This column going up marks the first full week of our Kickstarter campaign for Mine!, our comics anthology to benefit Planned Parenthood. As of this typing, we’re 44% funded. Not bad for one week.
And a busy week at that. It’s been all hands on deck over at ComicMix and Molly Jackson and I have spent time together than we’d care to discuss. It’s a wild ride, and we still have a few weeks to go.
One of our stops on said wild ride was Flame Con. I’ve been going since the first one in 2015 and have tabled at the past two. This year Molly printed out a lot of fliers, brought recording equipment, signs, and coffee. That last part may have been the most important.
Flame Con, as always, is a positive experience for me. I’ve tabled both years with Robby Barrett and he always does well with his prints. Steven Universe and Pokémon are both still real popular at this convention.
I realized that one of the things about Flame Con I like so much is they don’t have a lot in terms of people looking to flip comics, or those guys with the short boxes on a cart that try to get creators to sign entire long runs or comics they’ve done. Part of that is because they don’t have a lot of people selling back issues and another part is because they don’t have too many legacy creators you could do that with, but it’s still nice. I hope it stays that way as long as it can.
Okay, I know this is short and I didn’t really get into much, but working on this Kickstarter is time-consuming and I have to get right back to that. Thank you so much to everyone that’s pledged and spread the word so far. Keep spreading the word about the Mine! Kickstarter and I’ll be back next week to complain more about how tired I am.
This past weekend I tabled Flame Con 2 at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott Hotel with my friend and collaborator Robby Barrett. We premiered our new comic, Saturn’s Call. It’s about a group of witchy queer kids who are trying to come together to protect each other, so obviously Flame Con was the perfect venue to debut this comic.
For those of you unfamiliar, Flame Con is New York City’s first LGBTQ comic convention organized by Geeks OUT. The show premiered back in spring of 2015 at the Grand Prospect Hall for one day only after a successful Kickstarter campaign helped spread the word and launch the show. Flame Con was such an immediate hit that not only was quickly confirmed that they would be back in 2016, but that the show would go from one day to two and move to a larger venue. That’s a very impressive feat.
Although an integral part of Flame Con’s success comes from Geeks OUT’s own planning and organizing, there is no doubt in mind that the LGBTQ community is an underserved community and often neglected part of mainstream comics and pop culture.
For people outside the queer community, it may seem like the queer community is being properly catered to in comics. I bet some people may even feel like the community is over represented with the press hits some queer-led comics get. I’m here to tell you that is absolutely not the case. We may be getting the press coverage when it comes to some mainstream comics and a few indies, but a disproportionate amount of the majority of comics are still very straight, very cis, very male, and very white.
Flame Con is very much a different experience. Gone are the very straight, very cis, and very male aspects of many comic conventions. And while the show and its guests are certainly pretty white, there were also efforts put in place to be inclusive in every way and there was racial and ethnic diversity both in the people exhibiting and the attendees on the floor. They even had an AFK lounge at the hotel as a quiet space for people to unwind and collect themselves if they felt overwhelmed.
Robby and I spent the vast majority of the convention behind our table, outside of a few quick bathroom breaks. Those bathrooms were designated as all-gender, something everyone seemed very pleased with. I overheard one person who seemed a little confused at first when the convention was just opening, but after that I didn’t hear any confusion at all. It’s pretty simple. It’s arguably simpler than the standard gender designated bathrooms we see in public that are becoming less standard. And, oddly enough, we were not swallowed up into the bowels of hell, much to some people’s disappointment I’m sure.
Flame Con also provided preferred pronoun stickers for people to wear, and many people took advantage of that. Male, female, gender neutral, and “ask me” stickers adorned many fans and exhibitors. This is the only comic convention I’ve seen do something like this despite people of all gender identities attending all different comic conventions all over.
From my view at my table I saw all sorts of people in all sorts of cosplay. Cosplaying was encouraged throughout the con and people got really creative. People of all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities, abilities, and gender identities dressed up as whoever they wanted and everyone I saw seemed supportive of everyone’s decisions and openly complimented each other appropriately.
I saw a lot of Steven Universe fans, Pokémon fans, as well as fans of older and more obscure comics. One guy was in an Ultra Boy t-shirt on Saturday and a Timber Wolf t-shirt on Sunday.
Everyone myself and Robby interacted with were friendly and supportive. We even sold dozens of comics, and Robby sold a ton of prints. It was honestly the best experience either of us had tabling a convention. I had my friend Nate get me a signed comic, Emma got me coffee, and fellow ComicMix contributor Molly Jackson got me a Princess Leia sketch from the incredibly talented Sophie Campbell while I was stuck at my table. Thanks, friends!
Many other vendors I know had similar experiences. Mags Visaggio, writer of Kim and Kim for Black Mask Studios, told me that she not only had a great time but she exceeded her expected sales. Magdalena Fox, the owner of the booty shorts shop Booty and the Geek, gushed about how Flame Con was such a positive experience that she wishes there were more queer centric conventions to vend at. Fyodor Pavlov premiered a printed copy of his webcomic, Bash Back, that he’s collaborated on with Lawrence Gullo and Kelsey Hercs, and he offered new prints as well. This was his second year tabling Flame Con. To quote Fyodor, “Long live Flame Con.”
I cannot recommend Flame Con enough. It’s a wonderful, inclusive time with a welcoming group of staff and volunteers and a great mix of both mainstream and indie comic offerings. It was already announced that Flame Con 3 is definitely happening in the summer of 2017. You’ll see a lot of familiar faces in comics, a lot of people you didn’t know you love yet, and you’ll feel safe and included.
I even got to end the show by running into Steve Orlando and jokingly complaining about how Streaky and Comet were not featured in Supergirl #1. I can’t think of a better way to leave any comic convention than to complain about why elements of the Silver Age of comics aren’t in the comics the kids are reading these days.
Lately I’ve found myself backing more comic related Kickstarters. From a successful campaign by Drew Ford reprinting Joe Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s Red Range to Michael Sarrao’s new graphic novel SID: Special Intergalactic Detective that was just successfully funded. The latest Kickstarter I’m backing is Fyodor Pavlov, Lawrence Gullo, and Kelsey Hercs Bash Back.
I’ve written about Fyodor Pavlov here before. Bash Back is a comic project he’s co-created that he, Lawrence, and Kelsey have been posting new pages of on Tumblr since March of 2015 with frequent updates, often weekly, through April of this year finishing up Issue 0. They are currently on hiatus working on the next issue, promoting their Kickstarter to print physical copies, and getting ready for Flame Con.
Back Back is a queer mafia story set in contemporary New York City. The story follows a young trans man, Bastion, who gets saved from being bashed by a young queer man, Angelo, that gives Bastion a card for the New Oxford Youth Shelter. From there, Bastion meets Stephen, the older man that maintains this sanctuary for queer youths. From there, we meet an ambitious cast of characters through the eyes of young Bastion, with minor narrative shifts to further develop the world and its threats.
This comic is easily one of the most authentic looks into the queer experience and the dark places that the mind can go. It’s a story about overpowering our oppressors using the same violence and hate used against us. It’s about taking our rightful place back from those who took our place from us with fear and disdain in their hearts. Ultimately, it’s about pride.
The only way a comic like this can reach this level of authenticity is by having a creative team behind it that reflects the characters in it. All three of the creative talents behind this comic are queer and cover both trans and cis representation. That combined with all their unique life experiences and deep, rich understanding of queer history really shines through. I’m hardly the only person to notice all this as well, as Bash Back has been praised by all sorts of queer comics professionals from rising star Steve Orlando to veteran gay cartoonist Howard Cruse.
Though the Kickstarter for Bash Back is going very well and has a couple of weeks left, it still needs more help crossing the finish line. If you want to see more queer comics succeed, you need to strongly consider backing this project. We’re seeing more and more queer comics succeeding on Kickstarter. The more these projects succeed and the more money they bring in will be noticed by publishers. If we prove that audiences for these projects exist, more publishers will take the risk and publish projects like Bash Back.
We are already seeing the effects of a changing mindset and a better understanding of queer audiences over the past few years, as DC Comics has increased Batwoman’s profile, created a series for Midnighter and will soon be debuting a series for Midnighter and Apollo, which I believe will be a first in terms of a superhero duo book with gay male leads. It’s important to note that DC Comics has queer talent like James Tynion IV and Steve Orlando working with these queer characters.
Marvel has been increasing queer presence as well with Iceman being out and Wiccan and Hulkling becoming more prominent in the Avengers. Even smaller publishers are taking risks with queer leads like Kevin Keller at Archie Comics and Kim and Kim at Black Mask Studios created by trans writer Mags Visaggio.
So please, if this is an issue you care about, back it and share it. If you know anyone who might care about this, share it with them. Let’s help Fyodor, Lawrence, and Kelsey succeed in a big way because if they succeed, we succeed.
This week I want to touch on a topic I haven’t addressed yet: crowdfunding. It’s been around for years now and has been a consistently used means to help fund projects and inventions ever since. Shortly after crowdfunding began to gain popularity with sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, many in and around the comics community flocked to crowdfunding as a means to fund creator-owned projects. It mostly started with indie comic creators trying to break in, but as time went on more established creators used crowdfunding as a way to fund passion comic projects and small publishers used it to start funding projects to lower their financial risks. Lowering financial risks for publishers to try putting out new kinds of comics has also been a boon for diversity in comics.
Just to get this out of the way before I dive right in, yes, sometimes crowdfunding goes wrong. The overwhelming majority of projects move along just fine, but there are exceptions. Don’t let reports of those discourage you from considering supporting projects you love that sound feasible. As crowdfunding has become a larger and larger phenomenon, different sites have been requiring projects to provide more information including timelines on when to expect progress on the project in question and risks the project will face. Don’t be discouraged, but don’t not read the fine print either.
I started using Kickstarter in 2012. The first comic project I donated to was Giant Robot Warrior Maintenance Crew. The premise was what if a Voltron type team had pilots that were total divas and the real heroes were their maintenance crew repairing the giant robot warriors during combat. It was a successfully funded and after a while I got my copies of the comic as part of my pledge. Sometime later, Giant Robot Warrior Maintenance Crew would be available through Diamond. Ideas like that would not have gotten much traction prior to crowdfunding, at least enough to print physical copies.
Not only has crowdfunding helped with the diversity of ideas in comics, but with representation on the page and off the page. One of the first projects on Kickstarter I backed like that was Liberator by Matt Miner and Javier Sanchez Aranda, a groundbreaking comic about fighting to end animal cruelty at a high cost. This four issue limited comic series has diversity on the page with both its protagonists and off the page with talent like Javier Sanchez Aranda bringing the story to life with his illustrations. Liberator also broke new ground in comics by having 30% of its profits go to animal rescue efforts, a rare find in comics.
Crowdfunding, particularly Kickstarter in this case, was a crucial part of how Liberator happened. Not only were they able to get the word out in advance of this comic’s release through social media, it helped to get a small publisher, Black Mask Studios, to publish Liberator, making it a flagship title for the fledgling publisher at the time and a cornerstone of its shared universe. Without crowdfunding, we could have been deprived of this original, positive, and powerful comic.
Sites like Kickstarter have been helping women in comics too, both up and comers and established. Smut Peddler is a successful, multi volume series of adult themed comics made largely by women (all stories written and/or drawn by women to get the female perspective), and for women (and the forward thinking gentleman). Books like this often have a difficult time finding a publisher and even a printer because of the content and a place like Kickstarter greatly helps in making a project like Smut Peddler a reality. I would absolutely love to address why often we see publishers and printers having less of a moral dilemma in picking up and publishing a story about hate and extreme violence than they do about a story of love and sex, but I’d hate to derail my own conversation and really that topic is worth dedicating a whole column to.
Queer focused comics have been seeing a new Renaissance with crowdfunding campaigns too. Comics like Beyond, a queer fantasy anthology, have not only been published through Kickstarter funds, but were so successful that a sequel to Beyond is currently in the works. Even Flame Con, NYC’s first LGBTQ focused comic convention, is in part a result of a successful crowdfunding campaign. That’s not to say that the only reason these things happen are because of crowdfunding, but it’s certainly a huge help.
The queer comic on Kickstarter I most recently backed is titled The Other Side. It’s a queer paranormal romance comic anthology. You read that correctly. No, honestly you did. I wouldn’t joke about something like that.
The Other Side is a wonderful example of how far crowdfunding can take us. I could never imagine any large or medium sized publisher taking on a project like this. Even the tiny publishers. It’s such an interesting and unique idea and exactly the kind of idea that the comics industry needs to have coming out to show that in fact not every single idea has been done before. And hey, it’s another chance to get a comic with Fyodor Pavlov’s art in it.
The Kickstarter for The Other Side has been up for a couple of weeks and at the time I’m writing this has already made it to over $20,000 from nearly 700 backers with a goal of $23,000. By the time this column goes up there will be two weeks left to pledge. I strongly urge anyone with an interest in queer comics and seeing them continue to succeed in 2016 or knows someone who does to please pledge if they can or at very least spread the word.