Who doesn’t love comics? Oftentimes, comic lovers find support in the comics they enjoy. On the second day of FlameCon 2019, the panel “A World That Hates and Fears Them: On Comics and Hope” looked into this a little more. This comic was moderated by Joey Stern, the co-founder of FlameCon, Ed Luce (Wuvable Oaf), Tana Ford (Silk), Steve Orlando (Midnighter), and Terry Blas (You Say Latino).

The panel clowned around a little bit in the few minutes before the panel officially began, setting a warm, friendly tone for the conversation. It was clear the group knew each other well and were willing to let others in on the fun. When the panel did eventually begin, Stern wasted no time getting to the serious heart of the conversation, asking the panelists how they made art while acknowledging the stressful world around them.

Ford answered first, noting that the graphic novel she recently illustrated, LaGuardia, was about literal alien immigration. The second issue was called “The Travel Ban”–author Nnedi Okorafor apparently did not pull any punches with her commentary. Ford said this helped “keep me sane during this current [political] administration.” This led into a conversation about the Parkland shootings in Florida–Ford was obviously upset, but she didn’t know what she could do, as someone who makes comics. She eventually reached out to students at a friend’s school to learn about them and their reactions to the event, as well as teach them about making comics and “turn their story into art.”

Ed Luce, Tana Ford, Joey Stern, Steve Orlando, and Terry Blas

Stern then addressed Luce directly, noting that Luce often utilized a Utopian backdrop for his fiction. Stern asked if the current administration has affected that. Luce said that his work which featured that sort of world had begun as a kind of self-therapy regarding a relationship that was ending, as a story of how Luce would have liked it to end. Now that the series has ended, his “hope and resilience” comes from his work as a professor at the California College of the Arts, where he works with the next generation of cartoonists.

Orlando was the center of attention next. He agreed with Luce, saying that “things like [FlameCon]” give him hope as well, especially in terms of its exponential growth. The sight of people connecting and being helped by things like FlameCon are great. He also talked about his years with DC Comics, describing it as “sort of like you [are] in the trenches, sometimes fighting for things that you don’t even know if they matter to people. You are pitching to people who don’t understand the perspective. Is it worth doing this?

Orlando’s answer to his own question was, of course, yes. His example was when Vixen was added to Justice League of America. He asked POC women what they wanted to see with Vixen. An answer he got again and again was to give Vixen natural hair, which he described as his “own blind spot” because he hadn’t even thought about that.

Blas was up next, and Stern described the pleasant vibe to Blas’s work, jokingly asking him what it was like to be “the gay Bob Ross.” He asked what Blas’s mindset was when working, and how does that affect the work. Blas said that “I like to draw all the things that I like to create, things that bring a different perspective, different representation.” He finds it important to represent a community that needs it, and talked specifically about the Latina community. He said that people are more inclined to read a comic that teaches than a pamphlet or other plaintext work.

A bot recorded about 95% of the panel dialogue on two projectors set up in the room. (All but one panelist was listed as “speaker,” however.)

Stern then addressed all of the panelists, asking if they were ever surprised by opportunities to educate and talk about experiences, and if that gives them hope. Blas described this as the human connection, saying that this is good and what makes him want to continue with his work. Luce added that you feel that acceptance when people come to you. Ford agreed, talking about a “Silk Squad” that was formed by a group of women in the Midwest because they loved her Silk series so much and needed that representation.

Stern noted the panelists’ more personal works, and asked if it feels better when someone compliments the more personal work as opposed to when there are compliments on less personal work. Ford said that “You feel more naked” with personal stories. Positive responses to such stories were brand-new when she first got them, and she admitted that they were a little uncomfortable at first.

Blas added that “You feel seen–they feel seen” and it’s a bounce back and forth. He added that he is working on an autobiography right now in order to reach out to Mormon youth, as he was one–and the highest suicide rate is among LGBT Mormon youth, which the larger Mormon community just ignores. Although he said it could be “disastrous” for his relationship with his parents, it’s worth it if it can help that demographic.

Orlando was then asked about how he responds to the art that goes with his writing: when he finds himself “leaning in and stepping back.” Orlando said that comics should be about collaboration, and he trusts his artists to do what’s best. His only exceptions come when an artist don’t necessarily understand the nuances of the language used. For example, working with ACO on Midnighter, he sometimes had to explain American slang or send things back because ACO was reading translated scripts. Orlando added, “The key, where you lean in, is finding the right creators… [that] understand and respect each other and then you lean the f— out and make the best book possible!

A question about work/life balance afterwards was met with laughs from the panelists. Luce and Blas agreed that they do their work during “regular business hours,” though Blas also said that his downtime was also often spent on work, drawing at his couch instead of his desk. Ford, Orlando, and Blas also discussed exercise. All three agreed that during exercise or other times that aren’t drawing or writing that allow you to zone out can sometimes be they key to finding solutions.

A little while after this, the conversation came back to the current administration/state of the world,and how that has affected everyone’s workload. Luce joked that he takes on much more work, since he will need to build a fortress at some point. Although it seemed that the week of the election was rough on the panelists, the realization that they liked to eat/liked to get paid kept them at their work. It also worked as a distraction for Bas. He also said he’s always working on five projects at a time, so why not six or seven.

And things wrapped up with what makes the panelists happy–Ford donates money to different causes, and most of the panelists said they volunteer in some way. Orlando added that he enjoys learning about new things–his boyfriend is currently trying to teach him more about opera! Working with students at all levels is important Blas as well, and Orlando tries to mentor and help out those trying to get into the industry as well. All in all, it was an intriguing, informative, warm, and at times hilarious conversation between many talented and kindhearted folks.

FlameCon 2019 ran from August 17 to 18 in the Sheraton Hotel of Times Square, New York City. For more coverage of the con, please keep on checking N3rdabl3 throughout the week!

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