The Heroes at LA Comic Con: Heartsong

Adrian Soto, Writer

At conventions, or “cons,” the main enthralling elements are the vendors, panels, and of course the cosplayers.  Fictional characters and heroes are often found in copious amounts around all cons as cosplayers mimic them; at LA Comic Con, from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28, the hidden heroes among the cosplayed ones were the ASL translators from Heartsong Interpreting.  


For the deaf community, interpreters are a useful aid when navigating strict hearing environments.  Although most people that are deaf are able to take care of themselves without such assistance, at hearing-dominated events such as LA Comic Con, an interpreter is more than welcome to assist.  Interpreters can be a hassle to obtain as most are issued by private companies and are expensive when assigned to a single individual. For LA Comic Con, the organisers prioritized the need to have ASL interpreters on all the main panels for deaf attendees.


Heartsong Interpreting was the private organization contacted to aid during the weekend the convention was on.  The organization puts their job and care for the deaf above all other priorities, ensuring that no panel during any time was left without an interpreter.  Seasoned, professional translators were the bulk of the interpreting force at the con, but new, fresh student interpreters/interpreters-in-training also managed the main panels.


Heather Culler, one of the interpreters-in-training, enjoys her time interpreting at LA Comic Con, even with it being one of the first times she interprets to such a large crowd.  Being a student at Riverside Community College, she discovered a passion for ASL and the deaf culture.


“Because there is experience in this, it helps so much being able to pull from the knowledge.  The first thing I actually interpreted was Nerd-Lesque, which is nerd and burlesque. So I got all the nerd stuff, they would talk about Marty McFly from Back to the Future or Gollum from Lord of the Rings, but the dancing thing was not my fortay,” Culler said.  “There is nothing besides your team so you just gotta put that out there, whatever you hear is what you put out there… and your team is there to back you up and tell you ‘Yeah you are in the right’ or ‘No, he said Jurassic Park not Jurassic World’.”


Through Heartsong, the interpreters work as a team while out on the convention floor.  Because of the long panel times and the toll of signing so much and so fast, the interpreters switch off amongst their teammates to ensure the quality of their assistance remains consistent throughout the day.  In these teams they are more well-rounded as interpreters and act as a checks and balance system for each other while they are up on stage interpreting. There were a few teams at LA Comic Con, yet all of them convened in their dedicated panel/conference room.  At the conference room, the Heartsong interpreters planned out the panel rotations and were able to assist any deaf attendees that went to their room for help.


Experienced interpreter, Kim Weissman, is happy attending Comic Con and even happier presenting herself there as an ASL translator.


“ I just interpreted the Power Rangers show and there was a deaf participant who was in the audience. Everyone was so excited to be there.  You could really feel that energy and especially from them[deaf attendees], they seem to be enjoying themselves,” Weissman stated.  “It was really fun to provide that service, to provide that equal access, and to look out and to see that they[deaf participants] are clapping and laughing… it just warmed my heart.”   


These translators often see the quality of their work reflected back at them.  To all the interpreters, their work was shown to be a tool that enhanced the atmosphere for the deaf participants.  Few in the deaf community can lip read and fewer lip read well, the work the interpreters do for Heartsong represents a bridge between both the hearing and the deaf world so that the convention is experienced equally by all.


Founder of Heartsong Interpreting, Kyla Wilkenfeld, loves the work her organization does for the deaf community.  Translating for the deaf for years, she remains proud of her work and her employees’ efforts at LA Comic Con.


“For me it is more about providing access.  We, my team in Heartsong Interpreting (the people hired to do the job)… are there to provide equal access to those that do not have access.  So the deaf clients who show up are able to enjoy the same types of things everyone else enjoys,” Wilkenfeld said. “We go through two to four years of schooling just to become interpreters depending on our language knowledge to begin with then once you get out of school, you are thrown out into the world and these specific kinds of interpreting programs; performance interpreting, comedy interpreting, big panel interpreting.  Things like that they don’t teach you at school. Heartsong makes a point to take these interpreters on.”


LA Comic Con was an entertaining event that through Heatsong Interpreting was able to appeal to not just the hearing but also the deaf and hearing-impaired.  Together with the mentors, student interpreters provided the “equal access” Heartsong strives for. For any more information or to learn more about how to contact Heartsong Interpreting, visit Kyla Wilkenfeld’s site.