By Billy Bob Griffin
Early each spring, Kansas City’s self-proclaimed nerd community flocks to Bartle Hall for the Planet Comicon convention, the largest comic book and pop culture convention in this part of the Midwest. The sight is something out of this world: Creators, artists, writers, actors and superfans meet face-to-face, enjoying the close-knit community. It’s a circus for the eyes, a sensory overload of costumes, enthusiasts, and merchandising, merchandising, merchandising! Through mutual admiration and appreciation of pop culture, the conference unifies folks from all walks of life, including the queer community.
At Planet Comicon 2019 at the end of March, the conference hall was awash in people of all different ages, ethnicities, shapes, and sizes. Fandom takes many forms – art, craftwork, writing, technology and, of course, the costumes. Cosplay is half the fun of the conference.
Cosplay is a blend of the words costume and play, and together they describe a form of performance art in which one wears costumes to represent a specific character, typically from the realms of science fiction, fantasy, manga, anime or pop culture. Think Halloween meets a Hollywood costume department. The attention to detail can be intricate and Oscar-worthy or cleverly homemade with glue and cardboard. One intriguing aspect of cosplay is the gender-bending. One might see a male Princess Leia or a female Star-Lord.
Luna Flare, a local drag performer, attends the conference every year to display her own cosplay style.
“The cosplay community is to the nerd community as the drag community is to the gay community,” she said. “It’s a group of people who have a passion for creating and putting their creativity into a performance. There’s certainly a lot of overlap there.” This year, she dressed as Ariel from The Little Mermaid in her pink gown. Fans, families and children came up to her to take photos throughout the day.
“You see people from all walks of life at cons, conventions and cosplay,” Flare said. “So many people are looking for a way to escape what is happening in the outside world and retreat into these fandoms or worlds of fantasy to see the heroes we aren’t seeing outside. We want to create a world in which we can stand up for ourselves and the people we love, and I think coming to something like Planet Comicon, you get to experience that because there is a base level where everyone is just happy being nerds.”
Fandom is everywhere at Planet Comicon and the ties to the LGBT community continues into the realms of Manga, and Art. Camilla d’Errico is a Canadian- Italian artist making waves in the fine art and comic industries with her manga-influenced style. Camilla is comic artist/creator and Pop Surrealist painter. She draws inspiration from the LGBT community with her rainbow-colored line of enamel love bird pins.
“I wanted that to be about how they can fly free and be free to be who they are. I want equality and diversity in this world. I want to celebrate who we are instead of having people pick out the differences. In Canada, we call it a mosaic, that every culture and everyone coming together makes it a beautiful picture. I want to include them in the art world,” says d’Errico.
She has been coming to various comicon conferences for over 20 years and has seen a shift toward more acceptance of the LGBT community.
“They are accepted here because we all are having fun with pop culture. We’re such nerds, and nerds can’t hate other people! It’s celebrated because people are in touch with their inner child, and when people are in touch with what makes them excited about life, then they are going to accept everybody. This is a community that celebrates creativity and uniqueness, and I think that’s why the LGBTQ community is so accepted here,” says d’Errico.
Planet Comicon is a must for any self-proclaimed nerd, whether they identify as LGBT or straight. It’s one of those particularly harmonious events that blends folks from all backgrounds to celebrate a shared passion for what truly matters to them, their own happiness and the joy of others.