New Comic Book Day: Flame Con!


Hey, happy Pride Month everybody! To celebrate, a group called Geeks OUT threw the East Coast’s first queer comic con last weekend in Brooklyn. Turnout was great, and the con was packed with great cosplay, some really cool panels and an amazing atmosphere. I had a chance to sit down with one of Geeks OUT’s board members, Amber Garza, in the middle of all the madness, and then I got to wander one of the most energetic con floors I’ve ever seen. Let’s see what she had to say! I mean, I already know, but WHATEVER LET’S GO TO FLAME CON.

Jim Dandeneau: Tell me a little about Geeks OUT.
Amber Garza: So Geeks OUT is a nonprofit. Our mission statement is to rally, empower and promote the queer geek community. So we do that by having a presence at sort of the regular comic cons, and this is our first entree into doing our own con. We also, our presence at the other cons like NYCC, we’ve also been at GaymerX, we’ve been at C2E2. So our visibility is sort of our first…the first thing that we’re doing. And we do that through our presence there, and also through all of the t-shirts that we sell. So the t-shirts are specifically queer geek related, things about…Alan Turing Fought Nazis with Science, that’s one of our t-shirts. We have Captain America, instead of the star, it’s the triangle. Stuff that’s…maybe it’s not overt, but people who know know.

Topical! Click to enlarge.

JD: So what are you trying to do by organizing your own con? What’s your high-level goal for Flame Con?

AG: One other thing that I just wanted to add to the front part is our website hosts original content that is all queer geek focused, so we [cover]every sort of genre pop culture thing that’s going on, it’s through a queer lens. We do refer out to other sites, but a lot of the content that we write is our own and it’s original. So that’s another way we do the promotion and visibility.

The purpose behind doing our own con is, we’ve had the experience of going to places like GaymerX and Bent-Con, which sort of paved the way for what we’re doing, and those are both west coast presences, and so this is sort of going off along that. When you’re a genre fan and you go to a convention, it can, if you’re not the targeted demographic, it can be a weird experience. So we wanted to follow in the footsteps of Bent-Con and GaymerX and do the East Coast version of those kinds of things where queer geeks get together. There’s no question who we are, why we’re here, things like preferred gender pronouns people know to ask. So we just wanted a place where all the things that are important to us and that make us feel comfortable, we’re able to bring it all under one roof and bring everybody else who loves doing it too under one roof.

JD: It seems like you’ve gotten a decent amount of institutional support from some [big genre]companies. There’s a dedicated Nintendo booth in the gamer section, you have a portfolio review with Dan Ketchum who edits the X-Men books, you’ve got Steve Orlando who writes Midnighter, you’ve got James Tynion [IV] who wrote Memetic

AG: We are so lucky! [laughs]

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JD: Has there been a lot of support at the highest levels of some of the corporate institutions?

AG: You know, what’s really interesting is it seems as though people were just waiting for this to happen. We have been so lucky and honored at the outpouring of support that we’ve gotten from all areas. Marvel, DC, everyone has…Image, they’ve all been so excited to help us and to give us whatever kind of support they can. So it was not difficult at all, and we also have a fantastic outreach team through Geeks OUT. Our promotion and marketing are just phenomenal, and they did a great job of finding the people that they needed to find and it was just, really it was just making contact. It was not very difficult to get support.

JD: So what do you think of how things have been going so far?

AG: It’s great! I mean, it’s coming off really wonderfully! We’re in this amazingly ornate birthday cake of a venue. Which I feel like is perfect for Flame Con – it’s flaming in here! [laughs]And you know, what I love is just everyone who’s here is just really excited to be here. We have amazing special guests. The panels are gonna be fantastic. We’ve already done the dramatic reading from the “Welcome to Night Vale” people. They did an X-Files reading, which, you know, is the perfect marriage. [Laughs]

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JD: What are you most excited about personally?

AG: Personally? I’m most excited about Cristy Road and seeing her stuff and seeing her speak. And also, I’m on a panel for the first time ever! It’s gonna be the horror panel. I co-write the Walking Dead recap for Geeks OUT, it’s called “A Bloody Mouthful”. And so that’s my bona fides, in addition to just being a horror fan. So I’m excited about that, and really I’m just thrilled that there’s a place for everybody to come together. It’s really special when we make a space for ourselves, and that’s what we’ve done. I can just feel the energy in the room. Like, I’m just excited that everybody’s here, that we have fantastic attendance, that you know, it’s not crickets down there. We didn’t think it would be, but to see how many people are into it, it’s like, we’re doing the right thing. It just gives us so much energy to continue.

JD: Anybody who wants to help, how can they help Geeks OUT, and how can they help for Flame Con 2?

AG: For Flame Con 2, we will probably be doing a Kickstarter again. Because that was…once we were able to get the funding for that, we knew there was enough support. We got the monetary support. We have volunteers the day of the event. We are always looking for members. Membership is really just as easy as signing up on our web site. It’s as easy as the click of a button, you can sign in with your Facebook account or you can use a different email address if you want to sign up. We also are looking for bloggers, if people are interested in writing about something that they’re passionate about and they can write about it through a queer lens, we’re always looking for that. Diverse voices.

JD: And Geeks OUT is not just for LGBTQ individuals, it’s also for potential allies, too, right?

AG: It is too. Going off of GaymerX’s “Everyone Games,” you know, everyone is welcome here. Everyone geeks. So we’re happy; anyone who wants to make this geek world a better and more welcoming place, everyone is welcome.

Check out the next page for a wrap up of the con, some more cosplay pics and my thoughts on the day.

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Conventions are funny things. There are so many moving pieces to the planning and staging of an event this size, even one that’s fairly modest (modest only because we’re in the shadow of SDCC, the biggest nerd gathering of the year) like Flame Con. Putting this con together was, I’m sure, a tremendous amount of work and one that relied on a lot of sweat and elbow grease from passionately committed volunteers who just wanted to celebrate their geekdom and community.

Logistically, Flame Con was fantastic. It was held at the Grand Prospect Hall, one of those perfect Old New York joints; an ornate, kitschy Eldrac back to a ’50s Italian wedding. Seriously, go watch that commercial. It still runs on cable channels in the city, and it is incredible. The only thing that would make that place more like one of my aunt’s houses is if there were a statue of the Virgin Mary in front of one of the columns. ANYWAY, the con was laid out extremely well, which is one of those basic planning concepts that is so simple to do right, but often ends up ignored, leading to me having to trundle my substantial ass through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and missing some great tables. The hall was the perfect size for the crowd, and the split level and atrium were a nice change of pace for programming.

Awesome armor made entirely of Magic: The Gathering cards. Click for big.

But judging the success or failure of Flame Con isn’t just about whether or not there was enough space for me to squeeze through the aisles. It’s about whether or not Geeks OUT did what they were aiming for, whether they created a welcoming space to celebrate queer geek culture. They were wildly successful.

In preparing to talk with Amber, I had penciled in a question about intersectionality, about if Geeks OUT was angling to build awareness for just LGBTQ fans or if they were going to work to help everyone who’s underrepresented on the face of geek culture. That question was moot the second I walked in the door. From the stickers identifying your preferred gender pronouns to the “Professor X & Oracle Elevator Access” sign for the elevator (and thanks to Elana from Graphic Policy for grabbing a shot of it) and the ramps everywhere to the composition of the crowd and exhibitors, this was one of the most diverse rooms I’ve ever been in, a celebration of every different flavor of geekdom you can imagine.

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In a weird kind of serendipitous symmetry, Fun Home sponsored Flame Con, and I got my copy at the first NYCC. The Houghton Mifflin table was just giving review copies away to anyone who walked up. There’s usually a manic disorganization to the firsts of big social events like this, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. There was an incredible energy on the floor – every exhibitor I spoke with was elated that there was a con created to celebrate queer geek culture, and beyond proud to be part of it. It was a smooth, well run party, and I would definitely go back next year.

As for what I’m reading this week, I’m psyched for Prez #1, Robin: Son of Batman #1, Infinite Loop #3, Oh, Killstrike #2, and my Flame Con haul – Midnighter #1 and Strong Female Protagonist. What are you checking out this week?