FlameCon 2019 just ran, giving fans a bevvy of great panels, events, and merch at the world’s largest LGBTQ comic convention. One such great panel was “Sickening! Queer Horror Comics.” This panel was moderated by Justin Hall and featured Mariko Tamaki (Skim), Tina Horn (Safe Sex), Jen Hickman (Test), Jennifer Camper (Juicy Mother), and Melanie Gillman (As the Crow Flies). It took place on the first day of the convention.
Hall began the panel with Wikipedia’s definition of horror, the opened with the question of how the panelists would define horror and why the genre draws them. Horn spoke up first, describing the similarities between porn, melodrama, and comedy: they all affect the body, bring out fluid, and affect the body in some specific way. Horror does this as well, letting Horn upset readers consensually.
Tamaki said that her horror writing often involves delving into her childhood fears, so it’s probably her most personal writing. Hickman had a similar point, drawing a connection between people’s fear of difference with being queer around “mainstream people.” Gillman said they found horror cathartic, a way to connect to others, and a way to “digest experiences we’ve had ourselves.” They added that the “most valuable pieces of horror come from people who are underrepresented in society.”
Hall then said horror is about visceral reactions such as transformations and body horror. The immediate reaction was that horror is a metaphor for society, which makes society “monstrous.” There was the suggestion that realism to horror, and vice versa, was just a “slight perspective shift.” Tamaki laughingly said that horror does let you punish certain people that you’d like in that vein: she described a story about alien women caring for human men, while using them as hosts for their eggs. Tamaki said this was a Margaret Atwood story she couldn’t remember the name of; however, my research suggests it could actually be Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” that Atwood has spoken about in interviews. Hickman reminded the audience of the Alien franchise, which hinges on a similar premise.
Tamaki also described a story she had written about a woman being harassed by a man, who is then eaten by her mermaid girlfriend. The story forces the reader to ask who is the real monster in the scenario. Gillman added that with horror, an author can change the direction that the fear is moving in and subvert expectations. The stakes and tension of maiming and killing came up again, with talk of how much this could subvert or feed into the “bury your gays” trope.
The connection between horror and eroticism/porn came up again at this point, making the connection that both are essentially, at their most base, stories of “tension and release.” Horn noted that the drawing choices she makes for both her horror and erotic comics and art are very similar. The idea is to put her reader in the moment as much as possible, which often requires similar shots, angles, and pacing. Going off of this, Gillman recommended Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle for examples of good comic “architecture.”
The appeal of monster fiction for transgender or non-binary readers was also discussed. It can really resonate with such readers because it presents bodies that defy frameworks, what larger society thinks of as norms, and fills a need for a lack of body representation elsewhere. It also allows for escapism. Again, this allows authors to subvert expectations of body and gender “to create something beautiful and powerful along the way.”
But what of horror for younger audiences? Tamaki said her “gateway teenage experience” with horror was seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street with friends. She thought there was an opportunity to play on and break away from high school tropes like jocks, nerds, etc. Gillman had their own answer to Hall’s question, and suggested that “Horror resonates with kids in particular because being a kid is often a scary experience… [and] they like gross stuff.”
Gillman also said adult gatekeepers to horror should be careful: although the impulse to protect kids from something “too” scary is understandable, it doesn’t give kids an opportunity for a cathartic way to process and experience fear. They cited the classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books as her touchstone for approaching horror for children to try and balance out what resonates and what is too much, while still remaining respectful of their audience.
After this, Hall brought up how well horror mashes up with other genres again, this time asking the panelists why they thought it worked so well in the context of other genres. Gillman drew again on the “build-up and release” idea, this time discussing how a good horror story works the way a joke might. They also suggested the pairings work very well because horror is a primal thing.
This led into the question of political commentary and institutional horror along the lines of Get Out or The Handmaid’s Tale. These stories take people and make them have to experience something–maybe something that others have to experience every day–that they aren’t familiar with. The audience’s defenses go into these works with their defenses down and they are more receptive to the commentary. Horn said that the idea is to force people to see this fear exists. Hall suggested that horror is just taking a thing and then taking that to its natural conclusion to see where we end up: Horn agreed with this idea, saying that “twisting the absurdism” is a way to get at those truths.
After this, the panel was opened up to questions from the audience for last ten minutes or so. Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Fright Night came up as movies that can be read as allegories for homophobia or queer subtext. Horn said she would rather make “subtext into text.” Another comment on the topic was, “We’ve been monsters all along and if you’re going to be scared of us, we might as well have fun with it.”
The panel was also asked about what their “preferred” horror ending is. Tamaki, without missing a beat, named the ending in The Mist, saying the ending of a horror piece should be “as horrifying as the beginning.” Hickman likes their endings to feel inevitable at the end and be messy, while Camper seemed to agree when she said she wanted to “give [readers] an ending that is powerful,” even if it won’t make them happy.
The panel wrapped up with a conversation about horror as a communal experience in terms of a geographic community, like folklore and urban legends. Gillman pointed out that many legends exist to teach a legend, even when there are regional variants or when the stories come in different forms, such as going out at night alone or indulging in “bad behavior.” Again, this is one of those things that creators can subvert–they get to decide what the bad behavior people get punished for is. Just after this conversation, the panel ended, brushing right up against the time constraints.
FlameCon 2019 was held on August 17 and 18 and the Sheraton Hotel of Times Square in New York City. For more coverage of the convention, please continue checking N3rdabl3 throughout the week!