Program Details

Participants are not only simply attending Comic-Con but they are engaging in the study of the social phenomena taking place during the five-day event.

The Field Study Program

While at Comic-Con International, students will study popular culture through the methods of participant ethnography. We will be examining the intersection of practicing fan culture and the political economy of industrial marketing. Thus, most of our time in San Diego will be spent participating in the Con, attending programs, observing fan behaviors, examining the industries’ cultural artifacts, and interviewing participants. Students will complete a set of readings before the Con, and we will meet each day before programming begins for a breakfast briefing. Your assignments will include daily exercises and a paper to be completed in the week after the Con concludes. You’ll also have the opportunity to address the Con with your preliminary findings while you are in San Diego.

An Academic Experience  

The Comics Arts Conference is a series of academic programs featured within the larger Con. By special arrangement with the planners, members of our program will present some of our preliminary results on a Sunday panel before an audience of academics and the public. This is a wonderful opportunity to participate in a scholarly exercise and to earn an impressive resume item, especially for those students thinking of going on to graduate study. Past student projects have included the following:

  • Twitter as a Means of Direct Dialogue between Creators and Fans
  • Aggressive Marketing and its Impact on Consumers at San Diego Comic Con
  • “State Your Name and Your Purpose”: The Talk of Marvel Comics Fans
  • Fanbois at Comic-Con: Queer Consumer/Producer Interface and the Intransitive Writing of Comics
  • Hollywood Comes to Comic-Con International: An Examination of Glamour and Glitz
  • Video Games: On the Bottom Looking Up

Several essays from previous students were published in It Happens at Comic-Con from McFarland Publishing, edited by Ben Bolling, a past participant of the program, and Dr. Smith, its director.

Review a previous syllabus.

Your Guide

Your guide to Comic-Con is Dr. Matthew J. Smith, director and professor in the School of Communication at Radford University. He has led groups of students to Comic-Con annually since 2007.

Matt Smith is the doctor . . . but unlikely to run across these aliens in his role as a college professor.
Matt Smith is the doctor . . . of philosophy in Communication, but not the Time Lord these fellows have mistaken him for.

Dr. Smith also teaches “Graphic Storytelling” at Radford University and is co-author of textbooks titled The Power of Comics and Critical Approaches to Comics. He has spoken and written about comics and a number of popular culture phenomena including reality television and the World Wide Web. In 2009, Wittenberg University’s Alumni Association recognized him with their Distinguished Teaching Award.

Dr. Smith talks with the hosts of Ph. Detours about Con in an interview you can see here!


Please contact the program director, Dr. Matthew J. Smith, with your inquiries at: msmith455(AT)radford(DOT)edu

Click here to apply.
(Applications are due October 31, 2017.)

Click here to return to the program’s home page.

Click here for an explanation of the expenses.