Panels & Presentations 2021

We will feature three artist speakers and four panels composed of faculty and students from multiple universities, as well as other members of the geek community.

We will feature a full-day Zoom stream of activities from 10am-6pm. Check out the Schedule, Panel Descriptions, and Zoom Link below.


10am-11amNina Piazza; James McKay; Ed CattoPanel: “Geek Culture’s Connections to World Culture and History”
11am-NoonBenjamin Marra“Why You Should Self-Publish Your Comics”
Noon-1pmAimee Balint; Elizabeth Williamson; Darlena MariePanel: “Building Identity”
1pm-2pmNatalie Riess“Comics: The Drawing Is the Writing”
2pm-3pmSpecial Collections Research Center staff; Frank Cammuso; Lauren Earl, Alayna Vander Veer, Austin WatersPanel: “Archives and Publishing”
3pm-4pmMaya McKibbin“Power in Stories”
4pm-5pmSam Cowling; Michael Beach; Fiona Haborak and Kimon KeramidasPanel: “Meta!”
5pm-5:30pmConnor Nehls, Isabella Rayne Rossi, Dylan Buck, Bailey Culver“Help! There’s a Party in My Dungeon—A Lesson for Beginners”
5:30pm-6:00pmJudges Kate McKay, Wendell Smith, Sr., and Jay StilipecCosplay Contest Slideshow and Awards


10:00 Nina Piazza: “C-Novels, and Their Slow Diffusion into Western Geek Culture”

Description: Web novels are unique to Asian geek culture; much like fanfiction, they are a hyper-experimental online medium with a turnover rate measured in days. However, while Japanese novels and Korean novels have more or less remained confined to their countries, Chinese novels, or C-novels, have begun to breakthrough into English-speaking media. Piazza will examine how they’ve managed to do this and how this node of Asian geek culture has been interacting with Western geek culture. 

Bio: Piazza is a Junior majoring in Linguistics at Syracuse University. She has been a part of geek culture for years, both as a consumer and a creator, and she hopes to expand peoples’ conception of geek culture past the anglosphere. 

10:00 James McKay: “From Initial Idea to Iconic – The Pros and Cons of Worldwide Fandom”

Description: Come join local nerd and convention announcer James McKay as you look deeper into the fandoms that are so ingrained in our culture, it is hard to think of a time that they didn’t exist.  From a small beginning to international stardom, take a virtual journey to see how this occurs.  We will explore the benefits and downsides of falling in love with a fandom that has a large and diverse fan base.  From video games to movies to cartoons, this panel will have something for every kind of media fan!

Bio: James McKay is a former video game store owner who has served on two convention boards.  He is an avid Legend of Zelda collector, and has over 10 years experience in appraising action figures, board games, cards, comic books, and other memorabilia.  James has recently been the trivia host and announcer for most Syracuse based conventions, including Retrogamecon and Salt City Comic Con.

10:00 Ed Catto: “Groovy Tunes – The Subversion of Rock Music in the Bronze Age”

Description: It’s always tricky to present the audio arts in a visual medium.  And at a time when comics straddled the 60s rock scene and the impending aging down of pop music, the results in Bronze Age licensed comics were, predictably, oddball!

Bio: Having recently returned to the Finger Lakes Region, Ed has joined the faculty of Ithaca College’s School of Business, focusing on entrepreneurship and experiential learning, and founding Agendae, a strategic marketing firm. Ed frequently speaks and writes about comics and pop culture at conventions and for publications like Back Issue Magazine and the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and in his weekly With Further Ado column.

11:00 Ben Marra: “Why You Should Self-Publish Your Comics”

Description: A brief talk and Q&A session on the logistical aspects and intangible benefits of self-publishing comics.

Bio: Benjamin Marra is the notorious, controversial and influential cartoonist of the comic books NIGHT BUSINESSAMERICAN BLOOD, and TERROR ASSAULTER: O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror). His illustration for Numero Group’s Wayfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares garnered him a Grammy Nomination. Acclaimed comic book writer Grant Morrison selected Marra as a collaborator in the first issue of Morrison’s tenure on the seminal comic book magazine, Heavy Metal.

Marra’s work has been recognized by The Society of Illustrators, The Society of Publication Designers, 3×3 and American Illustration. Some of his collaborators include Playboy, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Marvel Comics, Vice, Radar, Paper, Nylon, Widen+Kennedy, Doubleday & Cartwright, and McCann-Erickson.

Marra received a B.F.A in Illustration from Syracuse University, where he also studied at their art program in Florence, Italy. He received an M.F.A. in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts.

12:00 Aimee Balint: “How Pop Culture Views Disability Through the Lens of Circus”

Description: This talk will focus on various characters in pop culture who have a strong tie with circus. These characters often fit into certain ‘types’ which have been ingrained in our perception of circus and disability. Circus is depicted in a very specific way that dehumanizes certain people while elevating others. As an integral part of American culture and history, circus’s impacts on pop culture are innumerable. The tropes and stereotypes that revolve around circus freaks pervade how pop culture picks which characters are heroes and which are villains.

Bio: Aimee Balint is a circus nerd and geek who also takes time to absorb comics, manga, and random video essays on YouTube. She has been a circus performer for almost 5 years now and specializes in aerial rope and manipulations. Balint loves circus history as well as finding connections through various disciplines to better understand the world around us.

12:00 Elizabeth Williamson: “My Graphic Novel ​Demon Brains ​and Concepts of Consciousness”

Description: How can life experiences shape one’s understanding of human consciousness? In a short presentation, Elizabeth Williamson will discuss how her research into biology-based consciousness, her emphasis on platonic relationships associated with her lack of romantic attraction, and more have impacted the model of disembodied consciousness she created, which is being explored in her science fiction-fantasy webcomic/graphic novel, Demon Brains.

Bio: Elizabeth Williamson is an independent visual artist and a recent graduate of Arizona State University (ASU)/Barrett, the Honors College, with a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry (Medicinal Chemistry). She combines discovery and imagination to help answer ultimate questions relating to topics such as quantum physics, consciousness/the self, bioethics, and societal relationships. Currently, her focus lies in answering the question of what consciousness is and how consciousness-uploading technology would work and affect human society. Overall, she is driven by a desire to work as a physician-neuroscientist in the future and use an artistic platform to define the essence of humanity. 

Williamson virtually presented as an artist at the Science of Consciousness Conference hosted by the University of Arizona, was one of 25 selected to present a science-inspired art presentation at the TEDxASU: Boundless Research/Creative Symposium, achieved two team poster authorships through her internship at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center, was a member of the Metaphysical Exploration of Abstracts and Theories Club at ASU, and led as the Visual Arts Director of STEAMComm, an organization at ASU that works to bridge science and art.

12:00 Darlena Marie: “Women of Power, Women of Purpose in Star Trek Legacy”

Description: A video presentation of some of the awesome women characters throughout the Star Trek saga. We will share why their roles are a source of inspiration and positive encouragement to all women of all ages and ethnicities.

Bio: Our group is dedicated to fandom activities, charity and supporting young people in STEM and space interests. Marie is the Acting X/O for the USS Gerard Holder NCC 1128-13, Starfleet Command Fan Organization.

1:00 Natalie Riess: “Comics: The Drawing is the Writing”

Description: Natalie Riess discusses her process for laying the foundations for a graphic novel, writing pictures, and letting cartoons speak for themselves.

Bio: Natalie Riess is an Austin-based cartoonist and illustrator. Loves cats, trees, and the color pink, and made SnarlbearSpace Battle Lunchtime and one half of Dungeon Critters.

Riess is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse’s Illustration program.

2:00 Special Collections Research Center staff: Petrina Jackson, Brett Barrie, Michele Combs, Grace Wagner, Jana Rosinski, Krystal Cannon, Courtney Asztalos: “An Introduction to the Cartoon, Pulp Lit, and Sci-Fi Collections at the Special Collections Research Center”

Description: Sharing a diverse range of historical materials from the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC),  SCRC staff members are excited to share their passion for the collections they work with and the potential for creative and scholarly inquiry with SCRC collections. Attendees will be introduced to a small selection of historical examples from the SCRC collections focusing on Cartoons, Pulp Literature and Science Fiction. Through these different collection areas, archival research and possibilities abound!


Petrina Jackson (she/her/hers) has served as the Director of the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Libraries since June 2019. Before coming to Syracuse, Petrina was at Iowa State University, where she served as Head of Special Collections and University Archives. Previously, she was Head of Instruction and Outreach at the University of Virginia’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and Senior Assistant Archivist for the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) at Cornell University. She has served as an adjunct instructor, for the course Advanced Archives, at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University, Spring 2008. Petrina received a B.A. in English from the University of Toledo, an M.A. in English from Iowa State University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She is well known nationally through her activities with the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the American Library Association. She is currently on the Council of SAA and is Chair of the Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) of ALA.

Brett Barrie (he/his/him) is an Assistant Catalog Librarian at Syracuse University Libraries who creates and edits metadata for the Special Collections Research Center. He first started collecting comic books thirty years ago with Marvel Comics’ New Universe imprint. He enjoys reading philosophy and spends his free time playing Magic: The Gathering, and writing macros to multi-box EverQuest clients. 

Michele Combs (she/her/hers) is the Lead Archivist at Syracuse University Libraries, and a long-time fantasy and science fiction reader, writer, and fan.  She attended her first convention in 1981, owned a Plymouth Reliant with the custom license plate “NCC1864”, and spends way too much time on DeviantArt and Archive Of Our Own (AO3) where her favorite fandoms include Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek:TOS, Star Wars, and Stephen King’s The Stand.

Jana Rosinski (she/they) is Curatorial Assistant to the Plastics Collection at SCRC and a doctoral student in the Composition & Cultural Rhetorics program, studying intersections of game design, public health, and embodied knowledge. Science fiction enthusiasms include: kaiju films, The X-Files, otherworldly electronic music scores, and weird nature.

Krystal Cannon (she/they) is a master’s student in Syracuse University’s Library and Information Science program. She received her BFA in Film, Photography, and Visual Arts with a Minor in Writing from Ithaca College in 2014, and has been involved in the eclectic creative scenes of Ithaca and Syracuse for the past ten years. She is currently a graduate curatorial instruction assistant at the Special Collections Research Center at Bird Library, and she strives to use the special collections to combine what she’s learned from both of her degrees and as well as her extracurricular experiences to increase access to the information and resources necessary for individuals to feel empowered and thrive in their communities.

Courtney Asztalos (she/her/hers) is an artist and the Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Syracuse University Libraries. She stewards the plastics collection area and frequently teaches with SCRC collections on a variety of subjects such as photography and art.

2:00 Lauren Earl, Alayna Lee Vander Veer, Austin Waters: “Learning Research and Databases with Archive of Our Own”

Description: This presentation demonstrates the pedagogical benefits of using a fanfiction archive to encourage students to associate the ease of personal research and the vigor of academic research. This is an extension of both our work in information literacy as well as critical information theory and feminist pedagogy. Our goal is to demystify academic research, take away the intimidation of using databases, and inspire students to take agency over their research. Additionally, the workshop aims at opening a dialogue for students to discuss and understand the power dynamics in what is considered authority and whose voices have been historically silenced.

Bio: Austin Waters, Lauren Earl, and Alayna Lee Vander Veer are all graduate students in Syracuse University’s Master of Library and Information Science program and are IL Scholars working with SU libraries to inform undergraduate students about information literacy.

2:00 Frank Cammuso: “5 Things You Need in Your Graphic Novel Pitch”

Description: Cartoonist Frank Cammuso walks you through the process of pitching a graphic novel.

Bio: Frank Cammuso is the author/illustrator of over a dozen graphic novels, including the series Edison Beaker Creature Seeker for Viking/Penguin/Random House. He also created the graphic novel series The Misadventures of Salem Hyde from Abrams/Amulet Books and Knights of the Lunch Table from Scholastic/Graphix. Frank co-created the comics Otto’s Orange Day and Otto’s Backwards Day for Toon-Books. 

Cammuso is the former award-winning political cartoonist for The Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, NY. His cartoons have been reprinted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and Newsweek. His fiction and satire have appeared in The New YorkerThe New York Times, and on National Public Radio.

Cammuso is also the Chief Creative Officer for AHOY Comics. He lives in central NY.

3:00 Maya McKibbin: “Power in Stories”

Description: Maya will draw from their own experiences in their career to discuss storytelling as a creative outlet, a tool for communication and how our understanding of story structures is much more than “The Heroes Journey.” At the core of creative practices is story telling, whether it’s a game, film, book or graphic novel our creative choices visually and structurally are all to express and share each others experiences. Why do we tell them? How should we tell them? Who tells them? Lets talk about it!

Bio: Maya McKibbin is a multi-disciplinary artist working in Computer Graphics, Indie Game Development and Illustration. They have Art Directed and worked on multiple short animated films including Prize winning short Animals (2019) and have worked with Playdead Games, creators of BAFTA winning games Limbo and Inside. 

Though they work primarily in the digital realm Maya has been producing short emotive zines and is currently scriptwriting at the stop motion studio they work at in Vancouver, Spotted Fawn Productions.  

Starting on Deviant Art at 14 years old Maya is an active member of online communities. Helping to admin Discord Servers for Women and QTBIPOC folks, they hope to work towards improving fair treatment and accurate representation in the games and media industry.

4:00 Sam Cowling: “Throwing Shade at Metacomics”

Description: Metacomics often intentionally bend or break the conventions that structure the comics medium. But is every comic that violates the norms of the comics medium properly viewed as a metacomic? Could there be a comic that simply gets comics wrong by unintentionally defying the conventions or interpretive principles that govern comics? This talk explores some puzzling features of Steve Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man (1977) and considers whether it might be something even weirder than a metacomic.

Bio: Sam Cowling is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Denison University. He is the co-author of Philosophy of Comics: An Introduction (with Wesley Cray) and has published papers on Deathlok, Hawk and Dove, and various topics across metaphysics and philosophy of science.

4:00 Michael Beach: “Speculative Value Scenarios: Crafting More-Than-Human Stories in Human-Computer Interaction”

Description: The work of imagining alternative worlds is a useful practice for designers. In this presentation, Michael will share a collection of more-than-human stories that were developed through the project, “POST(-)HUMAN HAZMAT: Design fiction for multispecies care and collaborative survival in cataclysmic climates,” as well as some of the mind-boggling and other-worldly concepts and theories that were used in their development. The purpose of the project is to explore the utility of more-than-human storytelling as a method for researchers and designers in Human-Computer Interaction to expose more-than-human value tensions in the context they are working.

Bio: Michael Beach is a 3rd-year PhD student in Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington (UW), in Seattle. He has a B.S. in HCDE and a B.A. in Comparative History of Ideas from UW. His research interests include discursive design, posthumanism, more-than-human centered design, feminist new materialism, process philosophy, multispecies ethnography, and sustainable interaction design. He is currently working on two research projects: The UX of Climate Change: Western Red Cedar Dieback — conducting user research and rapidly prototyping design solutions that will increase community participation in tracking Western red cedar decline — a culturally, economically, and environmentally critical organism in PNW forests. And, Duwamish Valley Research Coordination Network — co-designing and building a network infrastructure to share research, data, and lab testing resources with people working in a variety of Duwamish related projects. 

4:00 Fiona Haborak and Kimon Keramidas: “Geeks at the Heart of the Sci-Fi Classroom: A Study in Experimental Fan Pedagogy”

Description: As fellow fans, professor and student converge in discussing their experiences from the affective influence of the course, Science Fiction: Humanity, Technology, the Present, the Future in XE: Experimental Humanities and Social Engagement at New York University. This course uses fandom as a motivator for pedagogical development, promoting participation and engagement by encouraging students to embrace their fan passions. In classroom discussions, website commentary, Geek of the Week presentations, and a final prototype project where science fiction texts are reimagined as non-linear user-driven experiences, students are given a role in shaping the content and trajectory of the course. This presentation provides two perspectives, one from a professor and one from a former student, on the course, its syllabus and assignments, and the ways in which students’ participation in fandom help influence the hierarchies, balance, and flow of the course. By exploring new approaches to course development and more democratic classroom experiences through concepts such as affinity spaces, participatory culture, and design thinking, the course proposes a fan pedagogy that best contextualizes science fiction as a genre, field, and space for cultural commentary. In exploring the multi-faceted world of science fiction, the shared experience provoked novel thought and a solidarity often prevalent within fan spaces. This presentation invites an open discussion.

For more information, visit the course website here:


Fiona Haborak is a first-year doctoral student in Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) at the University of Texas: Dallas. Her research focuses on identity, social media, cosplay, sociology, fan studies, and performativity; as a cosplayer, her creative praxis draws from the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos to create multi-media works representative of her research.

Kimon Keramidas is clinical associate professor at XE: Experimental Humanities & Social Engagement, NYU’s Master’s program in interdisciplinary studies. Kimon’s research, publication, and teaching occurs across a wide range of fields including experimental humanities, political economy and sociology of culture, digital media studies, history of technology, interface design, geography, popular culture studies, material culture, and digital humanities. Recent work includes the transmedia project The Interface Experience at the Bard Graduate Center and the digital exhibition The Sogdians: Influencers of the Silk Roads in collaboration with the Freer|Sackler Asian Art Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution.

5:00 Gaming Club at Syracuse University: Connor Nehls, Isabella Rayne Rossi, and Dylan Buck, moderated by Bailey Culver: “Help! There’s a Party in My Dungeon—A Lesson for Beginners”

Description: Introduction for novice Dungeon Masters from experienced DMs.  Learn to break down the barrier between you and your players.  This panel focuses heavily on improvisation and collaboration that will excite even the grumpiest of dragon slayers.


Connor Nehls Ramos is a Senior majoring in Chemistry. Along with being Gaming Club at SU’s External Games Coordinator, Connor has over 6 years of experience as a Dungeon Master. From 4 player campaigns to 24 person modules, he has seen it all. When not playing DnD, Connor likes to garden and slave over his sour dough starter.

Dylan Buck is a Senior majoring in Geography and minoring in Spanish and Anthropology. Dylan has been a part of the GCSU since his junior year. He’s played and GMed D&D 5e and Stars Without Number since 2016. When not at GCSU meetings, he can be found running quidditch practice or relaxing between classes at People’s Place. 

Isabella Rayne Rossi is a Junior double majoring in Chem and Forensics with a Psych minor. Bella has been a member of GCSU since her freshman year. She loves to run one-shots and short form campaigns from DnD to Honey Heist. Outside of GCSU, Bella serves as the Art Team Director for First Year Players.

Bailey Culver is a Senior majoring in Illustration.  Bailey currently serves as the President of Gaming Club at Syracuse University.  She enjoys running strange one-off DnD campaigns but mainly plays as a party member.  While not running GCSU, Bailey loves sewing and browsing flea markets.

5:30 Cosplay Contest Slideshow and Awards with judges Kate McKay, Wendell Smith, and Jay Stilipec. We will show all the cosplay submissions, then we will announce the awards! Visit here for the award categories and the judges’ bios, and here for the submissions. You can vote here for the Audience Awards for Cosplay Photos and Videos.


Here is the Zoom link for this stream. It is good for the entire day, from 10am-6pm Eastern Standard Time (New York time).

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Meeting ID: 999 4277 4387

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