X-Men, Feminism, Drag Queens, and Nerds!

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Dean Disaster, a Work MORE! #6 exhibiting artist, collaborated with Diego Gomez on a performance and a series of paintings that bring together X-men and feminism. Below Michelle Lagasca interviews Dean about the definitions of “nerdy” and the future of comics.

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Tell me about how your X-Men piece came about! What was your process from start to finish?
When I first saw the call for submissions for Work MORE! 6, and that it was a gallery show instead of a theatrical production this year, I called up Diego Gomez and asked if he wanted to be my collaborator. He and I haven’t worked together before but we’ve had conversations about feminism and comics before so I knew that that should be the foundation for our collaboration. He and I came up with the “X-Factor: The Feminine Mystique” out of our common passion for the X-Men, feminism, and puns.

After our proposal was accepted, he and I spent time discussing early 60′s feminism and how to tie the movement to Mystique and how to express that in art. Diego was the person to stumble on the idea of highlighting Gloria Steinem’s infiltration of the Playboy Clubs as a particularly “Mystique-esque” action, and I was always interested in the connection of visibility and equality that are expressed both by Mystique in the movie,” X-Men: First Class” and in Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.”

We also shared documents on Google Docs and Pinterest that were inspirational pictures, old X-Men comics, historical documents of the era, specifically 1963. It was those images I used when it came time to create graffiti stencils for the walls. I found most of my images used in the collages online, and also photocopied some of my personal collection of X-Men comics that my father collected in the 60′s and 70′s, Just as I created the collages on my own, Diego created the oil paintings on his own.

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Dean Disaster is described as being “very nerdy”. “Nerd” has changed definitions over time; the nerds of the past used to truly be outcasts, but in today’s technological world, nerds hold a lot of power. What kind of “nerdy” is Dean?
I have always been “nerdy”— from the time I was in elementary school and designed a robot with one of my few friends, through building my own computer for university, until today as I create cosplay for myself. I do find that I hold a lot of cache as a nerd online and I have carved out a niche for myself in social situations as a door attendant at lots of different clubs— a niche that has specific parameters for social interaction and an easy out of uncomfortable conversations (“I’m working”) that I need to relieve the social anxiety I still feel. If I had to define “what kind of nerd are you?” I’d have to say that I am a deconstructionist. I examine media in a social construct and take it apart, to put it back together in a different frame— usually feminist and/or queer.

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Just like the word “nerd”, comics have evolved over the years as well. Live actions movies based on superhero comics are dominating the movie industry. At the same time, indie/alternative comics and web comics are becoming a big trend. How do you feel about this?
I’m glad that comics are being translated into film, I think they’re better suited for that transition with other types of books. I am always disappointed by the movies based on novels I’ve read, I can’t help but nit-pick them apart. I’m also glad that I have a frame of reference to talk with people who otherwise would not know the fictional universes that I like to reference. Indeed, even “X-Factor: The Feminine Mystique” had some reactions based on only seeing one film or a preview, garnering questions like, “She’s the blue one, right?” It’s a place to start. Whereas if X-Men wasn’t such a popular cultural phenomenon, it wouldn’t speak to those people at all therefore losing audience at first glance. I’m also really happy where the comics industry as a whole is headed. We have more diversity in writing and production staff, more diversity of characters, and deeper plot lines with in depth examination of difficult material. I think graphic novels like “Persepolis” led the way towards the new Muslim American “Mz. Marvel” comic book series and both of their critical and financial success.

To see this nerd-alicious work in-person, drop by during gallery hours or attend the free Work MORE! #6 closing event with Fake Docent Tours Thursday, April 24, 6–8pm.

About the writer:
Michelle Lagasca is currently an CCA Connects Extern at SOMArts Cultural Center. She is studying at the California College of the Arts and will graduate in the Spring with a BFA in Illustration.

For more information about internships at SOMArts, please click here.

Watermarked photos above by Cabure Bonugli, all others by Mark Adamusik