Editor’s note: Read this story in print in the September 2019 edition of the Crimson Quarterly magazine.
Around campus, David Surratt is known for his position as dean of students and vice president for student affairs, his alumnus status at OU and George Washington University, and even for his former position at University of California, Berkeley — but in the world of Comic-Con, he’s known as a geek, a Trekkie and a panelist.
Surratt has been a panelist at “Comic-Con International: San Diego,” also known as San Diego Comic-Con or SDCC, for the past two years. In July, he was a panelist at the 2019 event and discussed gender inclusivity in gaming.
Surratt sat down with the The Daily to discuss his experience at Comic-Con and his love for geek culture and inclusive storytelling.
Q: San Diego Comic-Con is the biggest event in the world of Comic-Con. How did you end up getting invited to speak as a panelist?
A: UC Berkeley created a mini conference with Comic-Con called GeekEd to dive into the idea of nerd and geek identity and how you incorporate that to how we work with students, so they put me on a panel to talk about civility. And then they learned that I have been a geek all my life.
Q: What was Comic-Con like? Is it what you expected?
A: My friend, who’s actually a creator in comics, he calls it “the mothership,” and it’s pretty amazing.
You’ve got 135,000-plus people and one convention center, a couple of hotels nearby, it's intensely crowded — it was a dream, obviously — it took me nearly 40 years to get to. I imagine other folks who have not gone there are still hoping for an opportunity.
I thought it would be just more traditionally comic books, and it’s so much bigger — it’s film, it’s cartoonists, animators.
Q: When did you first get into comics and what significance do you associate with them?
A: It would’ve been elementary school — probably third or fourth grade at most. And then I started collecting Marvel cards and trading those, and then started reading more into the storylines.
And then as I got older, I got more reflective about the comics and what they meant for how we view the world — and I think that's actually what was inspiring.
In Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, the creator, did something revolutionary by incorporating diverse actors who had storylines that really captured the idea of ethical ways in which we engage with other people, other cultures, other species.
And it was meant to be obviously a story about society at the time, and I think Marvel did the same thing in many ways, as well as DC Comics.
And honestly — the connection to the themes of social justice and society. The people like Stan Lee who dedicated their lives to this creativity and this art were doing it because they felt like there was a greater need to get messages and stories out that would be reflective of society, and the hope and the vision of what society could be.
The storylines are oftentimes a battle of “What are our ethics?” and “What do we stand for?” And I think that's really what society is always grappling with.
Q: You’ve spoken about your love for “Star Trek” and the importance of that storyline in your life. Do you have a favorite character?
A: Oh gosh, I’m a big fan of Picard. I love “Next Generation.” I’ve seen all the series except for the newest one at CBS Discovery, so I’d say between Captain Picard and Sisko are my favorite captains, with Janeway as a close second.
Q: Is there a specific comic or storyline that has really inspired you or meant a lot to you?
A: Silver Surfer.
Wolverine was another one, too.
But Black Panther lately has been on my mind a lot.
Q: What are your thoughts on “Black Panther” and its current mainstream relevance?
A: One, it was a revitalization in the modern times of a character who was one of, if not the first, black superhero in mainstream comics for Marvel, that predated the Black Panther Party in the American context.
What I found intriguing about his character is that he represents this idea of Afrofuturism — the idea of what could be idealized if a culture or society actually realizes its power and its ability to influence and change the world. So that's pretty awesome.
And I think that it's a character that inhabits this notion of the strength and skill, intellect, all these different abilities that you don't often see in black heroes — you just don’t see it existing oftentimes, so I think it represents something pretty powerful.
Q: You’re also a fan of “Stranger Things” — who’s your favorite?
A: I mean El is really dope. I love her. Mike, he annoys me, but he redeems himself in these last few episodes.
But they keep on killing off the characters that I’m falling in love with. So just, everyone, don’t fall in love with Winona Ryder, and we’ll be safe. That’s what I’ve been doing at this point in time — don’t mess with her.
Editor's note: This interview was edited for clarity and length.