Bent-Con 2012 :: Flying a Different Freak Flag
When I told a friend that I was going to Bent-Con - which is essential known as the gay Comic-Con - he rolled his eyes. "Why does it have to be about being gay?" he asked. Mind you, he is gay himself, so his question got me thinking. Why do we need something that, as he would say, "segregates" us from the general population?
My response was that it doesn’t segregate, but in fact liberates, inspires, and brings together people with similar interests. Sure, there are plenty of gays that attend and are an integral part of Comic-Con. Many artists, creators, illustrators, authors, producers, etc. are involved in mainstream comic books, movies, games, and any general geeky type of interest. But Bent-Con has a different twist.
Their Mission statement states that they exist in order "provide a forum to showcase and celebrate existing, new and emerging LGBT and LGBT-friendly talent in the fields of comics, graphic novels, cartooning, animation, gaming, sci-fi/fantasy/horror writers, film-makers, actors, directors, producers and other-related creative mediums." It was designed to be a way for people to learn from these professionals and act as a way to network for those interested in the same fields - or as just a fan.
When Bent-Con first began in 2010 it was held in a storefront in Silverlake, CA and was attended by about 500 people. (Incidentally, the same amount of people that attended the first Comic-Con.) In 2011 the event was held at the W Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles with over 2000 attending. This year, the event was held at the Burbank Marriott from November 30 through December 3rd and had increased numbers from even the year before.
Events were numerous and plentiful. As is common for conventions like this there is the Exhibit Floor where artists, writers, and dealers of all kinds display their work, talk to fans, or sell their wares. Places like doorQ.com publishing which sells fantasy, sci-fi, and horror books that have an LGBT bent (distributed by www.digitalfabulists.com). Artists like David J. Zelman (www.screamingeggdesigns.com) who presented his artwork and clever books to fans and newcomers alike. Other companies like Class Comics (www.classcomics.com) that sell comic books and graphic novels with gay adult themes were on hand with founders Patrick Fillion and Robert Fraser available to discuss their work. Celebrities and working gay artists (of many mediums) set up spaces to sell their work, talk to fans about the industry, and make new fans along the way. Gay icon and actress Traci Lords talked about her body of work and Jeffrey Reddick ( "Final Destination") were just two that greeted attendees with a smile and stories. There was also a bar and an area for artists to draw superheroes based on the many attendees who came dressed as their favorite characters - familiar or unfamiliar.
With over 50 panels, events and films, there were also 26 special guests such as "Buffy" alums Amber Benson, Tom Lenk and writers Jane Espenson and Drew Greenberg, John Richards creator of the Aussie television series "Outland," DC, Marvel and Dark Horse artist Joe Phillips, and Elfquest creator Wendy Pini. Clearly there was someone for every attendee to fawn over. Screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick said he loves to attend the conventions as an honored guest. "I’ve been in the entertainment industry since I was 19," he explained, "and any time I’m given the opportunity to speak, I say yes. I feel the least I can do is try to pay it forward by imparting the things I’ve learned from being in the trenches to the next generation of aspiring filmmakers. I never knew that so many of the people who inspired me growing up were gay. I think conventions like Bent-Con are important for visibility, so that younger people can see there are comic book, and gaming, creators who are gay. I also love meeting fans. As cliché as it sounds, without them, I wouldn’t have a career, so I never forget that."
But for sure, one of the most popular parts of the convention are the panels and special events. Gay themed horror and sci-fi movies played into the night. A Social was held on the opening night for attendees to meet and greet each other and share in not only their sexuality but their geekiness. The Official Bent-Con Costume Contest was held on Saturday night with dozens of (mostly men) dressing up as their favorite characters, many of them sexing it up as the gays are want to do. Regardless, there was a lot of fun to be had and the fact that no one had to hide their flamboyance, overt creativity, or generally delight at seeing another man half-clothed in a superhero costume was a treat and a relief.
As for the panels, the Bent-Con schedule already had one-up on Comic-Con. Whereas Comic-Con panels require hours of waiting in line and lots of sad faces when the halls get too full to hold all the guests, here attendees filled the rooms, but there was plenty of space for guys and gals to see their favorite LGBT or LGBT friendly creative-types hold court throughout the day. Subjects included: "Understanding the Gay Fanboy (and Fangirl)," "Race and Class in Comics," "Women Warriors: Breaking the Mold," "Who Goes There? LGBTQS and Genre Television" and "A Drink With... Christopher Rice" which featured author Christopher Rice (Anne’s openly gay son) talking about his first supernatural horror novel.
One of the more popular panels of the weekend was one that many gay comic-book fans could identify strongly with. "X-Men: Finding the Power in Being Completely Different" was moderated by Ken Van Fossen who created the panel as a part of his Master’s Degree studies in becoming a Clinical Psychologist with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Psychotherapy. Growing up as an "isolated gay kid in a very small, often narrow minded and homophobic town" he chose a subject important to himself. For him, because of their extreme differences, the X-Men characters gave him the courage when it felt like there was nothing else for him to hold on to.
"I felt a great solace in the X-Men," he offered. "When I felt that I was suffering in my isolation, they gave me hope. I wanted to share with other gay kids or adults who were struggling with their sexuality or who continue to carry a lot of shame over being LGBT, that there are strengths and pride to be found in our uniqueness. Our LGBT Spirit and our soul is what makes us special and what makes us strong. "
He went on to explain that he chose Bent-Con as his venue "[because] I felt that it was a great place to share my experience where it might be able to help others who could relate to these fantastic characters."
Which in a way perfectly sums up what Bent-Con is - and means - to thousands of gay fanboys and fangirls across Southern California (and beyond.) It’s a place to celebrate a genre that they love - without judgment - and with the ability to relate to everyone attending because there is the innate shared history of being gay. Sure, it would be nice if sexuality was a non-issue. But in a world where there is rampant homophobia and gay people still have to be careful with how much they reveal about themselves, having a convention all their own is a breath of fresh air. It shows young and old that gay people exist and thrive in many different capacities and have more varied interests than circuit parties or C-list pop stars. As a community, we are as varied and diverse as any other. Bent-Con is a reminder of that. And a place to let a different kind of freak-flag fly.