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Last weekend’s LGBTQ-themed Flame Con was yet another spectacular success that enveloped people in a warm haze of acceptance and love. It was a lot to expect from a two day comics show, but Flame Con has lived up to expectations and exceeded them.

We’ll have a fuller report on the show later this week, as I could only attend on Saturday afternoon, but just walking into the New York Sheraton Times Square I could see that the show was PACKED, despite this being the first time in Manhattan. Vendor after vendor said they were stunned by the size of the crowd and everyone was selling books left and right.

Now in it’s fourth year, Flame Con was previously held at various venues in Brooklyn and while it was always well attended this year, it just blew up. According to Michelle Rose Micor, director of PR at GeeksOut, there were more than 7000 people in attendance on Saturday, a new record for the show.

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The crowds led to some conditions familiar to NYC con goers: crowded aisles, long lines to get into panels (they were turning people away at the Ace panel), and squeezing past some of the most spectacular cosplay recently seen. But unlike the hectic, anxious crowds of some NYC shows, the crowds at Flame Con were united in a nearly blissful spirit of fellowship. Just check out the #flamecon hashtag to see the laughter, the tears and the hugs.

 

Despite the culture wars raging through comics, Flame Con showed that the true fire is in the hearts of people who want to be accepted and see themselves reflected in the culture they consume. At the “Jay and Miles X-plain the X-men” panel, writer Leah Williams asked the crowd if “any of the X-Men are NOT gay?” and everyone cheered. The thing is, the culture of the book backs up this idea. It was suggested that perennial punching bag Scott Summers might be straight but it was pointed out he lived with a fisherman for six months in one of his sabbatical.

The point wasn’t that anyone’s beloved characters are being “ruined” but that the subtext of the X-men has always been outsider, renegade and misunderstood: queer, in a word. Rather than constricting the fandoms of any franchises, Flame Con showed that embracing the variety and myriad shades of these characters can only make them stronger and more loved.

Don’t believe me? I was able to find a couple of veterans, including artist Adam DeKraker who remembered the LAST TIME a comic con was held at the NY Sheraton Times Square. It was 1996 or so – Heroes Reborn had just come out, and the industry was in a death spiral from having relied too much on speculation and variants. The Great Eastern Comic Cons had been shut down, the BIg Apple was only a small idea, and someone – I think Nick Barrucci was involved – had the idea of throwing an old school hotel con. The guest list was stellar – Garth Ennis! Steve Dillon! – but as everyone I mentioned the show too recalled, crowds were minimal.

In fact, there were more people at Flame Con than at that long ago “mainstream con,” born out of the bad girl/variant era.

So you know, as one of my friends put it “Hooray! The queers won!”

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One thing of note: Flame Con was held at a Sheraton ballroom that was the perfect venue with changing lights in rainbow shades and a pumping soundtrack that kept things going. There is a larger hall at the Sheraton, downstairs. The crowds at this year’s Flame Con suggest an even bigger venue might be needed and I’ve reached out to the organizers to get their reactions to this years show.

For me, Flame Con felt a bit like a way scaled down 1% sized Comiket – the emphasis was on fandoms, identify and the US versions of fan circles, AKA webcomics and anthologies. The guest list was a strong as any show, and it definitely surpassed MoCCA for second biggest show in NYC.

Whatever it was, it was the future, and I’m sticking with it.

As awesome as it was, the lighting at Flame Con was not great so most of my photos turned out to be not as fabulous as they should be. Here’s one that is passable, Andrea Leigh Shockling (Subjective Line Weight) and Lilah Sturges. Just check out instagram for all the action!

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