The ’Gay Geek Thing’ @ WonderCon 2013
Second only to San Diego’s yearly mega-event, WonderCon 2013 is like Comic-Con’s feisty little sister. Taking place in Anaheim every Spring, WonderCon boasts nearly 40,000 attendees, panels consisting of the stars of film, TV, and comic books, as well as Cosplay fans and the casually curious. All in a venue that is a bit easier to navigate then the colossal Comic-Con.
The event features the requisite exhibit hall with over 700 exhibitors and artists and other conference rooms that include over 240 hours of programming. This year brought out Q&A’s with hottie Stephen Amell ("Arrow"), legendary Bruce Campbell ("Evil Dead"), sexy Matt Bomer (the voice of Superman in the animated "Superman: Unbound"), "Avengers" director and "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon (talking about his new indie comedy "Much Ado About Nothing"), as well as panels on everything you could possibly imagine from the 35th Anniversary of the classic TV series "Battlestar Galactica" to "The Psychology of ’Star Trek’ vs. ’Star Wars.’"
There’s so much to see and do, in fact, that the whole experience can be overwhelming. Long lines to get in to panels can be daunting and the clambering to see celebrities and get autographs is a chore. But for many fans it’s worth it. It gives them the chance to interact with childhood heroes (hello Richard Hatch!) and dive deeper into subjects that might not be so mainstream, but that certainly have a large interest (the panel "LGBTQ subtext in Comics, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy.")
For others, though, it’s all about the showroom floor. From artists selling their posters and comics, to t-shirt vendors, to collectors selling a variety of treasures, this is the place to be. And it’s so massive you can literally get lost in there.
But what is so great about events like WonderCon isn’t just the camaraderie geeks get to have with other geeks, it’s that there is a general understanding of being an "outsider." Because of this, there is a newfound comfort in the LGBTQ community that they can feel welcomed in this environment.
Jeff Krell began his comic "Jayson" ) thirty years ago as an answer to a gap in gay characters in the comic industry. But getting his name out there to a more diverse crowd than just the LGBTQ community was a challenge. "I’ve been doing this for a long time and I started going to Comic-Con about seven years ago. I see a tremendous change in response to the people that come to the booth and discover what we do."
He explained, "At first people didn’t know what Prism Comics was. When they discovered this was representing LGBTQ comic creators, the response was typically negative or they’d joke about it or if it was a couple of straight guys it would be like ’this is something for you! Haha.’ But I’ve seen that all change; not just because Prism is more popular, but because people are more accepting of gay themes and characters in comics."
In fact, not until the last few years have we seen a gay character come out in a major "family oriented" comic book: Kevin Keller from "Archie." "I like to think of Jayson as his spiritual godfather," laughed Krell. "But the response is positive. [Straight people] are interesting in reading something with a gay character or gay theme, because it’s not something they’ve seen a thousand times already. Especially young girls tend to like to read something with gay men in them. Maybe that’s part of the Manga influence."
This shift changed Krell’s interaction with people at the conventions, making it less stressful and more about the creation he made, than how to tone down the truth of what it was about. "I don’t feel apologetic or ashamed now when people say ’what do you do?’" he said. He used to be more evasive saying things like, "Well my main character is gay and he’s based on me, I don’t know if you’d be interested in it." But times have changed. "I don’t feel like I have to make excuses for it. And I feel like just because someone isn’t gay doesn’t meant they won’t be interested in the stories I’m telling."
Gay superhero stories
This type of perseverance and diplomacy allows for other artists to explore themes that touch both on their personal lives and their love of all things geeky. Alex Woolfson is one such man. He’s created two web comics with gay themes and in a genre he loves: the superhero story "Young Protectors" and the sexy sci-fi thriller :"Artifice") about a prototype android soldier sent on a kill mission who meets and falls in love with a human male survivor.
"As a gay kid growing up I loved action and science fiction films," Woolfson explained, "but I never got to see what I really wanted to see; a kick-ass science fiction story with a hero - a real hero - that just happened to like guys.
"If you notice in action films or sci-fi films the gay characters don’t fare too well. If they’re lucky they are the comic relief. Usually they are the psychotic villain or they kill their lover, or are killed by their lover. This was my opportunity to write good science fiction first, but that had a hero that I could identify with."
For many from the LGBTQ community, there is that hidden geek inside that loves cool stories, sci-fi worlds, superheroes to save us, and stories that intrigue and compel. Not just gay guys but the gay gals as well. In fact, I went with a lesbian that was getting creatively inspired by what she saw around her and another bi-sexual friend was slinking around the exhibition floor in her Lady Deadpool costume. So it’s nice to know there are artists out there that have included the LGBTQ community in their work and that the geek community as a whole is much more open-minded and accepting of us. Perhaps it really is because we all feel a little like outsiders. But it also just might be that the stuff at WonderCon is pretty frackin’ cool.
2013’s WonderCon was held at the Anaheim Convention Center on March 29th-March 31st, 2013. For information about Comic-Con and related events, visit www.comic-con.org.