For the past week, Kamala Khan fans have been gathering at Kamalacon, a Tumblr celebrating the one-year anniversary of the first issue of Ms. Marvel. I have no idea whether this is a grass-roots thing or some clever guerrilla marketing by Marvel, but it's fascinating to see the range of fans who have contributed cosplay photos, selfies with their collections, Kamala-themed playlists, and fanart that ranged from sketchbook drawings to animated GIFs to cookies and Funko sculptures. There was even a virtual gift exchange.
Kamalacon kicked off with a series of essays by readers about what Kamala Khan means to them. The first thing that struck me on glancing at them was the diversity of the writers. There's something universal about Kamala's story that appeals to many readers, from a Muslim woman who sees parallels to her own life to the white guy who compares it to Quasar to explain what makes Ms. Marvel good and Kamala bad—and makes a good point:
People talk about why they need diversity in comics, and usually it boils down to the importance of representation. But it also just makes better comics. Kamala Khan can tell stories and do things and go place that Wendell Vaughn simply can’t. When a publisher only stocks Wendell Vaughns in their creative toolbox, they’re putting artificial limits on the kinds of stories they can make. They cheat themselves and their audience. As long as Kamala’s on the beat, the industry’s headed in the right direction, however slowly.
Like any good character, I suppose, Kamala is reaching people in different ways. Many feel she's "like me," by which they may mean Muslim, immigrant, female, teenager, comics fan, but they also mean scared, anxious, determined to do the right thing. Most of all, different. More than one compared her to Peter Parker.
The other really interesting thing about this Tumblr was seeing how the readers are getting their comics, and how they relate to the larger world of Comics. Many of the readers are buying the comics digitally, but they are also going to comic shops. The photos of their collections show an interesting mix of print copies, digital comics on tablets, and merch. Some are longtime comics fans, while for others, Ms. Marvel is their first comic. One makes the point that while she had read comics before, it was Ms. Marvel that made her see herself as a "comics person." Another says that Ms. Marvel opened the door to comics for her because it was a new start, so she didn't have to worry about continuity.
And then, as with the Carol Corps, there's the community:
Finally, I love the fan community that has rallied around Kamala. There’s always so much negativity in comicbook discussions… always kevetching about how The X-Men aren’t as good as they used to be, complaining over the new 52 reboot, whining about how Dick Grayson isn’t better utilized in the DCU (that last part is mostly just me). And yet Kamala fans are by and large enthusiastically positive. Similar to the Carol Corpse, fans of Ms. Marvel just want to gush about how much they love the book, how much they love Kamala, how much they love Winged Sloth… and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Sure, maybe there’s a bit of a group-think, hive-mentality to it all, but there’s so much to feel negatively toward in the world, sometimes it’s nice to just indulge in unadulterated positivity.
Reading through this Tumblr reminded me a lot of hearing old-school superhero comics fans talk about what's important to them—the idealism, the sense of wonder, being able to identify with a character, being part of a community of shared enthusiasm. It's nice to see that coming back in a new form, with a new comic that's bringing new readers to the medium.