The Queer & Comics Conference was a truly historical event in every way.
I’m still processing a great deal of what I saw and heard.
Organized by artist Jennifer Camper and Prof. Andre’ Carrington of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at The Graduate Center, CUNY, Queer & Comics is the very first conference fully sponsored by an academic institution to talk about queer comics.
As a conference, it was one of most wholly diverse things I have ever been a part of, with panels on trans experience, genderqueer/fluid stories, creators of color, stories of dis/ability, acknowledgement and honoring of the generations that have preceeded us. As an example of inclusivity that made everyone openly welcome this was absolutely a gold standard event.
I arrived on Day 1 for LGBTQ comics for Young Readers. This was, unsurprisingly, of great importance to me. The panelists were fantastic: Zan Christensen of Northwest Press moderated, Jay Fuller (The Boy in Pink Earmuffs), Ariel Schrag (Awkward and Definition), Rica Takashima (Tokyo Love~ Rica ‘tte Kanji?!) Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) Dan Parent (Archie Comics). The discussion was fascinating, covering the changes they’ve seen – and been part of, and the challenge of what it means to be writing “for YA,” what it means to be labeled a YA author, how one decides what to include or not include, influences and suggestions for further reading (some of which I have already exhorted you to read, such as Lumberjanes and Ms. Marvel)
I then went out to lunch with four amazing women – Rica Takashima, Mari Morimoto (who translates a great deal of the manga you read in English), Keiko Nishimura (a grad student in Communications at UNC, who, in another of those weird coincidences that reminds me of what a small world this is, was in there in 2004 when I introduced the Utena movie for the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in London) and Fujimoto Yukari-sensei, a professor of shoujo manga at Meiji University, who was a fellow contributor for Eureka magazine’s “Yuri Culture” issue. Did I mention how small a world it is?
We then went back to catch a “master class” with Howard Cruse and Alison Bechdel. I expect you’ll be familiar with Bechdel’s name, as she is one of the best known lesbian comic artists currently drawing, creator of Dykes to Watch Out For and Fun Home, but you may be less familiar with Howard Cruse, who is one of the first-wave LGBTQ comic artists in America, and founder of Gay Comix, the first ever gay comic in America. This talk was amazing, ranging from technical details (“What brushes did you use?” “Whatever I had.”) to discussions of coming out and life in the gay communities of the 70s and 80s and choices the artists made in the process of their defining works. It was both enlightening and endearing.
That was followed up the one session I absolutely, positively, definitely wanted to see : Pioneers of Queer Women Comics, moderated by Samantha Meier, who is writing a book on this topic, featuring names I hope you all know or will learn: Trina Robbins, Mary Wings, Roberta Gregory, Lee Marrs.
These amazing women talked about the challenges they faced in the underground comics world, contributing to Gay Comix, what they are doing now and in the future. It was a fantastic panel. I was able to shake their hands, and give them some of our ALC books, and have a great experience. What fantastic women. What an amazing chance to meet them and listen to them.
My Day 1 ended there and Day 2 started late for me.
I caught the last few minutes of This is What I Look Like: Creating Queer Characters of Color, Sina Shamsavari moderating, with panelists Carlo Quispe, Cristy C. Rhoad, Rica Takshima, Jennifer Crute’, and Rupert Kinnard. (Thank you person who designed the program book, for including the panelists’ names on the schedule!! Thank you so much.) Event organizer Jennifer Camper came in at the end with an emotional and heartfelt thanks for the panelists, because when she first came up with the idea for this conference, this was the first panel she thought of and the entire event was about this moment for her.
Headed out to lunch with the same group, because lunch with amazing people is always the best part of an event. Fujimoto-sensei was heading up to TCAF after Queer & Comics and we talked a little bit about what makes TCAF special. I rendered it down to Q&C is about the stories that need to be told, where TCAF is about the love of comics in every form: the making of, the drawing, the publishing, the selling and the reading of comics.
Then it was time for the panel I was moderating – Wet and Sticky: Female Sexuality in Queer Comics. I had amazing panelists! Jennifer Camper, Ellen Forney, Jennifer Crute’, and Texta Queen. We talked about what we found hot and sexy, what inspired them – they had a fantastic conversation about the technical process of drawing sex scenes, the use of reference photos, and a lengthy discussion of objectification and whether it is a thing that is possible in regards to queer comics. What a great set of panelists – I was so very lucky to have the honor of being a moderator for this.
I sat with a number of trans and genderqueer comics folks in between sessions and we had a lovely conversation about this event and their work, and cool gender neutral characters in manga. Quicky shoutouts to Sophie Labelle, and her comic Assigned Male, Alison Wilgus, and Kori Handwerker, who has been a Friend of Yuriko for ages. ^_^ So good to see you all.
We all went back to the auditorium once more to hear final thoughts from event founders Andre’ Carrington and Jennifer Camper.
Both of them discussed their vision for this event, which involves taking it on the road. They are hoping to shift this back and forth between the East and West Coasts, and Jennifer mentioned, in conversation, that she though it would be cool to maybe take it on the road to Europe. (In case you were wondering, I missed the panel, but yes, LGBTQ Bande dessinée had a panel of its own, as did Bara, and webcomics and of course I brought up Yuri in Wet and Sticky.)
But you should also understand that this sort of thing is not just confined to this conference. There is a zeitgeist – second and third wavers are reaching out to have these conversations while the first wavers are still with us, as the new generation is discovering they are not alone through webcomics.
In the sales room (where Prism Comics was graciously handling sales for everyone) I met Soizick Jaffre, who is arranging LGBTQ comics talks in Europe, and Justin Hall, who is hoping to do similar things in San Francisco.
The final presentation was Alison Bechdel’s keynote. Of course she talked about the utter weirdness her life has become since the Fun Home musical, but before that she talked at length about Dykes to Watch Out For, and the constant tension in her between missing the sense of community of her youth and the desire to break away from being a niche community comic artist. She showed us a two-panel comic of two older folks discussing the new “Oppressed Minority to Watch Out For” comic in the paper then, jokingly wondered why her comic just never quite made it to that point, with this illustration.
Eye-opening for me was the fact that, although I have always said I didn’t much care for Dykes to Watch Out For, I laughed hysterically at the strips she showed us, walking us through the comic year by year from inception to ending. Apparently, I am now mature enough to appreciate the humor, and think I’d better go back and read it after all. ^_^
The conference had several satellite events, a “drink and draw”, a reading by artists and a few other social get-togethers that ran before and after the main conference. Everyone who attended had nothing but nice things to say about the event. I certainly hope that CLAGS considered it successful – I’d love to make this a regular event in my schedule.
Before we wrap up, let me give you the rundown on the swag I picked up. ^_^
The very first thing I nabbed was If This Be Sin by Hazel Newlevant, a former Prism Comics Queer Press Grant winner. All three of the stories were bittersweet, but for entirely different reasons. Two were historical – the first of Gladys Bentley, a crossdresser and lesbian in 1920s Harlem, who went “straight”, married and lived…happily ever after? The second followed the “fictionalized” lives of two of Prince’s band – Lisa Colvin and Wendy Melvoin, watching as their contributions were minimized as his star rose. The final story was a fiction of ballroom dancing and what might have been.
I also had a chance to pick up How Much Queer Work! an anthology that includes Russian LGBTQ artists, as well as some familiar western names. The anthology was put out by the St. Petersburg-based Side by Side Film Festival, specifically to raise money for a Russian LGBTQ organization, in the wake of the re-criminalization of discussing any LGBTQ issues in Russia. This is no joke for Russian queer folks, who are seeing a massive uptick in violence and discrimination as a result of this “protective” legislation.
In an effort to throw a little more money at CLAGS and the event, I picked up the amazing, awesome and damn, I wish I could draw-inspiring Queer Pin-up Cards, published by Northwest Press, with art from pretty much every artist to be involved in this event! These are so damn cool. I found myself smiling at practically every single image. I’m also (again) amazed and honored that I’ve gotten the chance to meet so many of these ridiculously talented people.
I’d been waffling for a year or two about getting Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s Caldecott-award winning book, This One Summer. Not because I didn’t want it, but because I kept finding myself in situations where carrying it home would be work. I’m so damn lazy. ^_^; So, finally I had a bag with wheels and Mariko Tamaki had autographed it and I was bloody well going to buy the thing at last! I read it on the train home and it was, as I expected, totally compelling reading. Anyone who grows up anywhere knows this story, as one stops being a child, but is not yet an adult, but the concerns of the adult world start to be seen, but are still opaque.
Last, but not least, I want to thank Denis Kitchen, a founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and a pioneer with Gay Comix, for making it possible for all panelists to get a copy of Howard Cruse’s The Complete Wendel. This is something I have been meaning to read for quite a long time; an important comic of the gay community of the 80s, when everything was changing. The free-wheeling community of the 70s was about to be hit…hard…with the reality of AIDS and coming out was becoming more critical than ever, but no easier. I’m looking forward to reading this immensely.
Thank you Andre’ and Jennifer for a fantastic conference!
I learned a lot at this event. About the artists, about stories I had never read, about myself. But I want to leave you all with what I consider to be the most important piece of wisdom I heard in these two days. Mary Wings said this and I echo her wholeheartedly:
“Don’t ever stop doing what you are doing. Keep on doing it.”