Bent-Con, the LGBT Pop Culture Convention, Is Trying to Grow Bigger
Liz OhanesianJody Wheeler, Sean Z. Maker and PK Eiselt of Bent-Con outside of L.A. Glaneur
Almost three years ago, Bent-Con came to life in Silver Lake. Since then, the pop culture convention dedicated to LGBT media has moved around town and grown immensely. This year, the event will take place on Veteran's Day Weekend, November 8-10, at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center. On Saturday afternoon, though, Bent-Con returned to the old neighborhood for some art and fundraising. Convention president and founder Sean Z. Maker, who L.A. Weekly recently profiled for this year's People Issue, described it as a "full circle moment."
Bent-Con: Live Action Figure Draw and Fundraiser took over L.A. Glaneur, a small Santa Monica Boulevard boutique with a reputation for hosting art and fashion events. The models, naked save for their expertly applied body paint, stood perfectly poised despite the afternoon heat. The artists crowded together in front of them, sketchpads in hand, easels in place, as they set to work on pieces that would go up for auction later that evening.
This was, as Maker says, a "test drive" for an addition to the Bent-Con's programming schedule coming this November. Last year, Bent-Con offered cosplay drawing, where artists could exercise their sketching skills with models dressed in costume. That was a hit. Judging from Saturday's turnout, figure drawing has captivated the crowd as well. Maker says that this year they will be adding figure drawing sessions inside one of the convention's hotel suites.
That's just part of the convention's current path to expansion. Bent-Con will be extending its hours until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday night. This year will also mark the first time that the convention will offer youth-oriented programming. "We wanted to do things catering to LGBT youth at large," says Maker. They intend on keeping the youth activities limited to Sunday, the final day of the weekend-long bash, and are in talks with some "bigger names" to add to the programming on this day. Maker says that he can't disclose who those people or groups are until their participation is confirmed.
With its size and scope blooming, Bent-Con's organizers are intent on reaching out to communities outside of the convention floor. Saturday's fundraiser is part of that effort, with the location giving them an opportunity to make themselves known to Silver Lake's art and fashion community. With the party spilling out onto Santa Monica Boulevard as attendees colored in comic book panels posted on the shop's exterior, team Bent-Con was hard to miss.
This is just the beginning of the group's outreach plan. The Bent-Con crew will be hitting up conventions and Gay Pride events from San Diego to San Francisco this summer. In August, they're hosting an industry professional event at the Burbank Convention Center. Next weekend, they'll be making a grand entrance at West Hollywood Pride. Their Bent-Con Geekdom and Pride group will be marching during Sunday's parade while proudly sporting their nerdiest costumes and they're looking for others to join. "We want people with their light sabers and their capes and their video games," says filmmaker Jody Wheeler, who serves as Bent-Con's vice-president.
For Bent-Con, this kind of in-person promotion is necessary to raise awareness about the event. "I think it's easy for our group to get stuck in either the comic book shops or in the bars," says PK Eiselt, who handles vendor outreach for Bent-Con. Having the chance to physically interact with potential attendees, as opposed to sticking with a strict online promotion model, is imperative. However, appearances like these are about more than promotion. In our multiple interviews with Maker, the convention founder discussed his own experiences as a comic book creator who attends numerous conventions. He has repeatedly mentioned how media with LGBT content is frequently underrepresented, and often difficult to find, at these events. Bent-Con's own roots were in networking, bringing together a community of artists and writers whose work wasn't being recognized. Arriving to pride en masse doesn't simply bring attention to Bent-Con, it helps highlight the LGBT geek community at large. On Saturday, both Maker and Wheeler pointed out the need to showcase the diversity of LGBT individuals. Participating in Pride is part of how they intend to do this.
"Inclusivity" is a word that Maker uses a lot and it's become part of the Bent-Con mission. They aren't just reaching out to LGBT circles, but to other fan communities that may often feel left out of the now-mainstream events. The geek world is large and diverse, filled with dozens of niche fandoms crowded together in convention halls. Part of Bent-Con's goal is to create a "safe place," as Maker calls it, for those who might feel like outsiders, even in the geek world.
"The bottom line is that people know that Bent-Con is a place where they will feel safe with sharing whatever they're up to," says Maker. "They're not going to be marginalized for it."
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