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A Study in Humor: Stephen Lind Business Administration Professor Presents Research at Comic-Con

Assistant Professor of Business Administration Stephen Lind grew up reading Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown comic strip and watching television specials like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” But as a boy in small-town Michigan, he couldn’t have foreseen that he’d spend a significant portion of his career studying the comic artist or his work.

This summer, Lind gave a talk at the Comic Arts Conference, the academic arm of the much larger comic convention, Comic-Con. The convention, which was founded in San Diego in 1970, is a four-day extravaganza that attracts more than 130,000 attendees and is the largest of its kind in the world.

When the Comic Arts Conference’s call for papers went out, Lind immediately proposed reading from his forthcoming book, “Charlie Brown on Religion: The Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz.”

“I had wanted to go to Comic-Con as a fan and as a researcher for several years,” said Lind, who was thrilled when he learned he’d been accepted.

Tickets to Comic-Con typically sell out the same day they go on sale. As a presenter, Lind got two passes to attend all four days of the conference, plus the preview night. He opted to take along his sister, who is an English teacher in Jacksonville, Florida.

Hollywood studios use Comic-Con to announce upcoming movies, so executives send in all their biggest creatives and actors to contribute to the conference’s spectacle.

There’s one hall in the San Diego Convention Center that holds 6,500 people, and attendees have been known to wait in line for up to two days to get a seat in the room. Lind and his sister waited in line for 13 hours and watched eight presentations — by studios such as Warner Bros. and Fox — one right after the other.

“I read so many blogs and pro-tips online, trying to learn how to navigate the conference successfully. It’s its own universe. There’s no way to see it all, so you have to be strategic,” said Lind.

To get the full Comic-Con experience, Lind and his sister chose to dress up one day. One reason the conference has become such a spectacle is that many attendees wear costumes that honor their favorite comic book and pop culture characters. Those who don’t dress up usually wear graphic tees.

“We went as a sibling pair. It would have been a missed opportunity not to do so,” said Lind. “We chose to go as Green Lantern Luigi and Red Lantern Mario, and got compliments throughout the day because super fans understood the mashup. One woman came up to us in line at Starbucks and thanked us for dressing up, for making Comic-Con what it is.”

Costumes aside, Lind was all business about the conference. For him, Comic-Con provided the opportunity to network with other scholars, gather industry insight and talk to creators about their craft. His panel, Cracking Peanuts, was moderated by Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center archivist Caesar Gallegos and highlighted Lind’s research on religious references in the Peanuts comic strip alongside the work of Trinity Western University professor John Auxier. Auxier studies distressed communication patterns in relationships, a theme he has noted in Schulz’s strips.

In graduate school, Lind loved studying mainstream entertainment and the instances in which religion was explicitly explored and/or affirmed. He was specifically interested in broadcast television and frequently used Charlie Brown examples to explore communications issues. When it was time to write his dissertation, Lind proposed using Peanuts as a case study for exploring faith in the mainstream media and recruited comics industry scholar Tom Inge to serve as an outside reader on his dissertation committee.

Inge put Lind in touch with some contacts at the Schulz Museum, including Schulz’s widow, Jean, who agreed to help Lind with the research that would become not only his Ph.D. dissertation, but ultimately his forthcoming book, “A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz.”

At Comic-Con, Lind read from one of the chapters of his new book, detailing the engaging style Schulz used to incorporate provocative spiritual thoughts. In the audience were Snoopy fans and industry executives — including the creative director of the Peanuts franchise — and the response to Lind’s insights was very positive.

“Schulz wrote in an open style that allowed people to connect with the comic strip from their own experience,” said Lind. “That was how he was able to reference religion.”

– by Rachel Beanland

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