“Hello neighbors,” I say to the circle I’m standing in the middle of.
“Hello neighbor,” the circle intones back happily, including Bitch Planet co-creator Kelly Sue Deconnick, who is running this panel. This is just one of the games she’s taught us. The same games she teaches her Girl Scout troop to teach them how to set boundaries and learn about their community.
“I love all of my neighbors, but especially the ones who watch professional wrestling,” I say to the circle. I cover it professionally. I wanted to see if someone was at least interested.
Silence. No one gets up.
“Just me? Okay.”
I change my prompt to those who like combat boots and we scramble to find chairs, leaving someone else in the center to greet their neighbors. I’m not salty though. It’s not long before I’m talking to someone else about pro-wrestling at the end of the panel. It’s HeroesCon after all. Most of us are just neighbors who haven’t met yet.
HeroesCon is an annual comic book convention in Charlotte. Every Father’s Day weekend, comics creators and fans from all around the country descend upon the Queen City to mingle and to sell books and art. It was started by Shelton Drum, the owner of the local shop Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, but the con has extended beyond the reach of the shop. Especially 35 years on.
I went to my first one in 2014 on a whirlwind day trip from Atlanta to Charlotte, determined to meet my newfound comics heroes Deconnick, Matt Fraction, and Chip Zdarsky. Three years later, I’m still making friends and greeting friends every time I walk the floor, and that’s honestly part of the charm of HeroesCon.
The con is unique in this day of entertainment industry powered comic cons, where comics often take a back seat to television and movies. HeroesCon is comics and comic creator focused, still even after 35 years. The local CW affiliate sets up a booth where they give prizes away relating to the DC Comics TV shows on the network, but that’s about as far as the TV involvement goes. Walk a little further, and you’re bound to find some of your favorite creators sitting at tables, selling their books and art. Or maybe even your future favorite creator. That same con three years prior? That was the first con I met Babs Tarr, excited to see the Bosozoku Sailor Scouts art in person. This year, she was selling exclusive trades of Motor Crush that could only be found at the convention, with Domino and Lola blasting past Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find. It’s hard not to feel proud.
The games panel is different from the other panels I was able to make it to during the weekend. The other two were more traditional. Well, as traditional as you can get with Zdarsky talking about going undercover at a skeezy nudist resort as the long way of saying his parents are into Sex Criminals during his spotlight panel and Fraction reading quotes from his supervillain daughter Tallulah Louise during the Milkfed Criminal Masterminds panel (which I livetweeted here).
It feels like only a panel that could work at HeroesCon though. Laid back and concentrated on being open. There is no pressure to participate. It’s not crunched and stressful like Dragon Con and it’s not about promoting the next big property. We’re here to learn about our community. To share in a mutual love.
“I feel welcome in my fandom,” Deconnick asks the room in a game of Across the Room, where we cross to the other side of the room to join a line.
I stay firmly planted for the time. I feel welcome at HeroesCon. It’s not a con of exclusion. They’re here for all fans of comics. But comics fandom? I’m a queer woman. I barely feel welcome. For pro-wrestling? I constantly feel like I’m loitering around a door, screaming at the residents inside, even if I do write about it professionally.
“I want to make people feel welcome in my fandom.”
There, I take the opportunity to aggressively stomp across the room.
“My mom wanted me to give you a hug from her,” I tell Deconnick after the panel. She met my mom at a Bitch Planet signing in Toronto a couple of years ago and asks me about her every time we see each other at a convention. We exchange hugs and she ‘awws’ about my mom.
It’s one of those things I wish I could tell me of three years ago about, nervous about meeting her idols. It’s also one of those things I feel grateful to HeroesCon for. Helping break down barriers and anxieties to help me figure out my career.
Every year I’ve gone, it’s expanded a little more, but it still feels like a family reunion. It’s the con I look forward to the most every year just because I get to see my comics friends without the added extra stress of packing five days worth of cosplay or having to time running across five hotels to make it to a panel in a basement. It drains my wallet with good art and good food, but it’s welcome. Where else can Kris Anka make jokes about having to fix Joe Quinones’ art when I come to pick up a commission of Captain Marvel? Or the press liaison that I have not previously met recognizes me and thanks me for tweeting while he goes to attend to delivering extra books to creators from the shop?
HeroesCon is special in those ways. It’s not about the big press push, but reminding the world that comics and the people who make them can be pretty great. And that everyone can and should be welcome in their fandoms, despite whatever state laws exist in North Carolina or in the patriarchal confines of old fandom structures.