This past weekend in Brooklyn was FlameCon, aka “The World’s Largest Queer Comic Con.”
Think panels on subjects like the future of queer media or the intersection of queer comics and sex education, stickers for attendees with their preferred pronouns, and a lot of gender-bending cosplay. And it’s a perfect spiritual successor to comics’ early days as a Jewish-created medium.
This isn’t to say the event was as Jewish as, say, Jewish Comic Con (though one artist, Isaac Goodhart, did table at both), but it was more Jewish than a mainstream convention. After all, just think of the Jewish figures who have become icons of gay culture. For example, indie artist Jim Smith had a booth; his My Super Gay Book of Saints & Holy Days features several Jewish divas; Barbra Streisand, a beatific halo behind her, blesses the cover. And then there’s Jewish Drag superstar Sasha Velour, who was about as easy to spot on fan art for sale at this comics convention as Aqua Man (actually, there was probably more Sasha stuff). I even bought an adorable zine based on the Chelm fish folktale (you can actually read it online). The latter wasn’t explicitly queer, but it fit in perfectly at an event that celebrated independent media and little-known creators.
After all, remember the history of comic books. It was largely comprised of a bunch of scrappy marginalized young people (Jews) who couldn’t find work in established industries. They still carved out a space for themselves in popular culture because they had something to say, and stories to tell. And while those creations were ultimately embraced by society as a whole, oppressed groups always had their own relationship with these works. Any minority accessing an art form as popular as comics is going to look for coded representations of themselves. One panel at Flame Con, on queer relationships in the X-Men franchise, was mostly about subtext, and what these moments meant to the panelists even though they had to read between the lines.
For Jews, reading between the lines is more of less in the past. Gone are the days of theorizing that Kryptonian names sound like Hebrew. Jews in comics came out of the closet (the ark?), with characters like Kitty Pryde, or the revelation of Magneto as a Holocaust survivor. There’s still room to grow, but we’ve come a long way.
While there are certainly LGBT characters in the world of superheroes, that transformation in queer representation is some steps behind Jewishness. Some queer writers create their own work, and make their own rules. Others who have positions in the mainstream part of the industry are gaining the freedom to make beloved characters overtly LGBT. Take Iceman, who as far as we knew was a nice, straight white boy when he was introduced in 1963. In 1984, Marvel Comics revealed his partial Jewish heritage, and in 2015, he made headlines when he came out as gay. This is all part of the evolution of making characters resemble the fans who love them— and comic fans are a hugely diverse bunch. It makes for an exciting chapter for creators and consumers of geek media, and the energy at Flame Con was palpable.
Plus, Flame Con was there to embrace all sorts of diversity— queerness was the focal point, but whatever your difference, from race to disability, there was space for you there. The future of comics, if this is it, is in good hands.