gender are a few of the themes that will be explored in a new exhibition Sunshine and Superheroes: San Diego Comic-Con, opening May 23 at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). Co-curated with faculty and students of San Diego State State University (SDSU), the exhibit showcases the ways in which San Diego’s major annual Comic-Con, and comics in general, both reflect on and influence San Diego and the world. The installation is the third in the series What’s Happening, California?, a partnership with students and professors at California State Universities exploring contemporary issues in their communities. The series reflects OMCA’s mission to connect communities to California’s cultural and environmental heritage. Past installations in the series have focused on Sacramento and Orange County.

Led by OMCA Associate Curator of Contemporary History & Trends Suzanne Fischer and SDSU history professor Sarah Elkind, Sunshine and Superheroes: San Diego Comic-Con represents the work of students in Elkind’s “American History, Memory, and Identity” class. The exhibition’s theme is presented through artifacts including superhero costumes, comic books, convention paraphernalia, and plastic toys; an interactive photo booth where visitors can try on costumes and pose with scenic backdrops, and original videos created by students.

“The students chose Comic-Con for this exhibit because it is an iconic and revealing San Diego event,” said Professor Sarah Elkind, “but also because many of them are fans and longtime Comic-Con attendees. Researching Comic-Con led us to examine American society and San Diego’s economy. But we also got to celebrate our inner superheroes and nerds.”

“For this collaborative exhibit, the SDSU students were the exhibit team,” said Associate Curator of Contemporary History & Trends Suzanne Fischer. “They chose the fascinating topic of the exhibit, conducted research, identified artifacts, worked on labels, produced videos, and contributed to design. The inquisitive, enthusiastic spirit of this group of students is really visible in the exhibit.”

Topics explored in the exhibition include:

From Tuna to Tourism, exploring San Diego’s shift from an economy dominated by fishing and the military to one focused on tourism, and contemporary debates on how to accommodate Comic-Con as it expands. Objects include examples of the city’s investment in the convention such as a municipal trolley sign written in Klingon.

Becoming a Hero, exploring the act of cosplay, or dressing like a fictional character, and how making and wearing costumes provides Comic-Con attendees an outlet for creative self-expression. This section includes an interactive photo-op complete with scenic backdrops and superhero costumes for visitors to try on.

Gender at Comic-Con, exploring how Comic-Con and comics culture both reinforce and challenge mainstream ideas about gender, featuring original Batwoman and Harley Quinn cosplay outfits and a range of action figures that demonstrate how feminine and masculine comic characters have been depicted over time.

Bringing Comic-Con Home, exploring how the convention has spurred popular interest in comics since it was first held in 1970. Objects displayed include collectibles such as comic books, commemorative items, trading cards, as well as material related to the 1950s comics code, which imposed a system of self-censorship on comics publishers.

Sunshine and Superheroes: San Diego Comic-Con is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.