“Sabrina” Cosplay and Gay Mutant Love: 5 Takeaways From Flame Con 2019

Here's all the tea from the world's largest queer comic book convention.

If you want to see some of the most iconic lewks outside the ballroom scene, head to FlameCon, the outré mecca for queer geeks and allies. Since its launch in New York City in 2015, the annual event, presented by the nonprofit Geeks OUT, has become the largest LGBTQ-themed convention for fans of comic books, sci-fi, and fantasy entertainment. More than 7,000 people flocked to it in 2018, with more than 8,000 attending the 2019 edition. This year’s edition—held August 17 and 18 at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel—drew stans, artists, and more than 300 vendors representing every type of fandom with an emphasis on celebrating queer projects and perspectives.

“We expected a few hundred attendees our first year, but were greeted by a few thousand,” Steve Gianaca, vice-president of Geeks OUT and chair of Flame Con, told NewNowNext. “From there, we have experienced explosive growth because of the genuine desire of queer geeks to find content that holds a mirror to their own lived experiences, and to find their community of queer geeks. We hope to continue growing with them.”

Here, five takeaways from this year’s bash.

Flame Con 2019 cosplay contest.
Carla Hay
A cosplay contest at Flame Con 2019.

Cosplayers Came to Slay—But Originality Won the Day

There were two separate cosplay contests (one each day), which had contestants sashaying down the runway and announcing who or what they were dressed as. Some participants were very extra in their presentations, doing stunts or family-friendly stripteases, carrying statement signs, or parading in couples or groups. Although there were some very impressive cosplayers portraying well-known characters (including a nicely coordinated couple dressed as Freddie Mercury and Elton John and another smooching pair dressed as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy), the finalists and standouts tended to be people who came up with more original costumes. One winner was André Clarke, who dressed as Magik, a Marvel Comics character.

Another fine moment arrived when a queen dressed as Sabrina from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina pulled a magician’s trick stunt by changing costumes while encased in a cloak-like tube.

 

Avengers Who? Queer People Still Love X-Men the Most

The Avengers ruled at this year’s box office, but another group of Marvel superheroes dominated this year’s Flame Con: the X-Men. That’s because the intrepid mutants, who often experience bigotry for being “different,” are the comic book characters queer people seem to identify with the most. One of the highest-attended Flame Con sessions was for a taping of Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, a comedic podcast hosted by Jay Edidin and Miles Stokes. Comic book writer Vita Ayala (who’s working on the Xena reboot) was a special guest during this presentation, which addressed possible down-low romances between Professor X and Magneto or Emma Frost and Mystique.

Another popular draw at Flame Con was Designing X-Women V, an annual panel in which illustrators present their interpretations of well-known, usually female X-Men characters. This year, attendees were living for and literally gasping at the alternative fashions for Storm. Based on the audience reactions, panelist Luciano Vecchio is a major talent to watch.

Vita Ayala at Flame Con 2019.
Carla Hay
Comic writer Vita Ayala.

Queer People of Color Made a Strong Showing

Panels at other comic conventions sometimes lack racial diversity, but that wasn’t the case at this year’s Flame Con, where almost every panel had at least one person of color. Comic book writer Ayala and Mutant & Magical Boy podcaster Aaron Reese were two of the MVPs—they each appeared on three separate panels this year.

Live Performances Kept Things Lit

Comic book conventions offer the expected cosplay, panel discussions, and merch, but the live performances at Flame Con 2019 were truly unique. New this year was the Bonfire Variety Show, which boasted stand-up comedy, musical improv, and burlesque performances. Also well-received was Kweendom, a rotating showcase for comedy performers; Queer And …, a mashup of sing-alongs to fandom theme songs; Spellbound Strings, a string quartet that played cover versions of anime songs and other geek-culture music; and the Bear Sailor Moon Lip Sync Extravaganza, hosted and judged by two bear Sailor Moon stans. This last party had one bespectacled contestant getting so worked up during a Carly Rae Jepsen song that their glasses flew off and hit the floor several feet away.

Steve Orlando at Flame Con 2019.
Carla Hay
Comic book writer Steve Orlando.

Steve Orlando Had Some Big Wonder Woman News

Bisexual DC Comics writer Steve Orlando, who wrote for the gay superhero Midnighter series, is taking over the Wonder Woman series in October, and he had some major tea to spill to NewNowNext.

“We’re bringing back a long-running Wonder Woman villain that hasn’t turned up in a long time,” Orlando said, though he declined to specify which character.

Orlando added, “Keep an eye out for AfterShock [Comics]. I’m doing a book there that’s going to be announced at New York Comic Con. It’s another LGBTQ+ book. It’s a story I’ve been trying to tell—it’s been a five-year fight. I’m writing with Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Alec Morgan, who’s drawing it. It’s finally happened, and I’m very excited about it.”

On the panel “We’re Here and Not Just Queer,” Orlando said he’ll address the struggles bisexuals face in being accepted in the gay and straight communities in one of his new comic book series. “It’s coming up in Martian Manhunter No. 8, which is the first time [in comic books] I’ve talked about bisexuality and the suppositions that the gay community puts upon us.”

Writer and editor whose work has appeared in AXS.com, Examiner.com, Lifetime, People, and Billboard.