Denver Pop Culture Con 2019 — “Death in Fiction”

denver comic con
Photo by Josh Starbeck

This summer, I went to Denver Pop Culture Con, once Denver Comic Con until San Diego made them change the name. The convention had the usual—the cosplay, the contests, the artist alleys and merchant mesas, and many, many literary panels.

Being a dabbler of morbid subjects, I went to a panel, entitled “Death Becomes Her: Representing Death in Fiction,” which sought to explore our literary fascination with death.

The panelists were Brenna Yovanoff, Sherry Ficklin, Cat Winters, and Paul Kreuger, and the moderator was Amalie Howard. I found each of the authors had something to say of importance, and I will collect their best statements below:

Brenna Yovanoff

  • Literary deaths can be a safe space for readers who need to cope with their emotions. Books allow you to process at the spend you want to process. You have control. You can always put a book down and think a while.”
  • “Zombies compel and repel us. It’s the uncanniness. A thing that is supposed to be empty and still getting up and moving around.”

Sherry Ficklin

  • “Often YAF characters are experiencing things for the first time. First love, first death. It’s a fun playground because everyone reacts differently, everyone copes differently. It’s kind of like coping mechanism origin stories.”
  • The death of an inanimate thing can impact us as much as the loss of a life. The loss of a job, the destruction of an ideal. In fantasy, this can change from ‘my roommate moved to a different city’ to ‘my roommate turned into a cat.’ It’s still the loss of a friendship.”
  • “Death is not judgment. Time is the enemy, wearing down heroes and villains alike.”

Cat Winters

  • “Death in fiction can give us hope that there’s life beyond. Even the restless spirit appeals to us. Says—This might not be it. Death is not a stopping point. However, even if death is not finite, we still will not have what we have now. Death increases our appreciation of life.”
  • “Edgar Allan Poe was able to write about being alone, about not knowing how to handle the death of loved ones, the weirdness in our souls. He got away with horror and murder and madness under the stamp of literature.”
  • There is often hope in horror. Sometimes the story ends with the character destroyed, sure, but usually we get to see our protagonist once the horror has passed. We see what the character looks like on the other side of darkness. A stranger, broken, but on the path of healing.”

Paul Kreuger

  • “I often think of the post-apocalyptic story. The death of normality, of stability. And compare that to my experience as a millennial. The death of that promise I’ve had my whole life that if I get good grades and graduate from a good college, I will have a happy, cushiony job waiting for me. A house, a car.”
  • Fiction sometimes romanticizes death, but there’s a wide gulf between 13 Reasons Why and the economy of hot or not. I like hot monsters. I’d be okay with the grim reaper having ripped abs. If death were sexier I’d welcome it. But often, when suicide is glamorized, the author is usually the least affected by death, and the least responsible for the effect of their books. I question purpose. Unless its a martyrdom for loved ones, self-destruction is not congruent with hope.”
  • “Zombies can be whatever we want. They’re a blank slate. Romero had zombies represent the glut of U.S. capitalism. In Kim Eun-hee’s Kingdom, zombies literally eat the rich. They’re the external manifestation of the rot in South Korea coming from greedy rulers.”