I recently attended Flame Con, the world’s largest LGBTQ+ comic convention, which is held annually in New York City. After the past two years of virtual events – thanks to, you know, a worldwide panini – it was so amazing to be back and celebrating with the community. This year’s convention was just as fantastic as always, with a rainbow assortment of lanyards allowing you to choose your color and free rainbow-printed facemasks to help attendees comply with the COVID-19 policy.
But perhaps one of the most exciting things for me at this year’s Flame Con was the opportunity to sit down with not only some of the biggest queer names in comics, but some of the biggest names in comics period. On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to sit down for a chat with Anthony Oliveira, who won a GLAAD media award for Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling.
The Geekiary: What is it about Flame Con that keeps you coming back? Because I know you’re a repeat.
Anthony Oliveira: Actually, this is my first time.
Oh, is it? I could have sworn you were here before.
There might have been information that I’ve been here before. Because we literally planned for me to come and then the universe ended and the world died and we all are living in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road now. So actually, it’s funny because I came out of academia and started doing this kind of public-facing art thing. And just as it happened, the pandemic hit, and I thought my career was dead. I gave up one career for another career to die on the vine. So this is really my first con really ever. I did some FanExpo stuff in Toronto, which is where I’m from.
But it is the best experience I cannot believe. I can’t believe what it’s like to, as a person living in marginalized communities, to visit an expo, a con like this, and not be that. And it’s like, oh, everyone here gets it. Everyone here gets it. And like, I don’t always know what their fandom is, I don’t always know what they’re dressed as, or what that poster is. But I know we share these values and these aesthetics and this sense of community, loss, and longing and suffering together and joy together, and I can’t imagine anything topping this. This has been such a pleasure.
This is one of my favorite cons. Like the art alone. I had to cut myself off from spending money because I’ve spent too much.
That’s the thing. Usually, I go to cons and I’m like, “Okay, I have to find the two or three booths that are selling the things I’m interested in here.” And now it’s- I can’t keep buying all this gay porn, everybody!
But also what you were saying about everybody getting it. So I’m ace, and for, like, my birthday or Christmas – I don’t remember – one of my friends got me a shirt- because I don’t actually have a lot of queer shirts. I’m not really, like, out to my parents. But she got me- it’s the Solo logo like with the ace flag. And I love it. But when I wear it out normally people don’t get it, and I wore it yesterday and everybody was like, “I love your shirt.” And I was like, “Yay!” Because most people don’t get it.
And that’s kind of the weird joy of this con. [You] can feel it in the air. Some people come up to you and it’s like, they’re shy because they’re not out. And here they can be out for eight hours, for six hours. And here they can acknowledge the thing they can’t acknowledge in public. But also, like, the sense of safety. I’ve been out my whole adult life. But there’s still the thing in public where it’s like, you know, this – I don’t need to explain to you – like, you’re always coming out.
And I can turn down this thing I’m doing with my hands if I think about it. But it’s a thing I think about. When I hold my partner’s hand, I think about it. And here it’s just like, “Yeah, everyone gets it.”
As someone active in the industry, what’s your opinion on the continuing discourse that comics are “becoming too woke”?
I think that your enemy always tries to find your language and turn it into a weapon against you. I increasingly suspect that that one is breaking down for the right, because it’s becoming such an obvious mask. It really is just this flimsy way- [It’s come] to the point where it’s, like, if you cast a woman in something, you’re being woke, or if you cast someone who’s not a white man in something, you’re being woke.
And it’s this real attempt – and I think the queer community is unusually vulnerable to this – to create a kind of cultural amnesia about our existence, about our capacity to access each other as a community. Because it’s the classic mutant metaphor thing, right? Like anyone could be born queer, right? We don’t get to raise each other. And that means there’s a real attempt to cut us off from the resources we need, from the elders that we need, and from the art that we need. And so this attempt to say that things are becoming too much, and that we’re asking for more than we’re allowed, and that somehow there’s something offensive about even casting people in these roles and telling the story.
I was watching the discourse about Ms. Marvel. And everyone saying this [show was] too woke. And one of the actresses who’s Pakistani was saying, like, “This is actually the most traditional family I’ve ever seen on television. Like, this is how I grew up.” They’re just not white Christian – or post-Christian in that very Protestant way – families. So, I mean, basically what you find out as soon as someone says something is too woke is much more than they meant to tell you about themselves and what their project is in our culture right now. That’s what I think, anyway.
As a writer, do you – or did you – go through any doubts when writing queer-centric stories, and their overall appeal when it comes to sales?
This is a question that I think about. Actually, it’s the question I started off the Marvel panel with yesterday: is queerness actually incompatible with capitalism? I’m an old Marxist and to me, that’s a very valuable question to ask because, like, is there a way to get our hands on the levers of mainstream appeal and mainstream representation?
And you are aware as an artist, especially one coming up, that you’re “the queer one” and people don’t want you touching Spider-Man or Captain America or Batman because you’re gonna get your weird queer fingerprints all over it. That’s the way people think. And it does mean you have to worry about, well, then am I always going to be in the margins doing these like eight issue backups? Because I’m never going to be the guy. Because it’s always a guy, right? I think there’s a real sense of that amongst queer writers and a fear about that, because, you know, your sales for the big two don’t always translate to your independent projects being developed.
And so very early on, I just decided I was going to be authentic about it. You also get the opposite, where people expect you to be delivering this kind of “yas queen” kind of energy every time you’re on a project. And mostly my work is very sad and very religiously damaged. And it’s like, I’m not going to give you these kinds of “twirl queen” moments. So it becomes about finding your own voice.
But ultimately, very early on, I was like, “Well, I don’t want to write pointless punch-em-ups anyway. So I’m just going to tell stories I think are worth telling.” No one gets rich making comics anyway, so if I’m going to be broke, I might as well be broke and look back on a career that I’m proud of, is how I feel about it.
What advice would you give to new queer writers who feel anxious about being in that situation where a similar story that’s not like queer-centric, might do better than a queer-centric one?
I think that I understand it. I think that there’s going to come a day where you will have done all the work you’re going to do in this life, whether that’s at, you know, 80 – or more likely for me, like, 55, if I’m lucky, if I’m pushing it. And, the moments – especially this con has really taught me this – the moments that make it matter at all are the moments where some kid comes up to you and tells you, “I read your story when I needed to read it.”
I didn’t have the kind of textual representation these kids have now. But I did have these metaphors. I did have the X-Men. I did have, when I was a teenager, Young Avengers. And they gave me a vocabulary and a model to think about what it means to have the world be entirely wrong about you when they talk about you.
I think I mentioned this in the Marvel panel, but I remember very distinctly watching the X-Men ‘90s cartoon where Jubilee is watching TV, eating popcorn and watching a TV program about how she’s the worst thing that ever happened and this terrible sin. It’s like, she’s just eating popcorn. And there came a moment in my life where I was like, “Oh, everything I’ve inherited is wrong. Everything everybody told me is untrue.” And it was a catastrophe.
But it gave me a chance to have a whole different life than the one I thought I was going to have. And I’m so grateful for that gift. I think artists have to make the choice for themselves that makes sense to them. But whether it’s a metaphor, whether it’s text, you have a chance to touch someone else, and you should take it whenever it comes because money is nothing. And you’re not gonna get rich doing this, anyway.
Who do fans need to call to make Wiccan versus Krakoa happen?
Oh, okay, that’s a five-year project. You should always let artists know how much you love their work, because they don’t hear it enough. You should also, even more importantly, let their editors know how much you love their work, because they decide who’s on the next project. And for a Marvel project, you should email email@example.com and be like, “Hey, let’s do that.”
Do you have anything coming down the pipeline that you can tease?
Depending on how some meetings go this week, we’ll see. I have a graphic novel called Apocrypha – it’s about queer teens versus the Christian Apocalypse – that will be out. Scripts are all done. So it’s 300 pages, whenever the artist manages to finish. God bless them wherever they are right now.
I have a prose novel called Dayspring, whose edits were due before I came here and I have not yet submitted, so that’s at least a week late. But it’ll be out probably next year. And I think that is it. Yeah, that’s it for now for me.
Ok, one last question. What are you currently reading?
Oh, well, whenever I’m on a trip I grab Moby Dick and I just throw it in my bag because it’s- you can just read a page and a half of it and it’s the weirdest f**king… The language of Moby Dick more than anything- I love a radioactive purple prose moment and Melville will always give that to you.
In terms of comics, I just finished reading my friend Nadia Shammas’s Squire and that’s really great for, like, YA teens. Who else is here doing some cool stuff? I’m completely blanking because that’s always what-
Oh, we just published Young Men in Love this weekend, which is a collection of queer masc short comic books. They’re like eight pages each. My story is in there with Nick Robles, who I’ve worked with before. People who love the Marvel stuff should check that out. And it’s, like, literally every great queer male or male-adjacent writer in comics right now is in that book, so that’s what they should read for sure.
Also, please do consider attending Flame Con in the future! It’s one of the most – if not the most – welcoming cons I have ever been to. And you will spend so much money on the exhibitor floor!
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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