I have a confession to make. Despite being a proudly self-described nerd, a co-boss of Nerd Nite Detroit even, I’ve not been privy to the local con scene. And in Detroit, the con scene is alive and well. Youmacon and Motor City Comic Con are just two of the abundant options for my fellow nerds, huge events that span many days and rooms. I’ve always found these events a bit intimidating, but I grew tired of feeling left out. When I heard of an upcoming event a few months ago, I knew it was finally time for me to attend my very first con: ComiqueCon.
On November 7 at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, ComiqueCon (presented by Green Brain Comics) took place for the first time. But this one-day-only con had a slightly unique twist: the primary focus was female comic creators and characters. When I first arrived as doors were opening to the general public, I was unsure of what to expect. I’d done my duty: I had looked at the schedule, I figured out which panels I didn’t want to miss. And yet, somehow, I still felt unprepared. I collected my “swag bag” from the registration table and entered into the hall that held all the exhibitors. I was met by the sight of around 30 tables, filled with art and products for purchase. I took the time to walk around and look at each table, and be stunned by the creativity and artistic skill that surrounded me.
On my first walk through, I was too shy to speak with anyone. But I remembered that I’d be writing this review, and I took another pass through the exhibitors. I stopped at a table and chatted with Kate Kehoe, vendor of Chicalookate. Kehoe’s unique products ranged from art prints to buttons to magnets, all featuring TV and movie quotes over backgrounds from paintings. Kehoe and I talked about the crowds, the number of exhibitors, and our shared excitement about this novel event as I purchased two of her prints before moving on. Next, I found myself in front of a table laden with comics, calendars, and an offering I had never seen before: a graphic novel memoir. This table belonged to Nicole Georges, whom I discovered was one of ComiqueCon’s “featured guests” and in fact a panelist later in the day. Though I was unable to attend her panel, I did have a moment to speak with Georges about her works and her attendance at ComiqueCon. I was surprised to learn that Georges had flown in all the way from Portland in order to attend this event.
Nicole Marie Burton, Marguerite Dabaie, and Leila Abdelrazaq
After my second stroll through the exhibitors, I decided to head over to the panel I was most excited to hear: “Graphic Activism: How We’re Going To Change The World With Comics,” featuring Leila Abdelrazaq and Marguerite Dabaie as speakers, with coordination from Nicole Marie Burton. Burton is the founder of Ad Astra Comix, which produces comics with social justice themes. Both Abdelrazaq (“Baddawi”) and Dabaie (“The Hookah Girl”) are artists who let their heritage as Palestinian-Americans shape their works. Burton started off the panel by asking the audience to raise a hand if a comic has changed their life. Each woman then went on to speak a bit about how and why she got involved with this type of writing, along with why it is important. The conversation ranged from how to represent negative or oppressive persons in your work (Abdelrazaq noted that she just does not draw their faces) and choosing which causes to highlight (as Burton is Canadian, many of her works address issues of the Canadian government.) Dabaie also spoke about her struggles to even get published as a woman of Palestinian descent. The real core of the panel, for me, came during the Q&A with the audience: the panel was asked how comics and art can really make a difference in the world. Burton elegantly responded: “I don’t really think that comics can change the world. I think comics and art change people, and people change the world.”
I’m not ready to say that comics have changed my life, but I can say that I feel enlightened after attending ComiqueCon. This event was the perfect way for me to delve into the world of cons. I did see some of what I expected–folks dressed up in costumes and people selling art. But something unexpected happened as well: I learned. I learned about what it means to be a woman and a comic artist. I learned about how people try to invoke social change through art. I learned about the many ways women can find a role in a realm largely dominated by men. And for me, that is enough to spark an interest in cons. Hope to see you next year, ComiqueCon.