Law and Comic Book Conventions

As a law student, I’m pretty much a nerd for anything law related. My friends and I walk around our law school telling stupid lawyer jokes and making law related puns. When I started attending comic book conventions earlier this year I never really considered that comic book conventions would cater to that particular aspect of my nerdiness. Comics, video games, movies, televisions hows – yea, sure. Of course. But I had to wonder just how many nerdy lawyers decide to show up for comic book conventions and the like. I always feel like we’re supposed to be all sorts of professional so we never really want our law world to coincide with our nerdy side.

Turns out that there actually are a few of us who do, I guess, because there are a surprising number of legal related panels at conventions. Though, the sort of law-related panels you’ll find at comic book conventions aren’t entirely geared towards those of us who are ‘initiated’ into the whole legal lifestyle.

Now, some of them are.

For example, Michael Lovitz runs a series of panels called  Comic Book Law School® during both WonderCon in Anaheim and San Diego Comic Con. I haven’t been the latter yet but I know he’s planning three panels during the convention. I went to the one panel he ran at WonderCon, though, and it was a really informative panel. Lovitz ran a basic crash course in intellectual property for independent content creators (indie writers, arists, etc.) and answered some questions from the audience. It was very helpful and at the very least gave me a great little run down of IP law. While it was easily understood by laymen, the panel was actually certified by the California bar association as a CLE credit course. Which was kind of cool. From what I understand at least two of the panels that he will hold at SDCC will be much the same. The third – a panel on nerdy news and legal ramifications – will probably also be offered for a CLE credit but might be a bit easier for average, everyday comic convention fans to find interesting.

Most panels at conventions tend to be a bit little less structured than Lovitz’s from what I’ve seen and more ‘user friendly,’ though. They are, after all, trying to appeal to a wide variety of people.

One of the best panels I’ve sat in was also held at WonderCon and was entitled, Not Guilty by Reason of Zombification? Law and Forensic Psychiatry After the Zombie Apocalypse. A bit of a mouthful? Maybe. But it was a great panel where the guys from the Law and the Multiverse blog led the crowd in a mock court exercise where they questioned whether or not a man who was bitten, turned into a zombie, and then killed someone else could be held liable for his death in the even that the attacker was then cured. The panel was made up of two lawyers and two forensic psychologists who then walked the crowd through the case after giving them a very brief rundown of criminal law. They even mentioned my professor’s paper on zombies and tax law which I helped him with as a research assistant last semester!

Yeah, they abandoned pretty much all of the rules of evidence and any semblance of proper trial procedure. But it was fun, the case interesting, and the actual legal ramifications made those of us in the room who were actually in the legal field really think about things. I think everyone who sat in on that panel had fun and everyone walked away with something to talk about with their friends.

Last weekend at Phoenix Comicon they did a few campy little panels entitled ‘In Defense of…’ that were in a similar vein to the zombie panel at WonderCon. Actual laws and procedures were simplified and eliminated so that the average audience could participate and understand what was going on. They had three of these panels scheduled: ‘In Defense of Bruce Banner’ where She Hulk was defending Bruce against a public indecency charge by prosecutor Two Face when he was ‘caught with his oversized purple shorts down’; ‘In Defense of Booster Gold’ who was being defended by the Blue Beetle and prosecuted by Doctor Who for insider trading; and ‘In Defense of Hawkeye’ who was being defended by the Scarlet Witch and was facing charges by the Green Arrow for trademark infringement. Each event was sponsored by a local comic book-related group.

Phoenix Comicon also did a couple of panels on intellectual property law as they pertained to content creators and the like. I liked these panels a lot more than the one at WonderCon because while that one was helpful for me as I tried to review IP I feel like a lot of other people who were there got a bit lost. The panels at Phoenix Comicon, on the other hand, were all geared towards the everyday person who’d just walked in off the street for some geeky fun and was taking the opportunity to also beef up their knowledge on some law that actually effected them. They were smaller panels, easily structured to be understood by anyone. And dialogue was pretty open and fluid. You were able to talk, learn, and walk away knowing what you should be thinking about or looking up (or asking a lawyer about) next.

Of the panels, the one I most enjoyed was the Legalities of Fan Fiction & Fan Art which was held Saturday afternoon.

 Talk about relevant. The panelist – Ruth Carter, a local attorney – talked with people about the basics of intellectual property law and various forms of fanfiction and fan art. But it was much less of a lecture than a lot of the panels I’ve attended. It was a smaller panel with maybe fifty people present at most. And while Carter had a powerpoint that she generally stuck to and through which she guided questions and discussion she was very open to having people ask questions and to deviate away from the general issues of IP law and more towards the issues that they were actually facing.

Afterward she let people ask other questions and answered them generally, encouraging those with real questions to seek actual legal advice. She was a really great speaker and just really approachable. Most people seem hesitant to talk with lawyers about anything but no one seemed to have any problem raising their hand to ask Ruth Carter a question. She even gave me some recommendations regarding a paper I’m planning to write next semester.

Attending her panel – and all the law panels I have gotten to attend at various comic book conventions – was really just a great experience. I am always kind of afraid to admit to people just how nerdy I am sometimes. I really am, though. I’m always afraid that they will judge me or they will think poorly of me for it. It’s good to see other professional nerds out there doing panels and reaching out to the community as a whole.

It makes me feel a little less alone and a little less self conscious.

Anyone else ever have the opportunity to check out a great law-related panel at a local convention? What did you think? What did they talk about?