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Fighting Homophobia in Nerd Culture, One Convention at a Time

Brent-Con was founded by Sean Z. Maker in 2010 to serve as a sort of queer version of Comic-Con and to bridge the gap between LGBT artists, fans, and geek culture.

by Brittany Malooly
Dec 13 2014, 11:00am

Photos by the author

As Gam​ergate and a thousand other microscandals have illustrated, there's a fair bit of misogyny and homophobia in nerd culture. This is slowly changing, however, thanks to the efforts of people like Sean Z. Maker, a digital artist and author of an epic pansexual comic series called MYTH.

In 2010, Maker founded Bent-C​on, which is basically a queer version of Comic-Con, in Los Angeles to bridge the gap between LGBT artists and fans and geek culture. The idea is to showcase work from people who are marginalized by the heteronormativity of mainstream comics, and also to show gay audiences that they are more represented in this realm than they might realize.

I sat down with Maker at Bent-Con in November to find out what it's like to be gay in the comic book world.

VICE: I've heard that things are difficult for pop-culture nerds in the LGBT community, because within the nerd community, there's not a lot of gay talk and within the gay community, there's not a lot of nerd talk.
Sean Z. Maker: It's almost like a double closet. It's funny you should say that because we promoted [Bent-Con] at [a gay pride event] two years ago, and I remember the distinction was so funny... We had people look, but not stop, and then once they ditched whoever they were with, they would come back and go, "This is great! When is [Bent-Con] going to be?" And, I'm like, "Oh, bring your friends," and they're like, "No, I can't tell my friends!"

When you were younger and you read comics, did the lack of an LGBT presence deter you from getting more enthusiastic about the genre?
You're like, Hey, what about me? I like this stuff, too, and I want to see things like that. Or, What's wrong with having someone who looks like me or feels the way I do being represented in that sort of storytelling?

Can you tell me a little bit about your projects, about MYTH?
​ Well, MYTH actually has been put on hold since I've been doing this show, but that's changing. After the end of the show I'm moving back into digital publishing. [Have you] ever heard of Heavy Metal magazine? It was a magazine that was originally published in Europe back in the 70s that was eventually bought by Kevin Eastman, who created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He bought it, Americanized it, and it's very sci-fi/fantasy—a lot of adult themes, but it's very hetero-centric. I'm a big sci-fi/fantasy fan, but I always thought that it was a sort of a limited story, because you're only getting one type of perspective. MYTH is sort of my love letter to that and it's very pansexual, so it's all-inclusive—I don't limit anyone's experience.

What's the origin story behind Bent-Con?
​ Bent-Con was an experiment of a collective of creative friends in 2010 to see if we could draw audiences to work that was specifically geared toward diversity and inclusivity—so LGBT, female-related, people of color, that sort of thing. We did it in Silver Lake in December just to see that would happen, and we were happy to have foot traffic of over 400 people that day, and we were like, "OK, I think we're on to something."

Before Bent-Con, what were your experiences as a member of the LGBT community in the comic world like?
Not terrible. It was just a different time, and we were the needle in the haystack going to more mainstream conventions—and Bent-Con has never been about segregating ourselves from any community. It's just about recognizing what's there.

There's another nonprofit organization called Prism​ Comics and they like to identify LGBT comic creators, and I would do work with them. I remember this 16-year-old kid came up to the booth [at a mainstream convention]. He was really shy. I could tell he was interested but didn't really know what to say. He came up and started asking all these questions, and he wasn't from California—he was visiting from, like, Iowa or Idaho—and he had this whole experience of, "Well, I want to be an animator for Disney, but I think when they find out I'm gay, they're going to fire me or they're not going to like me." You and I know different, but he's from Iowa or Idaho, so he doesn't have that experience. So, I thought something like [putting LGBT-authored work out there] becomes important because they'll find themselves reflected back.

The great thing about our show is it's all about safe fun, everyone having a great time—not everyone here is queer, obviously. It's really just creating a space that is matter-of-fact and sending that message out to the larger entertainment [world].

What were some of your favorite costumes that you saw at this year's convention?
​ Oh, gosh, there was Braniac. There was the female Thor—she was amazing. She's taller than me and I was like, "Oh, my gosh." There was kind of a fetish-y Batman that I saw, and I was like, "That works."

What did that entail?
​ Well, it was sort of a corset top with the cowl. I was just amazed and titillated and a bit like, "I don't know why, but I just like that."​