Finding My Place at Flame Con
“There’s this one balloon where someone says ‘Can anyone hear me?’ And there’s a reply shot of [Supergirl] saying, ‘I can,’” Steve Orlando describes to me a pivotal page in Supergirl: Rebirth #1, which came out earlier in the week. It’s Sunday afternoon, and we’re holding an interview in a quiet hallway outside of the Flame Con press room in downtown Brooklyn, NY.
That I can echoes between the two of us, bringing a swell of emotion that we have to take a moment to overcome before Steve continues with his thoughts. As he does, we are ever aware of the show floor below, which contains hundreds of queer con attendees milling around the 150+ exhibitor booths.
Can anyone hear me? We all spend years asking, reaching for some understanding of ourselves, as well as somewhere we belong. Flame Con is only in its second year as New York’s queer comic con, but it has become an immensely beloved and important place where geeks who identify as anything other than cisgender or straight can meet and celebrate our love for comics, cartoons, television shows, and each other.
The day before, I started my Flame Con experience at Steve’s booth. He, myself, J.A. Micheline (or JAM, who spent the weekend helping him sell books), and a number of others had brunch prior to the con’s Saturday noon opening, so it seemed the obvious meeting place for all of us who knew one another. I said my “see you later” to JAM, then turned to start my first exploration of the floor, only to run smack into Aimee Fleck’s table.
I don’t know Aimee well. She’s the owner of Bad Influence Press and one of the editors of the RAW: Hannibal Fanthology. Outside of helping her and our mutual friend Tea, co-editor of RAW, pack books for shipment to their rightful Kickstarter backers, we have not spent any time together. Regardless, the two of us beamed at one another in greeting across her book-stacked table and euphoria took over me.
I know you. I am so glad you are here.
I love that you exist.
This feeling persisted throughout the con, not only between me and my friends, but also between everyone around us. People of all genders–inside of shiny, elaborate cosplay and out–donned the pronoun tags from the table outside of the exhibitor’s hall, hugged each other in the aisles, and flocked from table to table in groups.
I finally met Blue Delliquanti, creator of the wonderful webcomic O Human Star, and managed to tell her how much I adored her art. I drank in Ignatz Award nominee and The Other Side anthology editor Mel Gillman’s enthusiasm, amazed that one person could be so open and bubbly. I made eyes at a cute redhead perusing comics with her friends at the same table as me. I decided that after the con, I would ask an acquaintance out. (Also I got art commissions of DC Comics characters Midnighter and Apollo from more than ten different artists, which is less deep, but also one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.)
It was an enormous turnaround from the previous week, which had me panicked and nauseous whenever I thought of the convention. I have been openly bisexual for seven years, so in the bare bones queer narrative we are often taught, the end of my internal struggle with my sexuality should have come years ago. But the truth is, that has not been the case.
At Elana Levin’s excellent Geek Activism panel, Geeks Out organizer Nicole Guitau described it better than I, along with her explanation of Imposter’s Syndrome. That along with feeling afraid that you are not geeky enough in the fandom world, you can also fear that you are not queer enough in the larger world, which holds up sexuality as a straight/gay binary.
But in what was the queerest event in New York at the time, every bit of that fear had washed away. This was my community. These were my people. I saw and heard them and in return, they saw and heard me. I heard it from my fellow Women Write About Comics contributors as we ate dinner with Elana and Jon Erik Christianson. I heard it as I hugged Comics Beat contributor Edie Nugent at one of the free water stations (yes, no price-inflated water bottles for sale, because Flame Con is THAT great). I heard it from Tea in both of her rocking cosplays of Emma Frost and Lila Cheney.
You ARE enough–as you are and in your own way.
Like the best stories, my Flame Con experience ended where it began. At Steve’s table, I sat between him and JAM, and we talked shop for the last hour of the con. JAM and I have both had moments where we had lost sight of why we entered the comics world, a place filled with countless books about goodness while often corrupted on the corporate side of things. As comics critics who devote a significant amount of time around people who belong to the comics industry when we aren’t reading and writing about comics ourselves, it can seem like funneling our energy into a hopeless void when we try to push the industry in a better direction. But while Flame Con had all the excitement (and physical exhaustion) of any other comic con, it defined everything great about comics.
Days later, as I finish this con diary, thrill still strikes me as I remember the million different moments that contributed to that love-filled convention. I feel heard. And I can hear you, too.