Back in November, queer nerd organization Geeks OUT launched a kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a convention by queer nerds, for queer nerds. A month later they’d far exceeded their $15k goal, raising nearly $20,000 to make their con a reality. I spoke with Joey Stern about what led him to form Geeks OUT, how that led to Flame Con, and what queer geeks and their allied communities can expect from New York City’s first ever LGBTQ comic convention on June 13.
Edie Nugent: Tell me a little about your role at Geeks OUT and how you got involved with the organization.
Joey Stern: We founded Geeks OUT in 2010 after New York Comic Con. There was only queer panel that year and it was so packed that you had to stand in the back just to be there.
We wanted to make an organization that connected these fans, and gave them a more than once a year event to gather and see each other. We also wanted to make NYCC a gayer place, so we held events and parties as we fund raised to get enough money for a table.
It was really intense, but a year later, we debuted at NYCC with monthly queer comic/geek events and a table where people could come and find a group for themselves.
Nugent: So how did you decide to make the leap from that to putting on an entire convention?
Stern: We and the board of Geeks OUT felt like it was a natural progression and an opportunity to introduce an existing queer audience to amazing queer and ally artists and creators.
There’s so much out there now, it’s really hard to find a lot of the stuff that’s made for you, and Flame Con offers a connection for people and creators to meet and find new passions.
It also creates connections and empowers queer fandom, which is an important part of what we do.
Nugent: Why do you think comic book fandom appeals to the queer experience?
Stern: There really is no art like Comic Books. It’s not only informative, but it offers a lot more context for the writers’ words than traditional books do (or paintings offer on their own). They also have an indie experience, and like queer culture, were for a long time considered the realm of weirdos and freaks.
Comics in general are often about exploring new worlds and future tomorrows. And I think that idea is really appealing to anyone who has experiences of being on the outer edge of polite society.
For me, the X-men’s construct of creating new family, and finding friendship with people like you was really informative.
Nugent: You really leveraged queer fandom to launch Flame Con, raising almost $20k for the event. Were you surprised by how much support you received?
Stern: Yeah! Oh man, it was terrifying, we were worried the whole thing was going to fail, but people really came out to support us and this effort. It just shows how vibrant and important this community is.
Nugent: Do you think recent media attention on sexual harassment at cons, especially of cosplayers, helped identify a real need for a more progressive type of con experience?
Stern: Sure! But I think a lot of that work has been done by cosplayers coming to the media. It’s been really amazing to see people having that conversation and pushing for safer spaces (and to see cons, like NYCC respond positively to those changes).
Nugent: What are some programming highlights from Flame Con that you’re excited about?
Stern: We’re excited to be putting on all sorts of programming – hopefully something for everyone! A panel about writing for LGBT teens hosted by award-winning author David Levithan, a Q&A with Steve Orlando, writer of DC’s upcoming Midnighter series (DC’s first ongoing title to feature a gay man as a lead character,) a great panel on queer horror with Mark Patton, star of the infamously queer Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Cecil Baldwin, voice of the hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale, a panel about looking at Sherlock Holmes from a queer perspective, a discussion with some up-and-coming industry pros about costume design, and lots more. We’re really packing something interesting into every minute of this con! There’s also a performance from Sarah Donner!
Nugent: What makes Flame Con different from other cons that aren’t queer-centric?
Stern: It’s tailored to its audience. All Gender bathrooms, queer artists and creators taking center stage, and panels that are not Gay 101, but a bit more focused.
Nugent: How so?
Stern: Bigger cons have panels focused on Gay Artists, we have panels focused on writing Gay Sherlock Fan Fiction.