HavenCon: the Happiest Fest in Texas

Cosplay madness, writing LGBT, and Janet Varney talks Korra

Cosplay contest in full swing, a demonic corpse pulled idly at facial wounds from her place in the queue. A willowy Link brushed past a hulking Maleficent, possibly on her way to eliminate a credit card balance on any number of homemade trinkets lining the Holiday Inn ballroom.

Not much different from your usual convention fare, except nobody’s shy here. This is HavenCon; no one’s going to be laughed at.

Conversations scattered around the hotel’s ground floor centered on inclusivity with panels on bi visibility, cosplaying as a transgender person, and women in the gaming industry. Authors Aech Alvarez, Rhiannon Frater, Daniel Harvell, David S. LaRocca, and Stacia Seaman gave tough love to some budding LBGT writers about the broken publishing system and market for their books.

The event’s marquee talent, voice actors Janet Varney and P.J. Bryne from Nickelodeon’s animated series Legend of Korra, (today at 3pm in the Elm Room, VIP only) roasted their host, pop culture doc Rebecca Housel, and discussed the show, which sparked off Internet fireworks when it ended its run last year. Successor to the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender that starred the mythical Avatar with the ability to control and bend four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and maintain balance in the world. As his reincarnated spirit, the idealistic and tenacious Korra grew her own rabid fanbase over four seasons. When the series ended with Korra joining hands with her friend and longtime conspirator Asami Sato (actress Seychelle Gabriel) and ascending into the spirit world – eyebrows rose, across the fandom and beyond. Did that mean what we thought it meant?

According to the show’s creator Michael DiMartino, who wasn’t able to attend: yes. During the subsequent Q&A, the Chronicle asked Varney about the relationship – dubbed Korrasami – and how it differed from other romance plots in the show, most notably Korra’s stint with firebending wiz Mako.

Austin Chronicle: The way that Korrasami was handled, mostly metaphorically, do you think that is sending a bit of a negative message as an aftertaste?

Janet Varney: I think that goes back to Mike [DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko] fighting as much as they could for what they could. I don’t know how much I should say, or how much I’m allowed to say – I’d rather just let them speak to what their process was and what they were able to put out there, versus what their intention was and their ideal scenario was. It might not have been met. I just can’t speak to that, because it’s not my baby and I’m not Nickelodeon. I think that considering who it was made for and what the intention was, I’m so glad they were able to do any of it at all, and I’ll take it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to take it and say, “We’re done everybody!” Of course not. It saddens me greatly that we have to have this conversation: They didn’t kiss. Or they didn’t this. Knowing I’m such an advocate.

AC: In the first series of Avatar two 11 or 12-year-olds express sexuality – in the form of a chaste kiss – but Korra and Asami, who were grown women, couldn’t?

JV: I have a tremendous problem with it. I couldn’t wish more that it was an equal field. It bothers me so deeply that there is something salacious still about two people of the same gender kissing, that you bring sex into it in a way that you don’t with straight relationships. Where it’s like: “Oh, it’s innocent, it’s just a kiss.” I was kissing girls innocently when I was 3. Do you know what I mean? What’s the difference? Whether or not that blossoms into a relationship of love or I marry a woman later, who cares? It is what it is. It’s all the same to me. I hate that we’re not there yet. If that’s the conversation we’re having. If Mako and Korra kiss, and Asami and Korra don’t kiss – what does that say about where we are? I think it says a great deal about where we are. In that particular context, on a kid’s show, for a kid’s network. But I’m not OK with it at all. And I’m so excited to have been a part of something that’s pushing anything that’s saying, “Hey, wake up everybody! Love is love.” [Cheers.]

HavenCon continues today with a second Avatar panel, a Big Gay Cosplay Wedding, and a 4pm presentation by nonprofit StartOut on economic empowerment.

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Video Games, HavenCon, Legend of Korra, P.J. Bryne, Janet Varney, Rebecca Housel, LBGT, Avatar

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