On October 22, downtown Dearborn hosted the second annual Comique Con, held once again in its gorgeous Arab-American National Museum on Michigan Avenue. The convention, founded in 2015 by Chelsea Liddy, is a pro-female-themed outing that not only celebrates the growing number of female creators and artists in today’s comics industry, but also recognizes diversity and the representation of women and minorities in the publications themselves. This year’s con featured several workshops and lectures (with arresting titles like “Making Diversity Mainstream: Stop Talking and Start Doing” and “‘Hamilton’ Pamphlets and Juicy Mothers: Organizing Inclusive Anthologies”), a formidable selection of panelists from all over North America–among them Caldecott-winning Canadian author Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer) and emerging (and adorably soft-spoken) Chicago artist Ashley A. Woods (Niobe: She Is Life)–and a slew of great vendors and sponsors, including excellent neighboring comic shop Green Brain. Little girls were living the dream in the con’s cosplay contests and coloring party workshop with Lumberjanes artist Carolyn Nowak. Attendees were treated to a con-exclusive variant of the first issue of creator (and panelist) Natasha Alterici’s Heathen. It had every single thing I loved about the first year.
Except something was missing.
At Comique Con Year One, there was a warm vibe in the air. The crowd was very friendly, and the turnout was some of everyone–every race, gender, culture and sexual orientation respresented in a single place. The solidarity was palpable; even the discourse following the workshops felt as though every single person was there with a desire to understand and embrace mutual differences. I don’t mean to sound all “Kumbaya,” but it was a relief to be in a crowd of people and feel that positively about every person in the room. I left that con excited and hopeful, not only about the con itself, but about humanity. Not very many things make me feel that way anymore.
This year, however, I could sense a different vibe amongst attendees; the air felt tentative, almost…stifled in the audience. When panelists opened the floor up to questions, it felt like being in a classroom where no one wanted to be called upon. When a few brave souls finally opened up (almost exclusively women), their questions were probing and provocative, sparking even more engrossing conversation with the panel. So why the hesitation? Why come to a con that amplifies women’s voices in a male-dominated industry just to suppress your own voice when you know you have things to say?
Unfortunately, we are currently living in a cynical sociopolitical climate that largely (or, shall I say, bigly) marginalizes and belittles women, where the various groups that are the focus and target audience of Comique Con are under fire. You feel it and see it and read it everywhere. Yes, there are women doing amazing things in the industry, but I still can’t go to a local comic shop without some male customer making comments to me about what his dick looks like (in front of the owner, who later admitted he pretended not to hear), overhearing some male employee (different shop) making sexual comments about me to another employee, or overhearing a different male employee (at yet another shop!) snidely commenting to another customer about how “they’ve made comics nice for girls now.” So of course I get it: being a woman–and a geek girl–gets tiresome as shit at times. And maybe I’m projecting a little, but I swear I could feel that emanating from these women in the crowd at Comique Con–a sort of wariness, a flagging sense of empowerment. It’s like many of them came to this con looking for affirmation.
They came to the right place. They just needed encouragement to speak up. They were in a forum created for women, by women (in a museum dedicated to one of the most marginalized and misjudged cultures in America today, no less), listening to accomplished black and Asian and gay and Arab women talk of their experiences with no bullshit, no restraint, no need to fight to be heard in the room. Just as these writers and artists have found a way to be heard, so can all women. That lesson, and these examples of feminine strength, these are the other things I hope those little girls winning cosplay awards and coloring Lumberjanes take home with them.
Mariko Tamaki, in one of the panel discussions, was asked what her hopes were for the future of diversity. Her answer was something I’ve hoped for my whole life: that one day, “different” will dissolve into just “normal.” One could argue that there might then be no need for a Comique Con, but helping to facilitate that lack of need to highlight diversity in a separate forum is the very point of an event like this one. Particularly as we go forward facing whatever political backlash is to come, it is my sincere hope that Chelsea and the other good folks behind this con keep it going–and growing–every year until those borders that divide us and keep us believing we’re all so “different” from one another are irrevocably blurred, and women feel free to speak out in spaces other than those designated to them.