By Michele St. Martin
The SDCC Comic-Con at Home panel “Crazy Talk: Mental Health, Pop Culture and the Pandemic” was pretty much a roundtable discussion about how pop culture can contribute to mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also explored how the current state of affairs is shaping the entertainment industry and what we’re doing as a creative industry to help reshape the “stigma” of mental health.
Up First, a Mental Check-in with the Panel
The discussion started with a general consensus of how everyone was personally dealing with the current world situation and how they were coping. Everyone was basically working from home and keeping busy in their own ways. Some were binge-watching shows, Heather Antos adopted a puppy, Patrick Tatopoulos has been creating a show with his wife, Praveen Kambam was reconnecting with family and friends on social media, Bryan Edward Hill was keeping busy with work and making use of his time to do the things he hasn’t had time to do previously.
The one that got my attention, however, was Joseph Illidge–his situation was a bit different. Earlier during the outbreak in March, both he and his wife fell ill to COVID-19 and had to go into quarantine. He’s since recovered, but the experience brought things into perspective for him. He now lives life hour to hour, moment to moment, and takes nothing for granted.
COVID and the Works-In-Progress
Then the discussion went into Jeff Trexler asking how the panelists’ present works have been, because of what’s happening now. Tatopoulos said that his work and the subject matter that he’s been working with have depicted how Earth is plummeting into situations we haven’t been ready for. He explores how these situations turn groups into new clans… new communities. Tatopoulos sees a coming together and connection despite the isolation that’s been happening, just we saw in the films Independence Day and Stargate. He also sees a surge in creativity and innovation.
In fact, each creative talked about where they’re moving within the pop culture realm, relating to their mental health and mental health in general. There were some candid answers. Antos said that she’s been experiencing and seeing shifts of uncertainty, destabilization, and that autonomy has stripped the option of choice. However, she finds it fascinating how much the pop culture and comic book communities have bonded, from creators to comic book shops. “As awful a time it’s been, it’s been empowering to see how so many people in the industry have come together”.
Illidge said that people are finding ways and opportunities to connect through mythology, or “larger mythologies”. He said that this unprecedented time, “makes the facilitation and creation of stories more important than ever before because people now as a captive audience are getting a bigger understanding of how much story is a necessary part of our psychological and emotional diet. We need narratives to keep us going to give us hope”. He went on to say that there is now no more room for fear creatively. That it’s time to be brave. “Now is not the time for limitations anymore”.
Hill stated that he’s asking himself how he could help in some small way every day, even if it’s something as small as asking on social media platforms how’s everyone doing and paying attention to and answering the replies. He’s also noticed how people just need to be heard. It’s made him see how he can connect. “For me, it’s about paying attention and being more present”.
Kambam and Povios, have been seeing guilt, uncertainty, raising of consciousness, and “the grieving of the loss of life, what we’ve had before”. Povios went on to say how people “look to these (super) heroes for a guiding light. It’s important to us culturally. They’re really our mythology”.
Work a Reflection of the Self
Hill stated that, as creators, we have a responsibility to practice what we preach. “If you are charged with telling stories about ethical characters, about superheroes, I think you have a responsibility to manifest those ethics in other ways. I don’t understand how a person can write superhero stories and act like a supervillain”.
Illidge calls it, “Career as Truth – the decisions that I make and the projects that I get myself involved with are a reflection of who I am”.
Another interesting subject brought up was the archetype of the “broken” superhero. “Heroes have to be broken so they can be as human as we need them to be”, Illidge stated. “So, when they rise back up, we can rise back up with them. They remind us that we can come back from a fall. That we all go through a dark night of the soul. And, when we come through it, we can only hope we come out of it better. That we come out of it wiser”.
Like I said previously, there were many more subjects and topics covered, from how creators bringing forth their mental health issues to the forefront have helped others to come forward, to the future of where the representation of mental health in comics and pop culture will be going in the years to come. If I keep going on, this article will become a novel! This panel was so informative and insightful–a much-needed breath of fresh air. We’ve got a long, long way to go, but this was a good start on that road.
Moderator: Jeff Trexler (The Beat, Comics Journal)
Panelists: Patrick Tatopoulos (FX Creator / Designer / Director: Stargate, Underworld, Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League), Joseph Illidge (Co-Managing Editor: Heavy Metal magazine, freelance editor and writer for DC and Marvel, Co-Founder of Verge Entertainment), Bryan Edward Hill (Writer: Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box, 7 Days from Hell, Postal, Batman, and The Outsiders), Heather Antos (Assistant Editor / Marvel Comics: Star Wars, Deadpool), Vasilis K. Pozios, M.D. (Forensic Psychiatrist and writer), Praveen R. Kambam, M.D. (Forensic Psychiatrist).
Check out this great panel on SDCComic-Con at Home panel on mental health and creating in a pandemic.
~Michele St. Martin, 7/24/2020