Everyone in pop culture seems to come through San Diego's Comic-Con these days. The annual event has grown from a gathering of dedicated comic book fans to an essential stop on the marketing hajj for any major nerd-related media. A fleet of news outlets now invade the convention annually to see exclusive previews and panel discussions covering a broad spectrum of films, television shows, video games—and, yes, comic books.
Last weekend, at least one evangelical pastor joined the press corps at Comic-Con 2010.
Tony Kim, executive pastor of Newsong Church/Irvine, gained special entrée to the event as a blogger for BabbleOn 5, the movie review site that he and a few friends from church manage. Kim, a long-time Comic-Con attendee and a self-proclaimed "Pastor of the Nerds," met some of his pop-culture heroes, such as actor Jeff Bridges (Iron Man, The Big Lebowski, etc.), actor Zachary Levi (NBC's Chuck), and Stan Lee (Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, etc.). He also participated in Morgan Super Size Me Spurlock's latest documentary project, Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope. He spoke with Christianity Today about his double life in fandom and the kingdom.
So how did things go at Comic-Con this year?
This year was phenomenal. This is my fifth year to go, and we had the largest group ever from our community go and experience it, a lot of first-timers. About 15 of us went this year; seven of them were brand-new. They all go to Newsong. I'm fortunate to be in a church that really supports a lot of the pop-culture/nerd arts sort of stuff.
Is there anything you learned about that we should be looking forward to?
Really the biggest thing that people are just starting to hear about will be the documentary that's going to be released next year, spring or summer, that's really going to capture the whole spirit of, "What is Comic-Con? Why do 150,000+ people gather every year to experience this together?" It will be the first major production to actually capture the Comic-Con experience. I was privileged to be a part of it.
As a pastor, do you see any spiritual aspects to this giant pop-culture hajj?
Comic book characters in general are typically people who are misfits or misunderstood in society, who might be caught between two different worlds, feeling like they are made to do something greater than themselves. And a lot of themes of sacrifice, and duty, and honor, and redemption, and justice, and compassion, and advocacy are repeated throughout many comic books. My favorite is Superman and his mythology—there are a lot of parallels with the stories of Jesus Christ.
What I think really draws people to Comic-Con are those core ideas and philosophies of a savior, of redemption, of people who are dying for something that's greater than their own cause.
For the first year, there was a church group that was picketing Comic-Con. Westboro is known for their message of hate toward the gay and lesbian communities, Jews … so I knew going into this that it could really turn into an explosive situation.
So when the day came, I went out there, and there was a huge crowd, 50 to 100 people wearing costumes with signs saying things like, "Nerds are cool." It was the Comic-Con community that, in response to Westboro, came out in full force. There were literally three adults and one child from Westboro.
I started talking to as many people as I could in that area. To my shock, almost across the board, the response was, "We don't hate Westboro. We want to include them. They're welcome to hang out with us, and we want to just show them love. We just want to show them that we're normal people, and we love comics." I was really impressed. It created a great opportunity for me to talk to a lot of people, tell them that I'm a pastor, and tell them a little bit of what I believe. They didn't lump me with that group, and they understood that Westboro represents a small minority, and they were very accepting of me.