The Most Progressive Convention...ECCC!!!
Seattle is an important city in my family. My great grandmother lived there, my grandparents met there in college, and my dad finished up his NFL career out there with the Seattle Seahawks in the late 90’s. I was very little but I always remember a Christmas morning in Seattle and watching the VHS tapes years later and reminiscing with my mom. It’s almost ironic that it would take a trip to a comic convention to get me to go back to that city. And in an un-ironic twist it turns out Seattle has become one of my favorite cities to be in, and there’s so much to love about it. From the friendly bus drivers, to the art scene, to the scenic view of the mountains and the water, Seattle was such a breath of fresh air away from the East Coast; I’ve even started to plan my next trip there! However, what made Emerald City Comic Con (or ECCC for the purposes of this article) unique was the amalgamation of different genders, sexualities, races, and open expression and celebration of those differences.
ECCC is nothing like New York Comic Con (NYCC). Although NYCC is the East Coast mecca that everyone comes out too, ECCC felt more personal. While perusing about, I was able to walk about with plenty of breathing room, and really take my time to scan about the convention center. I wasn’t stressed trying navigate my way through the con and there were plenty of helpers and information booths to guide me throughout.
Raw Discussions at Fan Meetups
One thing I found surprisingly enjoyable was the fan meetups. There was an area of the convention center where people went to meet up with other like-minded fans depending on the room and time slot. These meetups were a great way to network and meet fellow fans away from the hustle and bustle of the showroom floor. There were no moderators or lead panelists. It was just an open discussion among people with similar interests and the system worked out very well. Conversations usually started off awkward, but once everyone introduced him or herself, the most outspoken ones started asking open-ended questions and people started to open up. I was able to have nuanced discussions about what it’s like to be a minority growing up in America or Japan to how toxic the gaming industry is for women. At times we tried to come up with solutions to these problems or we all had a laugh at the ridiculousness of the world. Such meetups were more therapeutic and gave us the validation that our struggles are not singular, and we could take comfort in that we were not alone.
I was only able to go to two of the meetups during my time at ECCC, the Industry People of Color meetup was the first one I went to and Women in Gaming meetup was the last. I went to these meetups with the intention to network with people in the creative industry. Others went with similar intentions; some went to just meet other fans, some to advertise an upcoming project, and others to scout out talent. At the Industry People of Color meetup, once we got over the fact there was no moderator, we all opened up gradually. Our topics were broad and varied for the hour we had to ourselves. We discussed ‘colorism in media’ and how poorly it affected our dating lives, to what it’s like growing up as a single black student in a predominantly white school. This was the case for me growing up and being into anime and comics, to help me connect to other people of color my age. I was thrilled to be able to connect to a fan with a similar experience as mine. While we talked about favorite shows, one young entrepreneur revealed openly he tried to commit suicide at the age of 14, but the character Rock Lee from the manga Naruto inspired him not to give in, and to succeed where others believed he would fail. What I loved about his story is that not only did he live to prove others wrong; he used his situation as the catalyst to help educate children using comics and share his story freely to help other children as well. Overall, I found the meetup very successful and inspiring. Business cards were exchanged, Instagram profiles were followed, and I was even contacted through LinkedIn by a fellow fan!
The Women in Gaming meetup was less raw discussion and more of women at various levels of the gaming industry geeking out over new games coming out. What was hilarious at this meet up was that most of the women I met worked for Xbox Game Pass. They became the unofficial moderators of the meet up as they talked candidly about how their office was the most female inclusive and how they got into the industry. Honestly, we soon got away from those topics as soon as we all learned we had a shared love of Brian David Gilbert’s videos on Polygon’s YouTube channel; more specifically his breakdown to understanding Kingdom Hearts. The Assassin’s Creed series was also picked apart and I finally met another fan of Connor Kenway, of Assassin’s Creed 3. Because of this meeting, I now have more game recommendations on my Steam account! Overall, this meeting was a lot more laid back and at the end of the day I think I really needed it. I don’t have too many female gamer friends and it was great just to be able to geek out in a private female setting.
To my knowledge most conventions don’t have un-moderated meetups and I believe they should really implement these at all major conventions. It takes the social anxiety away when everyone knows what the general topic is and it’s just a unique way to meet other fans and people who work in the creative industry. Who knows, maybe one of these meetups will help more people in the future.
Educating Through Romance and Comics
Now anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fangirl, or a fujoshi. I have my favorite ships in many anime and American programs. There are hours of my life I have dedicated to reading various fan fictions depicting my favorite ships. My friend, Josh Brafman, has been my best friend for a while and can attest my squeals of delight when romantic moments are implicated in a show, or when fan service is rampant and I cannot help but hit a pillow, or him, in excitement. Now I won’t say what I find shippable, that’s a good way to piss off a lot of fans and everyone has varying tastes. I find that some romantic stories try too hard with the romance element and that it’s better when it progresses naturally for characters. Sometimes I’ll watch a show that never intended to have shippable characters but the writing makes the characters feel connected in a way romances could never do. I’m getting ahead of myself and off topic however and yes I do have a point. At every convention there is plenty of merchandise depicting all of the ships and romances that fans have come to love and enjoy over the years. But at ECCC there is one subject I never thought about until I saw all of the independent book booths, and that is inclusivity.
All of us would like to see ourselves as heroes in media. 2018-2019 has been an especially good year for Black, Asian, and female viewers with titles such as Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and Captain Marvel breaking records at the box office. These Hollywood films are changing the industries’ outdated ideas on race and gender, but comic books are changing too. There is an explosion of romance comics depicting all manner of queer protagonists and gender explorations. With the LGBTQ community becoming more accepted and the internet helping in connecting people everywhere, it was only a matter of time that we would get more stories that included them as well. Yes there are badass queer superheroes such as Thunder from CW’s Black Lightning and Shiro from Netflix’s Voltron but fans want more than just heroes. They want all types of stories told and not just those about sexuality.
I went to a panel hosted by Limerence Press, part of Oni Press, about LGBT + Fiction and Nonfiction in Comics and it was enlightening. The artists and writers at the panel expressed how they’re writing grand tales of adventure, romance, and horror, but their cast just happens to be queer. The sexuality of the characters isn’t the main defining feature as it would have been in past media, but just another facet of fleshing out a character. Hollywood has done a remarkable job of typecasting a queer character and it has been a struggle to escape the stereotype, but as more and more shows are willing to experiment with actually fleshing out these characters, we are getting better and better stories. The artists and writers of these stories are changing the publishing industry as well. As creators are less inclined to hide what their sexual orientation is and more fans are clamoring for more of the stories that feature themselves in a positive and fun light, publishers are willing to take chances.
I think it might have been the Seattle air or just a West Coast vibe, but there was a plethora of queer comic publishers. I cannot recall if I have ever seen so many at one con before, besides Flame Con. I’ve met more non-binary people at ECCC than anywhere else. Many panels introduced the panelists with their preferred gender pronouns as well as their names and job titles. These may be insignificant to some, but these are huge milestones for many in the LGBTQ community and it was fascinating that ECCC was conscientious of it. Even more spectacular was how topics such as sex education and consent were present in many of these books. Topics such as these should be covered at home or in a sex education class, but depending on where you live in the USA, your education may be lacking.
One writing duo I met, Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, have an online series they dedicated to educating people on sex through humor. With much of the research done by Planned Parenthood, they cover such topics as contraception, gender identity, and pregnancy prevention by sharing anecdotes from coworkers and friends. The comic format helped pass along information more effectively than a textbook or essay. It was so cool meeting the people I would always reblog on my Tumblr.
New Nerd Culture
It is always fascinating when I take some time to think about nerd culture and how far it has come and where it can go. If you search the Internet long enough one might get the impression that nerd culture is a toxic, sexist, and racist swamp full of the stereotypical dorks from a bad 80’s sitcom. To be fair it was and still is if you decide to get into a flame war on Reddit or read older issues of comics and media. Many mainstream heroes are still white men, while women and minorities still have limited roles. Additionally, some comics still portray women fighting crime while wearing six-inch heels and bikini chainmail armor. As bad as all that is, I honestly think we are living in a golden age of revitalized nerd culture. More heroes of color are ‘killin’ it’ on the silver screen and the small screen. With movies like Black Panther, Into the Spiderverse, and Captain Marvel, these movies serve as proof that not every comic book story needs to have a white man as a protagonist. Even on television and stream-based shows like Umbrella Academy, Teen Titans, and Legends of Tomorrow ; aside from their great storytelling, their multicultural teams help diversify the character context and make their universes more similar to our own. Even movies such as Crazy, Rich, Asians are breaking stereotypes in Hollywood by having a predominantly Asian cast all the while brining in big bucks at the box office.
ECCC may not be as big or well known as New York Comic Con or San Diego Comic Con, but it does many things those larger conventions can’t do. The smaller scope of the convention provided a safe space that wasn’t as suffocating as the conventions I’m used to. It also showcased more people of varying genders and identities and demonstrated how accepting the ‘pop nerd culture’ industry is becoming. Nerd culture as we know it can still be decisive, but as the old guard moves on and the next wave of creative writers, artists, and producers are bringing their culture, stories and ideas to the forefront; I look forward to going back to Emerald City Comic Con next year and see what they have in store for me for years to come.