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Friday, December 2, 2022

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SDSU student and aspiring physician Fawaz Qashat (left) poses in costume with a family during Comic-Con San Diego. (Photo courtesy of Fawaz Qashat) SDSU student and aspiring physician Fawaz Qashat (left) poses in costume with a family during Comic-Con San Diego. (Photo courtesy of Fawaz Qashat)

SDSUxCOMIC-CON: Biology Major Balances Passions for Medicine and Superheroes

Fawaz Qashat considers himself lucky for comics to become a career on the side at SDSU.
By Sarah White

“My goal is to be a physician or family doctor. Comics will always be a hobby for me, something I do for fun.”

For San Diego State University pre-med student Fawaz Qashat, comics are deeply personal and educational.

When Qashat first saw Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch in Marvel’s 2015 movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” it was “a love at first sight situation.”

But it wasn’t until he started researching his favorite character and more as part of SDSU’s Center for Comics Studies that he found the root of this emotion.

“My love for her comes from a place, where deep down, my life has been shaped by powerful women. Scarlet Witch reminded me of my mom in a way.”

The fictional character lost her parents when she was ten years old, a little older than when Qashat’s mother lost her mother. Both women lost their homes due to war: Maximoff from the psuedo-Eastern European Sokovia and Qashat’s mother from Iraq.

“My mom has an accent when she speaks and was seen as an outsider. That immigrant aspect of Wanda’s story touched me,” said Qashat. “And the mother’s instinct to do whatever it takes, I see that reflected in my mom.”

For both female figures, Qashat sees how their experiences have led them to becoming more powerful.

The familial ties to Scarlet Witch inspired Qashat to start cosplaying in 2020 when his aunt willingly dyed her hair orange after he joked about dressing up for Halloween as The Vision.

Cosplay and Science
Since then, he has iterated on his costume multiple times, adding various pieces and face paint in Vision’s signature red, likening each change to applying the scientific method — testing hypotheses and analyzing the results of whether he more closely approximates the desired look.

As he continues to perfect his cosplay, he will join the Science Fiction Coalition at charity events for children’s hospitals and military veterans, combining his passions for comics and medicine.

“Everything I do with my fandom relates to science in some way,” Qashat said. “As a superhero fan and a biologist, I get very interested in all the meticulous details of how the powers work.” 

While he was learning about genetics in high school biology, he could better understand what was real and fictional about the “metahuman” genes in the CW’s television series “The Flash.”

The Vision, Qashat’s main cosplay character and Wanda Maximoff’s love interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a synthesoid that has artificial organs.

“Trying to understand how he physically works helps me expand my knowledge and at the same time, the characters seem more human, not just a colorful picture,” Qashat said.

Although the superhero genre of comics is Qashat’s favorite, he also loves how the visuals in graphic medicine comics can teach complex biology topics like how vaccines work, which he had to explain to his own family.

“Having comics in different languages gives people access and does transcend some barriers of language,” Qashat said.

Research Led to a Dream Come True
With guidance from two additional powerful women, SDSU Center for Comics Studies co-directors Pamela Jackson and Elizabeth Pollard, Qashat has independently cataloged which graphic medicine comics are already in SDSU’s extensive comics collection and which could be added.

His previous research projects with the Center focused on broader ideas of social justice, family, and disability.

“Any comic you read has a deeper message,” he said. He cited The Vision and the Scarlet Witch as an example of an interracial relationship and Superman as an immigrant not from this planet.

“In the 1980s, interracial couples faced a lot of segregation. It’s an issue but it feels distant when looking at it from an outside lens. When looking at it through characters that feel like friends, now this hits home, now I understand, now I relate to this,” he said.

He presented this project at a smaller San Diego Comic-Con event in November 2021 alongside Pollard and Jackson, an experience which he described as “amazing” and “unreal.”
“I was such a fan of Comic-Con and I had never gone. I still have the magazine with my name on there. My name is in a SDCC thing! That just blew me away!”

“I can’t imagine what a real Comic-Con looks like,” Qashat said.

But he will find out this weekend when he will be one of several SDSU-affiliated panelists at San Diego Comic-Con.

“Marvel and comics were part of me before SDSU and they became a bigger part of me because of SDSU.”