We all know what’s going to pop off this weekend, but before we drink from that well of geekdom, New York City had its own happenings last weekend. From a blackout in Midtown Manhattan to Formula E racing in Brooklyn, NYC had a lot going on, but the true nerd highlight was Blerd City Con.
In the middle of con season, a week before San Diego Comic Con, now in its third year, Blerd City Con ran from July 12-14. Founded by filmmaker and educator Clairesa Clay, Blerd City Con is “…a blend of a micro-comic con with the intersectionality of social issues facing people of color.” Having gone to a con or two, I looked at this event not so much as a convention, but as a conference which showcased that fusion of art, technology, socialism, film, representation and general nerdom in the Black community.
For this third year the conference had a loose theme of Black Horror, be it the horror of vampires and monsters or terrors of gentrification and social injustices. On Friday, July 12th, Blerd City Con kicked off this 3-day event in Brooklyn’s Herbert Von King Park with a free screening of the 1973 Black Horror classic Ganja & Hess. This outdoor event was in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation as part of their Movies Under the Stars events.
For day 2, Blerd City Con transported vendors, panels, workshops, and screenings into St. Francis College in downtown Brooklyn. Unlike my last con, I was on time and better prepared so as not to only cover this con, but too also enjoy and engage with the presenters and fellow attendees.
My first panel of the day was Code, Write and Sip a technology panel/workshop held by screenwriter creative gamer Laura Fielder and her partner coder/engineer Mekesia Brown. After a brief introduction they spoke about the importance of gaming and the need for engaging stories, merging creativity and coding, breaking down the game structure for understanding compelling game play, and knowing your audience.
The Geeks in Journalism workshop was right up my alley, if you’re a writer like me and want to keep your editors happy or are trying to break into the industry, this workshop was for you. Run by Karama Horne aka The Blerd Gurl™ she spotlighted her newest venture, tiyland.com, a service to help creatives improve their online presence, the differences between being a blogger and being a journalist, the various types of coverage you might do and controlling your brand and worth when working for outlets, as she said “The game is content creation.”
Black in Animation presented by DiverseToons spoke about the different trajectories and pathways they took to get to their current animation positions, from their personal obstacles to their transition from traditional animation into digital media/art. In addition to discussing their careers paths, they candidly addressed the pressure of being the only person of color in the room and the need to be that voice, but panelist Andre Rodriguez had an amazing outlook as he said: “Pressure is a privilege as people are counting on you.”
Sweet For The Sweet a talk about the cult horror classic Candy Man by writer/podcaster Kennedy Allen. If you’ve never heard her on the Black Tribbles podcast or missed her at the Black Villains Matter panel at this year’s Black Comic Book Fest at the Schomburg Center, then the first thing you need to know is that she’s a straight shooter, breaking down and discussing early gentrification/environment within the trappings of a slasher film.
Hosts Len Webb and Vincent Williams of The Micheaux Mission podcast, “TWO MEN. ONE PODCAST. EVERY BLACK FILM EVER,” taped an episode of their show with special guest Ryan Sands. If you recognize the name its because he’s one of the stars from the hit Hulu show Marvel’s Runaways. The gents had a great talk discussing the blockbuster movie Men in Black as well as discussing Sands personal history in geekdom beyond his show. To hear this recording check their site for when it posts.
Indy Comic Book Artists: Webcomics, Horror, Sci-Fi and Mystery panel moderated by Janicia Francis got the inside scoop from panelists Chuck Collins, Keith Williams, Regine Sawyer, N. Steven Harris, and Sha-Née Williams about their history of working in comics, from mainstream to independent, dealing with distribution and getting new comic readership. With careers spanning decades, these creatives gave us details on their journeys in comics, their techniques in crafting including their struggles dealing with artist block.
In addition to the panels and workshops, there was a Virtual Reality lounge set up by SidLocks MultiHop, attendees could play either a zombie shooter or the immersive story Masters of the Sun: The Zombie Chronicles based on the comic written by music superstar will.i.am and Benjamin Jackendoff, and illustrated by Damion Scott, this VR story used Queen Latifah as the main characters voice and the legend himself Stan Lee as moderator helping you navigate through this hip-hop environment.
Star Wars fans were treated to the fan film Dark Awakening, written and directed by Tia Cherie Polite, this short film is about the return of a resurrected Sith witch trying to unleash the Dark Side on the galaxy and the Jedi who must stop her.
Black to the Future: African-Americans Making Moves In Technology a talk moderated by Cyrille Phipps with technologists Corvida Raven and Tatiana King-Jones. Covering topics like moving past the framework of these tech pipelines and the limited solutions they form by creating spaces and economic wealth to overcome the technological privilege denied to people of color.
The multimedia performance artists Black Issues Issues used humor for their interactive performance 1619-2019 400 years of Black Issues. ReBlacka and Gibson broke down the term Black Nerd, it’s meaning as a movement and all the other terms/identities that encompass it. In the “Brooklyns” they had attendees digitally vote, anointing Levar Burton’s character Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge of Star Trek: The Next Generation as the face of Blerdom. They continued using comedy to drop knowledge and ask questions like “Did Kaepernick need Nike or did Nike need Kaepernick?”
Closing out the events at St. Francis was keynote speaker Dr. Jerry “Rafiki” Jenkins author of The Paradox of Blackness in African American Vampire Fiction where he gave an informative talk about the relationship between vampires and Black people throughout mythology and media.
There was a closing cosplay event at a local bar but by then even I was too nerded out to go. To keep up to date with the planning for next year’s Blerd City Con, sign up at their website and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.