Queers & Comics 2017
I made my travel arrangements well in advance. Not knowing what kind of time conflicts I might have, nor how much money I'd have to spend, I arranged to spend the least possible amount of time away from home... flying overnight from Grand Rapids the night before the conference began, and flying home the night after. And I spent the least possible amount of money, bringing some food and drink along with me, eating out cheaply, and couch-surfing my one night in the city at the home of a legendary queer cartoonist. I'm an experienced backpacker, which helped me prepare a single small carry-on bag with the least necessary proivisions (e.g. change of clothes, drawing tablet, etc) for the trip;
I took my moped to the airport, which I could park for free. I flew from Grand Rapids to Chicago, and from there to San Francisco on United Airlines, still fresh in the news for their inability to treat customers like people. My flights were uneventful, however, landing me eventually at SF International around 1:30am (Pacific Time: 4:30am to me). After only about 4 hours of fitful sleep in the chilled fuselage, I found a relatively quiet and relatively comfortable spot in the terminal for a couple more hours of even more fitful sleep before the sun came up.
As twilight approached from North America, I took BART to the Mission District, where I had a few hours for sightseeing before making my way to the conference nearby. My first street-level experience in San Francisco was to walk past drug and prostitution deals in progress. Mission Dolores Park was more tourist-friendly, giving me some opportunities to take scenic pictures. I also trekked over to Castro Street: in case I never make it back to San Francisco for a proper tourist experience, at least I've made my pilgrimage to Gay Mecca.
The conference was held this time at the California College of Art (SF campus). It was two days, generally consisting of four concurrent sessions at a time from 9am to 6pm, and a keynote presentation each evening. (There were a few less-formal and more-social events the days before and after, but I wasn't around for those.)
I started the first day sitting in on a panel discussion about "Redefining Masculinity thru Queer Comics". Featuring an intentionally motley assortment of trans, cis, genderqueer, masc, and femme – but all male-identified – cartoonists, it offered some interesting insights into how people whose masculinity has been questioned or denied by the mainstream can possibly salvage the concept of masculinity.
After a brief "welcome" session in CCA's main auditorium came my biggest challenge of the conference: a session in which I would be one of the panelists, on the topic of "Bisexuality in Comics". Q&C sessions vary a bit in how they're structured, and to be honest I'd be more comfortable wearing the baseball cap of "presenter", doing a bit of show-and-tell about myself, my work, and how it deals with the topic at hand. But ours was to be more focused on conversation, a skill I've never been especially strong at, and as my social-anxiety has developed over the years, tends to give me trouble.
But I think I held up well enough. A TSA-safe 3-ounce flask of vodka helped calm me, and a friendly moderator, co-panelists, and audience of about 15 (including someone I know) helped too. I tripped over my tongue a bit, as I tend to do when I try to think aloud, but not horribly so. It was also my "coming out" in a sense. I've been openly queer in my community – to family, friends, now-former coworkers, etc – for a long time. But most of these people don't know that I also make porn comix, and I've been careful for the sake of remaining employable (and remaining in the occasional family will) to keep a safe distance from that work. I bent that rule for this. There are now photographs of Jason-the-pornographer on Facebook, and there will probably be video on YouTube.
(There's also a bit of a "branding" issue involved. In recent years I've lost a lot of the hair that's a defining characteristic of the comix version of Jason A. Quest. I really did have great, thick hair once. Imagine the star of a 1980s hair band trying to tour with male pattern baldness... it's just confusing.)
Next was lunch. Unlike the venue of the first Q&C conference in NYC (in the shadow of the Empire State Building), CCA's lower-rent neighborhood doesn't have a zillion options for food within 100 yards, and I missed midtown Manhattan's $1 pizza slices. But between the on-site A2 cafeteria, Wolfe's a block away, and Dos Piñas taqueria nearby, there's some good affordable food at hand.
Right after lunch was a surprisingly intimate session about crowd-funding: three presenters with substantial experience at it – and just two people in the "audience" for most of the period. I'd like to get money for what I'm doing, so Kickstarter, Patreon, etc hold some appeal, and at the least I learned what I'd need to do to make that possible.
My choice for the last regular session of the day was "Creating Queer Characters of Color". As a white dude I would've appreciated a bit more how-to advice, rather then the focus on of-color folks creating their own non-white characters. But as the panelists pointed out, well-intended white folks have a lousy track record on this, so I understand the objection. Former Milestone writer Ivan Velez was moderating, and as a Windows user he had a little trouble with the Mac at the podium, so I helped him get the PowerPoint slideshow going again.
After dinner was the first keynote address: Mariko Tamaki, the Japanese-Canadian writer of the Eisner/Ignatz/Caldecott-winning most-challenged-in-libraries "This One Summer", a YA GN illustrated by her cousin Jillian. Her presentation was as funny as it was informative, and will be worth looking up once they get those videos online.
My host for the one night I'd be sleeping in town was Robert Triptow (the second editor of Gay Comix), who'd graciously offered to put me up when I mentioned on Facebook that I'd need a place. One of his other houseguests was Roberta Gregory (of Naughty Bits fame), whom I'd met last time and know a little on Facebook. On the first bus to get to his house, I sat with Leanne Franson (creator of Liliane, Bi-Dyke) whom I know on FB, Leanne's son, Eisner Hall-of-Famer Trina Robbins, and her partner Steve Leialoha.
I slept like a rock. The buses in SF run on odd schedules: there might be two of them five minutes apart, then 20 minutes until the next one. We just missed one on the way back to CCA, so I was almost half an hour late for the first session of the day. It was about "herding cats" (editing anthologies). I've toyed with the idea of doing that, and picked up some good tips.
My next session was about the concept of gender identity in sci-fi featuring robots and artificial intelligence, and they had a good set of trans, genderqueer, and cis panelists to talk about it. This was a more academic topic than most of those I went to, so I didn't get much practical info from it, but it was great head-candy, going beyond the obvious question of why we'd give robots a gender, but also whether a self-aware AI would choose one, or change theirs. There were a couple of statements made by panelists that I wanted to dispute – especially the notion that an artificial intelligence would never face obsolescence because operating systems are immortal – but the there were too many people in the audience with too many good questions for me to get a chance to be That Guy. It gave me a few ideas that I'd like to use in stories someday.
I skipped lunch to do... an interview. There's a filmmaker working on a documentary about gay porn comics, and he's been bugging me from time to time (since before the previous conference) to go on camera for him. I'd tried to negotiate something audio-only showing my comics instead of my face, but he wanted a talking head. He asked again on Friday, and I figured that since I was already showing my face at conferences, and allowing video of my panel to be posted online... the hepcat was already out of the bag. So I went to the nondenominational restroom to switch to my more photogenic shirt and downed my last emergency double-shot of vodka. He set up a couple cameras in one of the empty classrooms and miked me, and I answered his questions. He'd told me ahead of time what he'd be asking, so I at least didn't have deer-in-the-headlights reactions trying to figure out who my porn-comics influences were and things like that. Remembering a trick from back in the day when I occasionally did on-camera comments to reporters at gay-rights demonstrations, any time I got stuck or stammered in the middle of a sentence, I backed up and started over... he can edit the false start out. It went well enough, I think. And thus endeth my career in elective politics.
After lunch I went to a panel about self-publishing, which featured a range of panelists, from a young woman who steals photocopying services to Alex Woolfson, who has parlayed his gay superhero/sci-fi web comics and crowdfunding into a full-time job. I asked about dealing with homophobic/prudish printers, and Alex's disappointing answer was that his R-rated content was the "worst" that his printer (in Hong Kong, I think) would let someone get away with.
The final session I went to was about gay male porn. I wanted to be on that panel, but it was fully stocked with an international set of name-brand cartoonists. But just between you and me, one of them had pretty much nothing to say – as the moderator went thru the slides of his work, this guy just told us what story the art was from and when it was published – and I could've filled that spot better. The room was packed, with people standing all the way around the back and sides, which made it all the more of a missed opportunity for me. I salvaged it a bit, however, by working up the nerve to approach one of the panelists afterward. Justin Hall (one of the organizers of the conference, and an instructor in the comics program at CCA) had showed a page from a story he'd done that was erotic memoir, remarking that it's something he doesn't see people doing. I handed him one of my sampler mini-comics and said that I was doing stuff like that (with a layer of fictionalization on top). We talked for a few minutes, I mentioned my frustration that all the print venues that used to exist for comics like that (Meatmen, True Porn, Gay Comix) had vanished, and he commented that someone should do something about that. I need to follow up on that.
The second keynote address was by Gengoroh Tagame, a Japanese cartoonist known for his brutal BDSM manga... and also for a new YA GN about a divorced man with a little daughter, who finds himself faced with a visit by the Canadian husband of his recently-deceased twin brother. Tagame isn't fluent in English, so he gave his presentation in Japanese, with "subtitles" on the slides he was showing... a little awkward – especially since people reading faster than he spoke would laugh at the jokes before he delivered them – but it worked well enough. The Q&A was done with help from his translator. Tagame's porn is brutal: he makes Tom of Finland or Mapplethorpe look like prudes by comparison. But "My Brother's Husband" is suitable for school libraries, an interesting contrast.
Over the course of the two days I introduced myself to a handful of folks I know online but hadn't met in person, but never quite connected with a couple of them. I renewed contact with a few others, and of course I got to bump elbows with some legends and heroes.
The venue was a good one, very comfortable and accommodating to a bunch of queers. But to be honest, I preferred the site in NYC, not just for the location but the physical arrangement. Instead of the conference rooms being clustered around a common room, they were stretched from one end of the building to the other, and there wasn't an obvious place for people to just hang out together between sessions. For example, the table for promotional freebie material was instead at the front of the building by the registration table, which I'm sure reduced foot traffic past it, because attendees only went there once each day, when they checked in... so there were still some of mine left at the end. And it was difficult to just "run into" people... there are people I know were there, but I never saw them.
At the end of the day (well, two days), it was definitely a worthwhile trip, and if I can I'll definitely go to the next one, presumably in a couple years. It sounds like they plan to return to NYC, and alternate back and forth. I'd like it if they'd try some place more central like Chicago ($70 train fare) or Minneapolis (probably $300 air fare), but they need organizers "on the ground" to pull it all together, and I suppose most of those are found in NYC or SF.
With the conference over, all I had left to do was return home. I walked the couple miles back to the BART station (passing several camps of homeless tents along the way), bought a beer to help me sleep, and caught a train to the airport. TSA was a breeze that late at night, so I then had over an hour to kill at the airport. I drew porn. (The Surface tablet I bought to replace my wrecked one is working really well.)
United had overbooked, and issued a call for a volunteer to get bumped... fortunately someone took their $200+hotel offer. The flight left shortly after midnight Pacific Time, or 3am My Time. I didn't get any real sleep on the plane, but the shut-eye was enough to keep me functional. My connecting flight was on American Airlines... a calculated risk that I took as the only way to get home in time for the extended family's Easter dinner at noon. Other than having to walk from one end of O'Hare to the other, there was no problem. My departure was delayed by the plane's late arrival, which cut my buffer from half an hour to nothing, but I still made it to dinner, with no explanations needed.