Gay Place Goes to Comic Con Austin

What? Gays who like comics, card games, and roleplay? Shut yo' mouth!

KISS posters, Star Wars action-figures, Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, I had them all. Heck, I even started collecting autographs from missionaries that would visit our little Southern Baptist church when I got my first Bible.

I'll admit it. I'm a hoarder at heart. Even before I became the self-proclaimed "lazy comic reader" I am today, I was always a part of the collecting part of the comic con culture. So, when I found out Wizard World was moving it's annual Comic Con from Dallas to Austin, my Spidey-Sense started tingling.

I had never attended one of these events, but I had several friends who had, so I knew what to expect: lots of folks doing cosplay, a bunch of folks playing games, some cool celeb photo ops, and maybe an opportunity to pick up an item or two for myself. However, I had a separate agenda. I was looking for the gay in the Comic Con. I wanted to find some openly gay comic artists, cosplay enthusists, and hopefully some "gaymers" too. I headed down on day two of the con to begin my queer quest.

As I entered the Austin Convention Center, the cosplay crowd was already out in full force. Within a mere 10 minutes, I spotted a handful of comic book characters, an entire crew of Ghostbusters (including real-life cast member, Ernie Hudson) and a few Jedi knights and even got a chance to be slashed by a Predator. There was something very surreal about walking around a large room filled with these real-life versions of the characters I had grown up with. Then I stumbled into the celebrity autograph section. This area was also dubbed the "No Photo Zone." Someone with a Comic Con Staff badge told me this meant no photos of Lee Majors (Six Million Dollar Man), Adam West (Batman), or Burt Ward (Robin), but that I should just ask each celeb separately, which I did. Surprisingly each one I approached not only let me take the photo, but was super friendly. I found Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers), who was set up next to Buck Rogers' Erin Gray, speaking with attendee, Jack Adger. Adger, who was "in it for his kids," hoped they would come to love some of the shows that he grew up watching. Ray Park (Darth Maul) had at least an hour-long line most of weekend. San Angelo resident, Brian Bailey and his friends waited "most of the day" on Saturday. When I stopped by again on Sunday, I asked Richard Sheldon, a call-center manager from Burleson, TX, why he thought the such a draw for Mr. Park. "He's nice. He actually takes the time to talk with his fans and it feels genuine."

I took this opportunity to press further and ask Sheldon if he felt the "comic con culture" was accepting of the LGBT community and what his personal feelings were about gay comic book characters and gay comic con attendees. Sheldon, who had identified himself as straight was also a Ren Fair regular which is where he first remembering befriending people whom he later found out were gay. "They were great people. No different from me. Just gay." Sheldon mentioned the recent gay teen suicides and bullying being in the news. He wanted to remind me that, "everyone is different. Comic book geeks, nerds, band kids, gay kids, we all get picked on and bullied. Everyone should just be more accepting." When I brought it back to comic books, he was eager to discuss the subject and pointed the finger at Chasing Amy director and comic writer, Kevin Smith, as really helping to break down those barriers. He summarized the matter by saying, "Look, you know gays in comic books are mainstream when 'Archie' has a gay friend." Yes, earlier this year, Archie Comics welcomed it's first openly-gay resident of Riverdale, Kevin Keller. The response from the comic community was overwhelmingly positive. A press release from Archie Comics even stated that "Kevin is also one of the few characters to break out into his own mini-series." The series should hit stands in 2011.

Of course this wasn't something that happened overnight. Comic strips and comic books have been battling censors for years and there has been plenty written on the subject. What I needed was someone who was gay and working in the industry to speak with. I found exactly what I was looking for in DustyJack of Scuttlebutt Ink. Dusty met her partner JD online years ago as "Sailor Moon" cosplayers, fell in love, and began using their artistic talents and their love of anime and cosplay to enable them travel the convention circuit creating "fan badges," while JD works on her Masters. Dusty, whose art is primarily gay-themed, said she hadn't met that many other openly gay artists at the Austin Comic Con, but she believes "the anime scene is a lot more accepting of gays than most. Especially young lesbian women."

In fact, within the comic culture, the Japanese manga tradition really helped to lay a lot of groundwork for gay characters beginning in the Seventies, this was especially true with many of the yaoi and yuri titles then, and it has continued to grow into big business for many animation houses and comic publishers in Japan.

After bumping into "Pimp Vader" and a Yoshi-riding Mario, I wanted to find someone local to Austin or at least Texas. I still needed to gauge whether this comic con was truly successful. Further down the "artist alley" I ran into local illustrator and print-maker, Tim Doyle. He had seen a ton of people over the weekend and had one of the best booths in the artist area by far. We talked about his current influences and how he felt about comic cons in general and how this one differed from others. Doyle, a former Dallas resident, was quick to praise Austin for helping to make Wizard World's move from Dallas to Austin such a success. Later, by phone, I asked Tim to tell me his opinion of gays in the comic book culture, both as character and as fans. For the characters, Tim, like Richard Sheldon, also led off with a film director that he felt helped break down several barriers. This time it was "X-Men" director, Bryan Singer.

"I think Singer nailed it by drawing comparisons to the mutant outcasts and gays. Sure, it was a bit heavy-handed in X2 but it worked." When talking about gays as fans of comics and acceptance Doyle, who used to manage several comic book stores in town said he had lots of gay customers. He went on to say, "There were always those friends you had in high school that were into comics and were gay, but didn't come out until many years after leaving school, and we all said, 'Yes, we knew.'"

Doyle gave me lots to ponder on, but now I wanted to find a gay gamer. Wizard World had arranged several new games to be demo'd over the weekend and of course Magic the Gathering and Warhammer tourneys are also big draws for the con. So I headed to the designated gaming area. Unfortunately, as I have previously discovered in the real world, finding "gaymers" at the con was especially tough. Not because they don't exist or I didn't try, but it's difficult to snag any of them for very long because they are always playing a tournament. I got several stank eyes for interrupting and wasn't about to push them. After all, they were playing for big money. There were two $5,000 prize tournaments over the weekend. So, I just admired them from a far. Yes, I'm totally attracted to the chubby, geek, sci-fi loving, gamers. Have you met my partner, Robert? For me, a comic con is a veritable drool fest, and I certainly took in all the eye candy I could. In fact, I'd say this comic con measured pretty high on the "woof" scale.

As the con was winding down, I remembered that I promised Gay Place mascot, Dandy Unicorn a special treat for carting around the boss and Andy in NOLA this past weekend. So, I hopped in line for something truly unique. The television series, The Simpsons are no strangers to LGBT characters, with over 20 characters being either gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or at least something in the story hinting at the character's sexuality being something other than heterosexual. So, for $25 bucks I got "Simpsonized." by "The #1 Simpsons Artist," Phil Ortiz. I asked Oritz if he would mind drawing a unicorn next to me. So he enlisted fellow cartoonist, Phil Yeh to draw his character, a hoodie-wearing unicorn named Frank. An Emmy Award-winning artist, Oritz has been doing the con circuit with fellow artist Yeh for several years, known as "The Two Phils" or the "Cartoonists Across America." This experience was even more surreal than being surrounded by Jedi knights and Stormtroopers. Watching as someone turns you into a denizen of the mythical and beloved Springfield is something else.

Overall, Wizard World's first Comic Con in Austin was a lot of fun, and at some point, I think the kid in me really took over and I forgot all about finding the gay in the comic con. All the myth and magic of the comics, cosplay, the fandom, and celebrities – it really transported me somewhere special for that little slice of time I was there. The fact is, comic cons are really similar to gay pride celebrations: times where you can escape your day-to-day grind, express yourself, and be who you want to be. Whether that's a comic book character or drag queen or just your friendly neighborhood homo. 'Nuff said.

Click on the Gallery link above the drawing for photos from con!

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