To bring some different perspectives to our blog, we’re starting an interview series with people involved in yaoi and m/m — whether creating, promoting, reading, or organizing.
This interview is with Lyndsey Bellamy, coordinator of Nijicon. We wanted to get her unique perspective on what was happening in the yaoi convention scene. This interview went long (since we sent her 10 questions), so this is part 1 of 2. (Part 2 is here.)
1) How long have you been into yaoi or m/m? What was your first experience with it?
I’ve been into yaoi and m/m probably since high school (around the same time I really got into manga/comics. I’ve been unknowingly watching anime since I was in grade school—thank you Pokemon and Sailor Moon). I remember the first time I understood the word gay, was while watching an episode of Roseanne as a kid—I never had any issue or bad connotation with it (I come from an awesomely open-minded family).
However, I’ve always been a huge reader of fiction, from my days reading the Harry Potter series. The very first book I ever read that prominently featured a M/M relationship was FAKE by Sanami Matoh. It’s still one of favorites to this day, and what I attribute for my fascination of the genre. I believe that if I had read a more shonen-ai story, I may not have become so infatuated with the genre. FAKE is a cop drama that happens to have a slow-build gay romance, while being hilarious and very well-drawn. I’m very critical when it comes to the stories I read, so I think it helped immensely that this series was my first. FAKE was proof that there were quality yaoi and m/m stories that didn’t just focus on sex and/or feature super-feminine male characters.
2) What do you like the most — for example, Japanese-inspired yaoi? Just graphic novels? M/M romance novels? Any and all of it?
Honestly, I love all of them. I love to read, so sometimes I enjoy pure fiction, where I get to flex my imagination with the visual aspects. Other times, I want to see the emotion on a character’s face and find myself getting lost in an artist’s skill to render these emotions so vividly. Basically, there are some stories that work better as narrative and others that work better as comics—I’m fine with either format as long as the story is well-written.
Although, as an artist myself, I admit that badly-drawn art can be just as much as a turn-off as a badly-written story.
3) How long have you been involved in the yaoi con scene? Were you a part of any cons before Nijicon?
That’s a tricky question. If you’re asking how long since I’ve been going to conventions in total, the answer is ten years. If you’re asking yaoi conventions specifically, then it’s only been this previous year. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make it to Yaoi-con (San Francisco, CA), BentCon (Burbank, CA), Rainbow Con (Tampa, FL), or Ahn!Con (Kansas City, MO) due to distance. Living in the North East, there haven’t been any yaoi-specific cons until recently (Nijicon in the Philadelphia, PA area and the upcoming Flame-Con in Brooklyn, NY). Just last year, I was fortunate to attend Anime North in Toronto, Canada for the first time and experience their Yaoi/Yuri North “mini con” that they host there.
However, over the last ten years, I’ve been a dealer, artist, and panelist at Setsucon, Katsucon, Jaycon, Zenkaikon, Anime North, Philadelphia Comic Con, and Otakon. In that time, I’ve had some great experiences and some not-so-great ones. All of which have been used in helping to organize Nijicon. We, as a convention, try our very best to make sure that all our vendors, artists, guests, panelists, and attendees have a good time at our event.
4) Do you expect Nijicon to grow compared to last year? How much?
Well, I certainly hope so. Unfortunately, with events like these you have no idea how well they will do until the fated weekend arrives. Last year, we had to plan for as many people as possible since we had no idea what to expect. And even though we didn’t have huge numbers, the quality of the experience was unmatched—we still have people telling us how much fun they had and volunteering to help out. This year, we are being far more conservative with our expected numbers (approximately 300 people), but for all we know, we could sell out. We have a new venue which better suits our needs and gives us room to grow with time.
5) What do you think the role of cons should be, ideally? What would you like to see change about the yaoi and m/m con scene in the US?
I think that the purpose of conventions is to give people the chance, and provide a neutral place, to connect over a shared interest—it’s that simple, really.
Lately, I’ve been hearing about too many examples of cons becoming polarized by “ideas” of who/what should be and should not be admitted. Whether it’s differing views on what constitutes “true cosplay” to the insistence that yaoi conventions should only be for women—these ideas are ridiculous. To me, conventions have always been a haven from “mainstream” society to let my “geek flag fly”. They are the one place where I can enjoy manga(of any genre) without having to explain why I’m reading a book backwards, where I can engage in a respectful yet heated debate over merits of subbed vs. dubbed anime, or where I can stop a complete stranger just for the sake of taking their picture because they are dressed as one of my favorite characters. In the enthusiasm for their fandoms, I think that some fans have forgotten that conventions were originally created to bring fans together not tear us apart over silly differences of opinion.
In the U.S., I’d like to see more of a tolerance for the yaoi/Male x Male genre. Everyone doesn’t have to like it, but it shouldn’t be seen as something to be hidden or talked about in secret. I can’t tell you how many times Nijicon has been turned down from events due to the fact that it’s seen as too sexual or graphic. To be honest, M/M fiction has some of the sweetest, true-to-life stories I’ve ever read. There’s this huge misunderstanding of the entire genre based upon some of the more graphic yaoi/bara series out there(Not that there’s anything wrong with these series, everyone is entitled to what they like. As long as such works are appropriately tagged as such, I have no issue with it). To me, I never understood the conventions/events where hentai and yuri runs rampant and is completely acceptable, yet yaoi is no where to be seen—it’s hypocrisy at it’s best.
It reminds me of the time when I was a member of my high school’s Japanese Animation and Culture Club (JACC). Our principal, had no idea what anime was so he did a simple Google search (You can see where I’m going with this, right?). Predictably, his search rewarded him with some rather graphic hentai and he almost shut the club down. He had to be shown the anime that we actually intended to show (Hayao Miyazaki films, Sailor Moon, Pokemon, etc.) before we could continue with the organization. Unfortunately, the yaoi and m/m genre have the same issue. If you were to type “yaoi” into Google, you’d get very graphic image results instead of the amazing examples of romantic and enthralling stories.