of Montreal at the Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland

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Kevin Barnes, Photographer Credit: Chad Kamenshine

Of Montreal has been around since the 90s, but I only knew a few of their songs before I went to their concert in August.

It was late summer, the living was easy, and the show was part of Flying Dog Brewery’s Summer Sessions, an annual outdoor concert series in Frederick, Maryland.  Live music, craft beers, food trucks—all the hippest of hips.

For the past couple of months, of Montreal has been on a U.S. tour supporting their latest album Aureate Gloom.  The Frederick show was closing out Flying Dog’s Summer Sessions 2015. The band had previously appeared at Summer Sessions 2013, which was the year that Flying Dog started the series.

Justin Tarnow, 34, a brewery and cellar technician with Flying Dog Brewery, shared that Summer Sessions is meant to “show the public that [Flying Dog] is more than a bunch of brewers” and that they want to support the arts and music culture around their beer.

The audience reflected this artistic culture with its orange lightning bolt earrings, tattoos of trees, burgundy pants, Marvel superhero T-shirts, purple hair.

One of the opening bands was Mothers, a band from of Montreal’s own Athens, Georgia.  Mothers opened for five shows on the Aureate Gloom tour.  Ethereal vocals, lush guitars, and a compelling emotional aura created anticipation for the release of their first full length album in 2016.

Although I expected most of the audience to be of Montreal fans, some were there for other reasons. Amanda Keddrell, 24, of Millersville, knew the band but didn’t know their music.  She was at the show to support local businesses like Flying Dog.

Keddrell’s friend, Sarah Tarnow, 26, of Frederick (who is married to Justin Tarnow) went to the previous of Montreal concert at Flying Dog. At the time, she had only heard their songs on Spotify, but she was won over by their theatrical performance.

“They’re not your typical band.”

Jillian DeShazer, 44, of Frederick, had also never listened to of Montreal, but she described herself as a “fan of Flying Dog and a fan of local events.”  She praised Flying Dog’s tasting tour, as well as how local events bring people of all ages together.

“It’s an opportunity to see live music…not a lot of that anymore. It’s an opportunity to be social in a nice venue with food, to meet a bunch of new people.”

Nick Hope, 27, and Hannah Shiflett, 23, arrived with friends from Baltimore. Dressed in black lacy outfits, they sparkled with glittery stickers and make-up. “[We] decided to get dolled up,” said Hope who had never been to an of Montreal concert but had been a fan as a teenager.

According to Hope, of Montreal’s music is “pop with a certain raw edge” that “inspired a lot of us [as teens].”

“It was very positive music at a time when you hear a lot of dark stuff.”

Shiflett had been at the of Montreal Flying Dog concert in 2013, and was impressed by the theatrical “colors and costumes,” comparing them to The Flaming Lips.

“A lot more people dress up at the bigger concerts. [I] wanted to look like them this year.”

As the of Montreal show got started, the theatrical element was personified by a masked announcer who wore a cape, top hat, and gloves. He introduced the band under a sky that had turned a dusky blue.

“You got out of the safety of your homes, came outside into this beautiful blue pleasure dome,” he told the audience. “Tonight, we crack the blue pleasure dome.”

Kevin Barnes—of Montreal’s front person, guitarist/ songwriter— walked onstage wearing an outfit accented in red:  a scarf, smock blouse with grayish feather designs, tights, and an apron.  He joined band mates Jojo Glidewell (keyboards), Bob Parins (bass), and Clayton Rychlik (drums).

Throughout the night, costumed dancers in masks and body suits performed alongside the band. Crying babies in pajamas, Beetlejuice-esque creatures with snapping jaws, faceless angels, poodles doing a striptease—all these costumes created a Burton/ Lynch mash-up, an eccentric playfulness. The otherworldly visual effects on the video screen behind the band mirrored the surrealism of the music.

Despite the competing artistic elements in the performance, the lyrics also created their own presence—poetic in “Requiem For O.M.M.2” (“I don’t need a photograph because you never left my mind”) to introspective in “Gronlandic Edit” (“Daylight, I’m so absent minded, nighttime meeting new anxieties. So am I erasing myself? Hope I’m not erasing myself”).

It’s an odd experience to be surrounded by people who are passionately singing words to songs you don’t know, to witness their gospel.

During the second half of the show, the connection to the music became visceral.  Gone was the slow sway of shoulders. By the end of the concert, they jumped in time to the music.

As I watched them, it occurred to me:

1. That looks exhausting.

2. Is this music only meant for those who are young?

As Nick Hope had shared, of Montreal was the music of adolescence.

But what if you missed out on a band or artist in your adolescence?  What if the music is from a younger generation?  Is that reason enough not to listen?

Music that takes risks—it may seem like a realm for either pop culture critics or younger people because they’re the ones with the time and energy and openness to listen to interesting music.

Yet, what happens when we stop listening to music that takes risks?

We may stop taking other risks like creating art and music of our own or moving in different directions with other aspects of our lives.

Lately, I’ve been listening to Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?  Yes, it took nine years for me to find this album.  It took me twenty years to find of Montreal.  I’m probably not going to start shouting “I love you’s” to Kevin Barnes.  I’m way past adolescence.  But I’m interested in exploring this music.

Yes, there may be a realm that tells us that interesting music is only for pop culture critics and the very young. We don’t have to stay in that realm.  We can keep listening for something new.

Shock Pop Comic Con Features Icons from Cult Classics & Horror Films

“It was my hope to not only create this huge convention with a broad spectrum of pop culture and comic guests but also to break down barriers within the fan community, and establish a safe haven for everyone to enjoy pop culture.”

– Shock Pop organizer Mark Heller

For complete article, see South Florida Gay News.

Unconventional: South Florida’s Creator Owned Expo 2013

This event took place in August 2013.  Unfortunately, computer problems got in the way of my writing and publishing this article at the time.  However, I feel like Creator Owned Expo and its organizers have a lot of potential, particularly because they focus on building more connections between independent artists and fans.  
Unconventional:  South Florida’s Creator Owned Expo 2013
By Andrea Dulanto

Comic book conventions are big business.  Superhero and sci-fi films, video games, and the rise of the graphic novel (and of course, comics) have transformed comic cons into massive pop culture events.  What used to be geeky is now trendy.

But The Atlantic Wire’s “How the Nerds Lost Comic-Con” argues that the “mainstreaming and co-opting of ‘nerd culture’” has transformed the most prominent comic book convention, San Diego Comic-Con, into a Hollywood marketing event—one driven by revenue more than anything else.

Yet at the same time, independent creators (artists, writers and publishers who own the rights to their work) are developing alternatives to what used to be the alternative.  For example at Comic-Con, events outside of the main convention such as Trickster provide a place for artists not only to share and sell their work, but to interact with other artists and build more of a community.

This movement towards celebrating independent creators was also seen in South Florida at the first annual Creator Owned Expo (COE), which debuted on August 3, 2013 at the Universal Palms Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

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Ron Kerronian, Main Organizer of Creator Owned Expo
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

In an interview during COE, the main organizer, Ron Kerronian of Lucid Element Entertainment, who is also an artist himself, emphasized that “this is not a convention; it’s an expo… people can be educated and walk away with connections.”

Later in a follow-up email after the event, Kerronian elaborated on what motivated him to start COE:  “I wanted to create a place where… [independent creators] could have a platform to present their work to old and new fans alike.”

During the planning process for COE, Kerronian met writer/ artist Laura Diaz who became the COE anthology designer; artist/ cosplayer ZipperTan who became the COE events coordinator; and artist Mervyn McKoy who became the COE branding specialist.  Through social media and grass roots marketing, they worked to promote the event.

Their efforts paid off because over forty independent creators offered their work at COE; furthermore, an estimated 341 fans came out to support them.

One drawback was the limited amount of space.  Only two conference rooms had been reserved at the hotel, and each room served multi-functional purposes, placing artist booths on the main floor, and discussion panels on a small stage.

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ZipperTan, COE Events Coordinator
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

Yet, the space never felt overcrowded and Kerronian was omnipresent, ready to resolve any issues.

Events coordinator, ZipperTan, 26, of Fort Lauderdale, hosted the costume contest for the cosplayers at COE.  A self-taught seamstress who has been to over thirty cons, ZipperTan has won awards for her own costumes.  She noted that events such as comic cons and COE are “a great way to meet new people.”

Artist/ writer/ fashion designer Gmoss, an independent creator at one of the artist booths, expanded on what brings individuals to these events:  “People have a love for comics, animation… they have a passion, and want to share that through stories and art.”

With the help of his father, Robert Moss, Gmoss promoted his illustrated science-fiction novel, The Chronicles of Ann & Lo, as well as his clothing line inspired by the book.  He appreciated that COE “is for individual artists…to give us exposure.”

When dealing with larger comic cons, this exposure can often be limited to the days of an event.

However, the publication of the COE anthology, Love.Resistance Parts 1-3—a collection of short stories, comics and illustrations from COE artists—provides an opportunity to build more of a connection with fans and other creators.  It is also a way to give back to a larger community because all sales proceeds are donated to 4KidsInNeed, a nonprofit children’s charity.

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Laura Diaz, COE Anthology Designer
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

During the event, COE anthology designer, Laura Diaz, spoke about the desire to “achieve a sense of community” through the anthology as well as future projects, and to encourage connection between indie creators.  Diaz is a writer who collaborated with visual artist, Mary O’Neill, to create an illustrated ebook series, Splitting SeamsReminiscent of a fairy tale, Splitting Seams is about twin girls who must be sewn together in order to survive.

Diaz discussed how indie comics often highlight diverse voices.  For example, people of color, women, older as well as very young artists may find it “hard to break into the [mainstream] business” because their work is often “pushing boundaries.”  Indie publishers and creator owned works give artists the “ability to do it our own way.”

“We are not waiting for someone to accept or deny our work,” said Diaz.

Other independent creators at COE shared their experiences as artists, writers and publishers.

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Indie Author/ Filmmaker Jeff Carroll at COE 2013
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

South Florida based indie author and filmmaker Jeff Carroll published his latest novel Thug Angel: Rebirth of a Gargoyle, with his own company, Hip Hop Comix N Flix.  This sci-fi horror story centers on a gargoyle who seeks to protect his mortal fifteen year old daughter from the beings of the underworld.  In an interview during COE, Carroll cited Watson and Holmes and City of Dust as works that appeal to him—both are indie comics.

He observed that “comic book cons and fans… tend to be more multiculturally tolerant.”  Carroll also noted that the main character of Thug Angel may be black, “but he doesn’t live in a black world… there’s a whole lot of everything.”

“This isn’t Twilight,” he added.

Self-published Florida sci-fi author, Jade Kerrion, has not only taken on the indie route but shares her experience on her blog, detailing the complete process from building an author’s platform to promotion.

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Cosplayers at Creator Owned Expo 2013
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

When asked about why she decided to self-publish, Kerrion responded that “the barriers have dropped… and it is very possible” to reach an audience without a traditional publisher.  Kerrion had considered traditional publishing when her novel Perfection Unleashed garnered attention and awards.  However, self-publishing allowed her books (nine, at last count) to immediately connect with audiences.

Animator and illustrator Baroka Thompson of West Palm Beach has not published a book yet; but he was at COE with prints of his work-in-progress, Insektika, a story with fantastical wasp-like characters inspired by female warrior tribes.  Thompson shared that he is drawn towards characters such as Ripley in the Alien film series.  He also conveyed that his vision is informed by the personal experience of growing up around strong women.

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Artist Andie McDade at COE 2013
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

The strength of women characters could also be seen in the steampunk and Firefly inspired webcomic Daughters of an Industrial Era by artist Andie McDade, 22, of Orlando.  Her work explores characters that identify as either “queer, bisexual or gay.”  McDade described how her protagonists are smugglers on a Victorian era airship, the Good Ship Sappho, “going outside of what society expects.”

“They do bad things but they are good people,” she said.  “They all have their own insights, flaws and positive traits.”

Another COE writer and artist, Jamaal Ephriam, is founder of Key Jay Compound Comix (KJC Comix), “an independent comic book and graphic novel production and publishing group” that distributes projects such as the free biweekly webcomic, DRIFT.  This surreal story features Maji Mayo, a game tester who starts to experience an intense connection to his work.

When considering the differences between independent creators and the “major industries,” Ephriam brought up his experience at Florida Supercon 2013 in Miami—one of the most noteworthy comic cons to emerge in Florida over the past few years.

“All the independents were on the same floor upstairs… far away from the main industry [on the first floor],” he said.

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Cosplayers at Creator Owned Expo 2013
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

Ephriam “felt like it discredited” the indie artists. However, he recognized that this arrangement was likely due to the lack of adequate space—Florida Supercon had outgrown the capacity of its venue.

Fortunately, Florida Supercon 2014 is scheduled for the Miami Beach Convention Center, which can accommodate more vendors and more fans.  Ephriam observed that there should be enough space for the independents and the main industries to interact equally with each other and with the fans, which he viewed as a step towards “a fair playing ground.”

Yet, he also hoped that COE grows just as much as Florida Supercon has grown throughout the years, in order to “give more center focus…. to independents.”

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Costume Contest at Creator Owned Expo 2013,
Hosted by ZipperTan
Photo Credit: Andrea Dulanto

As evidenced by the audience at COE 2013, there are fans who want to support creator owned works.  Independent artists, writers and publishers are not afraid to break new ground, and COE is there to support them as they do.

After the event, Kerronian responded via email about what’s next for COE.

“We also plan on having other events throughout the year, maybe some cross promotion opportunities,” said Kerronian.  “We are still discussing events for the 2014 COE…All we are pushing for is that we create a spark that allows lightning to strike twice.”

      

LGBT Radio Show Launches in Fort Lauderdale

In 2011, Orlando radio host Paul Karle started an LGBT show called The Qiew.

“My background is radio and TV and I wanted to use my talent, my voice… for good within our community,” said Karle in an email interview with SFGN.

The Qiew and Karle have now found a new home in South Florida.

For complete article, see South Florida Gay News.

Florida Supercon 2013: Sci-Fi, Anime, & Comic Books Convention Connects LGBT Fans & Allies

George Takei speaks to the audience at The 8th annual Florida Supercon 2013 at Miami Airport Convention CenterTrekkies, Bronies and a revered pop culture icon who says “Oh Myyy.”

The 8th annual Florida Supercon 2013 took place July 4 to 7 at the Miami Airport Convention Center, where thousands of fans came to celebrate sci-fi, anime, comic books, and other pop culture genres.

Generally the mood was upbeat on Saturday, July 6 – how could it not be when people dressed as fantastical characters such as Aqua Man, Nightwing, and The Great Gazoo?

For complete article, see South Florida Gay News.

Florida Supercon: George Takei, David Yost and More to Appear

Florida Supercon has often featured comic book/ sci-fi/ anime guests and events that appeal to not only mainstream fans, but also to an LGBT audience.  This year, Florida Supercon 2013 promises to exceed expectations.

The Eighth annual comic con event returns to the Miami Airport Convention Center on July 4-7, with George Takei, as one of the headliners.

Science fiction fans know Takei as Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek television series,which aired from 1966- 1969.  In recent years, Takei has become a social media favorite, particularly on Facebook, and he has written about this experience in Oh Myyy!  (There Goes the Internet).  However, some of his fans may not know that as a child during World War II, Takei was incarcerated in Japanese-American internment camps in the U.S.  He has also starred in a musical, Allegiance, which explores this often untold part of American history.  A Broadway debut is anticipated for 2014.

In 2005, Takei publicly came out.  Since then, he’s become an LGBT activist, one who often uses humor to communicate his message—see Takei’s recent Buzzfeed response to same-sex marriage protestors.

In a phone interview with SFGN, Takei reflected, “When I was a teenager, marriage equality was an unthinkable thing.  Now it is inevitable.  I’m very optimistic about the [upcoming] Supreme Court ruling.”

For complete article, see South Florida Gay News.