Picture perfect: Student steps into comic book world, witnesses professor’s impact

Melissa Willhouse poses with cosplayers at Comic Con in New York City on Oct. 7. Willhouse accompanied Sheena Howard who participated in panels and book signings to promote her comic book, “Superb,” as well as her book, Encyclopedia of Black Comics.

By Melissa Willhouse 

A few years ago when I chose to major in communication studies, I could never have imagined all of the opportunities I would obtain through Rider just by building relationships and networking with different people across campus.

One of the most enjoyable and fascinating opportunities thus far was last weekend, accompanying Dr. Sheena Howard to the reputable Comic Con in New York City.

I have taken two classes with Dr. Howard since enrolling at Rider in 2016. I have become familiar with her work within the academic world and beyond.

However, I was extremely lucky to run into her on campus two weeks ago, as she is on research leave for this semester. I casually mentioned that I am a photographer, should she ever need someone, and she asked if I would go to Comic Con with her.

In addition to being a prominent figure in the academic community, Dr. Howard has published various papers and dissertations regarding comic books and the industry in its entirety, focusing particularly on how minority demographics are represented.

Recently, she wrote and published her own comic book series “Superb” and published the Encyclopedia of Black Comics. She was at Comic Con this past weekend, and I met her in the city on Saturday as she did two book signings and participated in a panel discussion that afternoon.

Riding the train into Penn Station, I felt anxious for a variety of reasons. I don’t like large crowds or being alone in the city, and I didn’t know what to expect, as I am only familiar with a few comic books and characters.

Despite being a bit overwhelmed as a product of my own overthinking, I had a wonderful time, a fact that surprised me, as I hadn’t anticipated being so energetic and excited stepping out of my comfort zone.

Being able to join in and capture intimate moments during one of the most exciting weekends in the comic industry was a fantastic experience. Being able to shadow Dr. Howard made the whole event that much better.

I arrived to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City around 10 a.m. on Oct. 7, a commute that took about three hours from my home in Marlton. I met up with Dr. Howard and joined her in stepping into the world of comic books – a world previously unbeknownst to me.

I took pictures of the different cosplays and displays around the massive arena, focusing on photographing Dr. Howard during interviews, book signings and the discussion panel.

During the panel, a fellow speaker mentioned the work he has done as an illustrator for Archie Comics over the last several years. This series is one that I have read and collected since I was a child. To be able to listen and introduce myself to this man who contributed so greatly to a series so special to me was something I hadn’t anticipated, and I was pleasantly surprised.

In addition to admiring the creativity of the people who were dressed up at the convention, as well as the innovative ways comic books relay stories, I was so grateful to be able to see Dr. Howard in action. I could see people’s faces light up when they saw and recognized her, especially when she signed books for them.

I have had her as an educator and mentor in the classroom before, and I was pleased to see the ways she has impacted a variety of other people outside of the academic world – from young children to older people across the racial spectrum.

It was clear to me that Dr. Howard has positively impacted people through this medium, and to be able to document this with my camera was a wonderful experience I will never forget.


Published in the 10/11/17 edition.

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