Rachel Cholst is one of our original contributors, an Indie comic creator and writer for her own blog – Adobe and Teardrops.
Flamecon has its own Origin Story
You could say it all began here at FlameCon. But not at the Sheraton Times Square, exactly. In the past four years, GeeksOUT, a pop-culture-oriented queer social group, has hosted FlameCon five times. The con grows exponentially with each iteration. The first convention was held at a Polish social hall in between the Park Slope and Sunset Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn — a queer-friendly area, to be sure, but quite out of the way.
By the con’s third iteration, it was clear there was enough of a demand for queer voices in geek spaces to move the whole shebang right into Times Square. While I couldn’t find an attendance count online, the rumor among the vendors was an attendance of 8,000 people for this past weekend.
So how did I get to be sitting behind a table, hopefully smiling at 8,000 faces to bring coax them to my table and buy my art? I was inspired by FlameCon. The other cons I’ve been to in New York City are huge and overwhelming. Given what’s been going on in the comics world these past few years, spaces like New York Comic Con felt overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly straight — though NYCC does make an effort to create queer- and woman-friendly spaces. FlameCon, when I went to the second con, was just the right size.
Most of the creators tabling there were indie artists, just getting started. They felt approachable. I’ve been fascinated by comics since I could read. So I asked a student tabling at the Center for Cartoon Studies how I could get in touch with an artist if I had an idea for a script. One year later, my comic Artema was born, thanks to the capable guidance and beautiful artwork of CCS alumni Angela Boyle. I had decided that I would make it — and sell it right where the seed had been planted: at FlameCon.
I can imagine somebody reading this might be asking, “Why does there need to be an LGBTQ comic con? Isn’t it just comics? Aren’t we all just people?” But how many conventions commit to creating a safer space for everyone? How many cons print braille programs? How many conventions have quiet spaces for people on the autism spectrum (or anyone else) who get overwhelmed by loud noises and bright lights? How many conventions provide free pronoun stickers? How many conventions ensure that the restrooms are transformed into all-gender spaces?
It’s that sense of access that really makes FlameCon such a special place. Yes, there are LGBT-friendly spaces at other cons, but few of the major ones make as much of a commitment to creating a safer space than FlameCon. The panels focus on different aspects of fandom and touch on a number of genres: indie table-top RPGs, horror comics, the intersections of race and sexuality in comics. Notably, FlameCon also has a host of specific programming and mentorship opportunities for creators. It’s not enough to make a space for the community to gather: it’s clear that FlameCon has shouldered the responsibility of making sure that community grows.
No organization is perfect, though. This year there was a small dust-up because, this year, FlameCon used a lottery system to determine who would table. While this left people out, including those who had been tabling at the convention since the beginning, the rationale was to make sure that everyone who was selected could have enough time to pull together the money for table fee. (It’s not outrageous, but it’s the equivalent of my weekly budget — and I earn a solidly middle-class salary.)
Statistically, queer people make less money than our straight peers. Combine that with the disadvantages that trans people face, women face, people of color face — hell, the financial barriers any artist faces — and the logic behind the lottery system made sense to me. Of course, I won it this year.
My Tabling Experience
So it was my second year at FlameCon. I was nervous. The year before, I only had one comic to sell. I realized this was an unlikely strategy for success, and decided on a whim to try selling the old test prints I had lying around from my college printmaking classes. On the strength of the prints alone, I made back most of the cost of the table and just about broke even. I’ve spent the year re-discovering my old passion, while cranking out the next issue of Artema.
But what if that was a fluke? Maybe I didn’t really belong here. I’ve been rejected from every other con I’ve applied for. I only got this because of the lottery, which I only won because it was weighted towards people who had tabled the previous year. I was just some rando with an idea and enough disposable income (and then a Kickstarter) to commission my own book. Everyone else was so much more established than me.
That kind of negative self-talk has been paying my therapist’s bills for years. By the second hour of the show, my girlfriend made me leave the building so she could handle the table. I hadn’t made any sales and was growing increasingly despondent. It’s not the kind of energy you want to give off when you’re trying to…well, get people to come and talk to you.
It’s hard not to personalize things, though. Artema is not drawn to look like anything else — Angela’s line work is careful and sketchy at the same time. However, most queer fandom revolves around anime — not Western comics, a discussion for another time — and so the folks at FlameCon tend to be drawn to that style. The story is close to my heart, even though I also have an autobiographical comic that strips away all of the fantasy elements to tell the same story of violent trauma and recovery. Yet there’s something about seeing people flip through Artema and then put it back down that hurts my heart more than when they do the same for the non-fiction version.
After a walk around the block and a snack (you really don’t have time to eat while you’re tabling — no one’s going to come to your table if you’re eating a full meal) I returned in better spirits. My girlfriend, bless her charismatic, outgoing soul, was well on her way to earning back the table fee. By the end of the first day, I had broken even.
How Flamecon was for Me
I came in to the morning of the second day with much more pep in my step. When speaking with other vendors at the breakfast FlameCon provided for us, I heard the same question over and over again: “How’s the show going for you?”
At first I thought it was just meant to start small talk. But I heard it often enough that I realized the question was in fact (no pun intended) a term of art. I was uncomfortable talking about money, but I realized people were asking each other not out of competition (never that — it’s just not the culture at this con) but to gauge their own performance. People who had been tabling at much larger shows for years were asking me because they were anxious about themselves. They…were worried about the same things I was worried about?!?!?!
Overall, FlameCon was a humbling reminder if a lesson that I thought I’d learned a long time ago. Like me as a person, my artwork isn’t everyone’s taste — and that’s okay. The people who get it really get it — and appreciate it.
So how was the con for me? Well, did I get to meet some of my personal heroes? Yes. Do I now believe that I’m a legitimate artist? Getting there. Did I get to trade tips with fellow artists? Yes. Did I get to meet people in person whom I’d admired from afar on Instagram? Yes! Did I have fun connecting with random people about my work? So much.
And I even made a small profit.