It's a given that Sean Z. Maker would grow up to create comics — he's been drawing them most of his life. That he would also produce one of the most intriguing comic book events in the country is a little unexpected, especially for him.
Maker, né Holman — his new name is a combination of his pen name, Sean-Z, and a Facebook handle — founded Bent-Con, an annual November event that's one of the few fan conventions dedicated to LGBT pop culture. In just three years, Bent-Con has gone from a one-day show in a small, vacant Silver Lake storefront to a weekend-long hotel bash at the Burbank Marriott.
Maker, 37, refers to Bent-Con as a “celebration” rather than a convention. “Everything that I do that is involved in Bent-Con is a reflection of my past,” he says.
Growing up in Indianapolis, “I was always afraid of becoming the starving artist,” he confesses.
Still, he went on to art school and, by 25, was a successful freelance graphic designer in Chicago. He was “miserable” working for corporate clients, however, and after a bout of bronchitis and some good advice from his mom, Maker moved to Los Angeles.
That wasn't easy. The uninsured FedEx delivery containing nearly all of his artwork went missing. There were jobs he thought would happen that didn't. In between such hardships, Maker created Myth.
Myth is an erotic, sci-fi/fantasy epic with an underlying theme that “we all love and lust the same.” It was originally a one-shot (single issue) black-and-white story. He expanded it in a web comic and two color volumes, with a third due out this summer.
Myth took Maker to a lot of comic book conventions, but he always felt like “a needle in a haystack.” Indie stories with LGBT characters often are buried on show floors amidst the massive displays from mainstream publishers. It took some searching for Maker to find other LGBT comics and creators.
One he did, they started planning meet-ups, and someone eventually suggested that they put on a show. In a matter of months, they found a donated space and 24 vendors. “From the moment we opened the door, we had a consistent flow of people,” Maker recalls. Guys hanging out at a neighboring bar, the Faultline, stopped by and were surprised to learn that gay comics even existed. “It was sort of a confidence booster for me,” he says.
Maker, who lives in Venice, works with a small team of core organizers and their network of volunteers. They're working on big-name guests, late-night events and even a rainbow carpet. The nonprofit celebration now draws a sizable contingent of what the convention calls “UnGay” writers and artists, who are friends of the community.
Bent-Con doesn't look that different from general-interest conventions. There are cosplayers who dress like their favorite characters, booths filled with fan art, panels lined with well-known stars. It's the content that differs.
Maker is the rare convention organizer who is also an artist, an occupation that taught him how to make things happen on his own. That's something he's encouraging others to do with Bent-Con. “I love creating a space where I can bring people together [and] hopefully help people create more of their own opportunities,” he says. “I am that cheerleader.”
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