The costumed characters you see at a comic con may not have superpowers, but as a collective, they are superheroic.
That’s what CCA faculty member Dr. Tanya Cook discovered when she applied her sociology skills to fan conventions. As a fan of science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and pop culture, Dr. Cook has been attending fan conventions since she moved to Denver in 2011. As the Community College of Aurora professor became more involved in fan culture, she encountered many fans who channeled their love of pop culture into acts of charity and awareness.
Dr. Cook used her sociology acumen to interview and research fan-based charity work in 2016, which led to her co-authoring the book “Fandom Acts of Kindness” with Kaela Joseph. The book was released this month.
“After attending fan conventions and events, I was impressed by how much fans were doing to try to support their communities and make the world a better place,” Dr. Cook said. “For me as a sociologist, this looked a lot like how social movements and other grassroots initiatives started.”
The idea for the book took off after Dr. Cook presented the idea of fandom as a social movement at a 2016 academic convention. For her presentation, she used examples from Supernatural, a show about two brothers who hunt supernatural creatures. Dr. Cook mentioned the organizations GISH and Random Acts, which are run by Supernatural actor Misha Collins.
“Somehow, Misha Collins found my abstract and retweeted it / Facebook posted it and used it to troll his co-star Jared Padalecki,” Dr. Cook. “My notifications exploded (Misha has about 3 million twitter followers) and I thought someone was pranking me.”
That’s how Kaela Joseph heard about Dr. Cook’s research and reached out to her to work on a collaborative project. During the course of their interviews and research, the authors were consistently asked by fans how they can use their fandom for a good cause.
“As we were sharing preliminary results of this research that looked at fandom as a social movement, the question we were asked over and over again was ‘that’s great, but how do I do it?’ Fans appreciated our academic explanations but they wanted a ‘how-to’ guide to help them get involved in using their energy for good.”
Dr. Cook credits CCA with helping her focus and support her work. A majority of the writing took place during the COVID shutdown, when fan conventions were temporarily halted.
“I am so lucky to be at CCA which has always supported my nerdy work!,” Dr. Cook says. “My current and former supervisors Kelly O’Dell and Dr. Jennifer Dale, as well as our former president Dr. Betsy Oudenhoven, helped me balance my workload to make time for research. Drs. Dale and Oudenhoven also helped me to earn a community college fellowship award for $40,000 from Mellon/ACLS. This fellowship award was crucial in helping me create time to analyze data, and write this book and other articles related to this work.”
Dr. Cook is currently working on her next book about the show “Our Flag Means Death,” a show about pirates.
Book Signing and Reading for “Fandom Acts of Kindness”
Wednesday, February 22 6 p.m.
Tattered Cover (Aspen Grove)
7301 S Santa Fe Dr
Littleton, CO 80129