Over the past year, I’ve been on what I call my “Rainbow Tour,” promoting the site, networking with professionals and trying to make Fanboys of the Universe a household name in gay geekdom. Since embarking on my tour, I’ve given up my usual con activities and have primarily positioned myself at a table or booth for the duration of whatever show I happened to be attending, and through it all, I’ve also managed to learn a couple of things.
Becoming a Pro at Cons
First, I’ve discovered that five hours of standing is the limit of my endurance. I’ve really got to start practicing in the weeks leading up to these things. Hopefully, by Comic-Con, I’ll be able to stand comfortably for 6-8 hours. There are chairs at the booth and opportunities to sit, yes, but here’s something else I discovered: If I’m sitting and you’re standing, I’m going to stare at your crotch. I can’t help it. So, for the sake of being polite, I’d prefer to stand and then steal glances at your crotch like a normal person.
Something else I’ve learned along the way is that cons can break your heart.
In the past, if I left a convention feeling emotionally drained, it was usually because I’d had a harrowing experience trying to buy something from the Mattel booth. However, as I left Emerald City Comicon Sunday evening, the overwhelming emotions were because of the people I met throughout the weekend, and the stories they shared with me. I am not a particularly warm or friendly person by nature. I tend to like being an observer (like in Fringe, though not as pale). But when I do a convention, I know I need to turn on my Guy Smiley personality and try to charm people.
So, as people walk by or stop and browse, I try to strike up a conversation. Like, “Hi! How’s your day going? Having a good time? What have you got there? Oh! You’re a fan of Storm? What do you like best about Storm?” That sort of thing. Then, if I don’t forget, at the end, I’ll thrown in a “Hey! You know who else likes Storm? The guys at Fanboys of the Universe. Come check us out!” Sometimes, I’m witty and droll, but most of the time I’m pretty cheesy, and now that I think about it…that might actually be deterring people from visiting the site.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
About half the time, people make small talk and move along. The other half of the time, they stop and talk for a while. I think a con already creates an atmosphere where you feel safe, like you belong. Add to that a gay comics booth, and you’ve got another layer of acceptance and safety. I think that’s why gay attendees feel like they can open up and share their stories. The people who stop at the Prism Comics booth (and the people who volunteer there) are genuinely excited about meeting and chatting with each other. Gay geeks want to get to know their fellow gay geeks.
Throughout the weekend, I got to hear tales of joy, catastrophe and triumph, and how all those things had connections to a love for comics or sci-fi or fantasy or whatever. I love meeting the artists who are taking their first steps towards sharing their work. They bring their portfolios, and they bring them specifically to the gay comics booth. Hearing how they finally got to that point is always so moving and inspirational, and you can’t help but want to inspire them to continue.
I also like chatting with the friends who make attending the con a tradition. I even like meeting the friends who have no interest in comics whatsoever, but come because they want to support a friend who does. I was also delighted by the number of straight people who came to buy comics for gay friends who couldn’t make it to the show. One young lady just wanted me to tell her which comic to buy her gay best friend. After describing most all of the comics I was familiar with, and seeing the growing anxiety in her eyes, I just picked one for her. And I gave her a rainbow geek button for good measure. “Send him to Fanboys of the Universe!”
Then there are the lovebirds. I can’t help feeling warm and fuzzy when I see couples, of all ages, in their costumes or matching superhero shirts, making their way through this veritable honeymoon in Wonderland, hand in hand (or glove in glove, as the case may be).
It Gets Better
But it’s not all heartfelt reunions and puppy love. A handsome, soft spoken man in his 30s stopped by, in a hushed sort of panic, and wanted to buy his comics as quickly as possible. “My friends are on the other side of the convention,” he explained. “We walked by here earlier, but I couldn’t stop and buy anything.” He paused. “They don’t know.” Everyone immediately sprang into action and found a way for him to buy and conceal his comics, so his friends wouldn’t suspect. We sent him on his way, and I imagine he probably stopped at other vendors to buy books that would help further conceal his gay titles. It really broke my heart. There I was, standing by my flashing pink sign that said, “Are you a gay geek?” and passing out my rainbow geek buttons and answering questions about the serious lack of female-to-male transgendered comics available, and here was this man, still navigating the minefield of being in the closet. I recognized that look in his eye, that fear of being discovered. I think we all felt his pain, his anxiety and his thrill at making his purchase, hopefully a first step in a triumphant journey. I really hope he stops by again next year, with his friends, and laughs about the cloak and dagger stuff from the year before.
Towards the end of the day on Sunday, as we were packing up, a guy in his 40s, dressed in fatigues, stopped at the booth and asked to take a picture. He was dressed as a soldier, but it was definitely cosplay, probably from a video game that I don’t play. Or maybe he was a GI Joe fan, I’m not sure. But he explained that he wanted to take a picture of the Prism booth for his gay son. He then assured us that he loved and supported his son, encouraged him to come out and live his life openly and honestly. Most importantly, he said, “I didn’t want to lose him. I wanted him to be proud of who he was. I didn’t want to find him hanging from the rafters because he didn’t think I loved him or that I’d understand.” We told him he was a great dad, and I gave him a rainbow geek button to take to his son. “Send him to Fanboys of the Universe!” I’m classy like that.
The Good, the Bad, the Geeky
So, really, these conventions have become so much more to me than just the sum of their geeky parts. The comics, the toys, the panels, the celebrities…they’re all just an excuse, really, to convene and commune with friends, old and new. To share stories and learn more about each other, our passions and our creations. To get a little help from a stranger who just happens to understand where you’re coming from and what you may be going through. All of it really makes the aching feet, sore throat and exhaustion worth it. (Plus, 500 more FBOTU buttons have been released into the wild!) And honestly, I can’t wait for the next one.
Tune in to the podcast to hear some audio clips of my interviews with LGBT comics creators Jon Macy, Sean-Z and Zan Christensen, as well as a trio of dreamy fanboys named Jonathan, Tom and Marvin.
Thanks for listening!