HeroesCon felt a little different to me this year.
Maybe it was the fact the event snuck up on me as a scrambled to get ready and gave up on the idea of cosplaying as I packed for the con. Maybe it was the fact that my one usual guaranteed time of the year to see Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue Deconnick was not actually guaranteed since Fraction cancelled and Deconnick never even made it on the guest list to begin with. Maybe it was the fact that my year away from the comics community in an attempt to be a wrestling news writer sucked the life out of me and I was in the middle of a creative dry spell. Even now, I feel regret writing this up more than two months after the fact as I currently get ready for my next convention, but that’s literally how bad it was.
Still, “different” doesn’t mean “bad” and I still had a great time at HeroesCon this year. Especially getting a chance to get to hear from new creators or ones I wasn’t as familiar with.
The first panel I made it to was the Batman Family panel, which featured Cully Hamner, Joelle Jones, Lee Weeks and Ben Caldwell talking about their experiences of working on books in the Gotham universe. Moderator Adam Daughhetee tried to see if they could go the entire panel without mentioning Batman, but that only lasted about two minutes of a 60 minute panel.
The entire panel was enlightening about what it is like to immerse yourself in Gotham as a creator and featured a lot of complimentary words on Tom King, but I walked away from this panel especially charmed by Caldwell and Jones. Caldwell because he spent a lot of the panel talking about the YA comic he’s working on with Frank Miller about Carrie Kelley, my personal favorite Robin. You could tell that his love of the character has been a genuine lifetime one since he first read The Dark Knight Returns, which he personally described as operatic and cartoony over the dark and gritty reputation it has earned over the years. He described his work with Miller as being “very carnival-esque,” keeping in line with the vibe of The Dark Knight Returns while still doing their own thing and expressed happiness that DC isn’t afraid to aim for younger readers anymore. It’s hard to imagine Miller writing for a younger audience, but Caldwell’s enthusiasm for the book has me convinced. As for Carrie Kelley, he summed up the appeal of the first girl to be Robin very succinctly: “She curses like a sailor and shoots things with a slingshot. What’s not to like?”
As for Jones, she was quietly hilarious through the panel. I had been familiar with her work through her Dark Horse Comic Lady Killer, but hearing her talk about process and Catwoman was on a whole other level. She talked about taking pressure off of herself by setting her Catwoman book in another city instead of Gotham, which had given me my first suspicion that something was going down in Batman #50. She also expressed regret over making Catwoman’s dress so complicated because she didn’t know other artists would be drawing it, let alone cosplayers attempting to make it. “I would NEVER sew that dress.”
The next day had my favorite panel of the weekend, which was about wrestling and comics. The panel included Tini Howard, Andy Belanger, and J Gonzo.
I always worry about panels about wrestling turning into real life wrestling internet, but it was actually a fascinating discussion about, and to paraphrase Howard here, the type of storytelling like comics, wrestling and drag that deals a lot with the liminal spaces between the fiction and the creator. “I really respond to wrestlers that when I look at them and I can see ‘you’re an artist!’”
Belanger especially had a lot to contribute to this discussion since on top of being a comics creator and working on wrestling comics for Boom! Studios as well as an upcoming one for Image that takes place in space, he wrestles as well under the name ‘The Animal’ Bob Anger for IWS in Montreal, which has also paid host to Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, PCO, and Vanessa Kraven, among others. He treats them as equal creative outlets, saying, “There’s zero difference between me making comics and me wrestling.”
While Gonzo didn’t have experience as a wrestler, he did talk a lot about his book La Mano Del Destino, which features luchadors fighting battles for corporate overlords, and the idea of masked luchadors being judged on actions instead of their identity. He also talked about the time he created a character named Mil Amores for a Halloween stand up comedy gig and stayed in character the entire time. Amores was a luchador who constantly gave love advice, but could never not contextualize it for wrestling. I definitely picked up La Mano Del Destino from him after the panel.
As for Howard, along with her discussions of the cross sections of wrestling and comics and even calling me out for the story of when I met Diamond Dallas Page’s daughter, she summed up the experience of being a newer wrestling fan who is not immersed in decades worth of history and childhood feelings in one sentence that I have borrowed shamelessly since the con: “I don’t have a 20 year hate boner for Stephanie McMahon.”
Finally, the Sunday panel titled “Dotted Lines” was another very affirming moment of the weekend as it featured creators talking about queer representation in comics and included Howard, Dan Parent, Yoshi Yoshitani, Tamra Bonvillain, Sarah Stern and Eryk Donovan.
As many panels with queer creators start, early influences and first encounters with queerness in media came up. Yoshitani and Donovan talked some about Ranma ½ and Yoshitani, who identifies as genderfluid, went further to mention the persistent trope of a woman disguising herself as a man and having the man fall in love with her. Howard, unsurprisingly, mentioned Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and how she mentally imagined herself turning Alicia Silverstone into a vampire and living in a Barbie Dreamhouse together.
Of course, it wasn’t all laughs as Bonvillain brought up the first time she ever saw a trans woman on screen: the scene in Crocodile Dundee where he assaults a transwoman. She admits that it sucks a lot and served as a reminder that not a whole lot has changed since the 80s.
While the panel bounced back and forth about queer coding, tokenism as a creator and with characters, and one hilarious discussion about Kimberly in Power Rangers being a bright and peppy murder machine, I think what stuck with me the most was Parent talking about the creation of Kevin Keller for Archie Comics. He admitted that when working on the creation of Keller, he wanted to be sure it didn’t come across as some sort of publicity stunt or an after school special, but have Kevin be a likeable character in his own right. “In my head, Kevin was supposed to be the gay version of Archie.”
Kevin has gone in many different directions since his introduction, including the version on Riverdale that cruises in the woods and the bit more mature version in Life With Kevin, but Parent admits that the initial pushback he got with Kevin was not because he was gay. Rather, it was because Kevin’s coming out story didn’t include harassment and hatred. Parent admitted that maybe that was true, but for Kevin, it worked. “This is Archie Comics. This is what a coming out story is SUPPOSED to be like.”
Stern followed up that there is, can, and should be room in comics for coming out stories like Kevin’s, but also stories of complicated queer people who may not fit in the idyllic world of Riverdale. “There’s value to Archie and there’s value to ‘Oh no, I shouldn’t have done that.’”
HeroesCon felt different this year for me, but I think in a weird way, I needed it to be. By shaking my comfort zones with the con, I was able to spend time appreciating creators I was not as familiar with personally, finding new stories to lose myself in and coming to appreciate the thought process behind characters I thought I knew. It was a good way to hit a reset button mentally and think about how I want to tackle my next set of stories.