Every year, hundreds of thousands of fans attend comic book and sci-fi conventions all over the nation in search of fellowship with like-minded dreamers who believe there’s more to life than pulling a 9-to-5 shift. Though the ongoing pandemic has made gathering in place impossible this year, that has not stopped Cerece Rennie Murphy from carving out one of the world's first virtual conventions for Black and independent writers.
As an award-winning, bestselling author and sci-fi convention fan herself, Murphy knows how important it is to engage with other writers and enthusiasts. That’s why she has created Virtuous Con: Black History Month, a virtual con where Black and Brown creators will exhibit their works and interact with fans while social distancing.
After hearing about Murphy’s plan, DC announced it would serve as Virtuous Con’s official sponsor. With that backing as well as the wide-ranging list of guests and panelists — including genre stars such as Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog), David Ajala (Star Trek: Discovery), L.L. McKinney (A Blade So Black), and more — fans can rest assured that this will be one of the most inclusive, creator-friendly comic events of the year, with a “security” staff standing by to boot out any attendees not following the rules of engagement.
Attendees will be able to learn from and interact with guests and artists or hear them speak on a variety of panels — including "Blerds," "Cosplay," "Best of," and "Breaking Borders" — throughout Virtuous Con this weekend, Feb. 20 and 21. Best of all, attendance on both days is free. All users have to do is register, sign-in, and get into the virtual groove.
SYFY WIRE grabbed an early sneak peek of the virtual platform with Murphy as our official tour guide, and picked her brain about how it all came together.
I love what you're doing with Virtuous Con and the interface is amazing! But I have to ask you, where did you get the energy to put all of this on after dealing with 2020?
In the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, I was feeling heartbroken, but then I realized that my ancestors dealt with much worse than this and they found a way not to just survive, but to thrive and build. 2020 honed in that resolve in my mind: that there is nothing that we cannot overcome because we are the descendants of people who made the impossible happen.
Would you say that the convention is a response to the renewed calls for racial justice?
Virtuous Con is absolutely a response to that. I know so many incredible creators of all races and cultures who are doing amazing things and I think cyber conventions are like this magical place where people can come together and get celebrated for who they are or who they want to be.
I love that: Celebrating people for who they want to be.
Yes! There's this guy who used to come to New York Comic Con every year dressed in his Wonder Woman costume. He was hairy! Hairy! He had disco ball red earrings and was just fabulous.
Another year, a woman in a wheelchair who didn't have any hair transformed herself and her wheelchair into a Bene Gesserit costume. She was just as badass as you’d ever want to be in life; she was just gold! And even though it was packed, the sea literally parted to help her get down the aisle. No one coordinated that; it just happened. I’m getting chills thinking about it right now.
Where else can you go to be celebrated for that except for a sci-fi convention? It’s thousands of people, artists, and fans, all celebrating each other's uniqueness, eccentricities, and passions and it literally restores my faith in humanity every single time I go.
How did you get started as a writer?
At sci-conventions! I wouldn’t have a career without them.
When I published the first book in The Order of the Seers trilogy, the feedback was very negative. I got a lot of rejection letters, but the quickest way to get me to do something is to tell me what I can't do. So I decided to attend a convention.
People were like, “You're never gonna sell any books.” I heard it all: “Black people don't read science fiction. White people don't read Black authors. And nobody reads science fiction from a woman.” That's an actual quote.
But you ignored the haters.
I tend not to listen to “they” because “they” often don't know what they're talking about. My mom and I went to New York Comic Con, got a booth, and drove up there with 100 books. But we stopped off at a small convention in Baltimore first and talked to a bunch of independent creators while they were setting up.
They were like, “You're crazy. Sit down.” And they literally walked me through what I needed to do to exhibit at the convention. After that, I made a plan for my booth with my best friend and sold over 100 copies of my book to every type of person. Everyone — Black, white, Latino, Brown, Asian — was curious, encouraging, generous, kind, and spent their money on a book from an author they'd never heard of. It’s all because of the generosity of independent creators.
It feels like you’re replicating that same spirit with Virtuous Con.
Yes! That's exactly what Virtual Con is about. Helping us reconnect with what I call this virtuous circle: of artists helping artists, fans helping artists, and artists helping fans.
#Diversity but like, with sincerity instead of virtue signaling.
Yes. Independent artists have been promoting and supporting diversity forever. That's why a lot of them are independent in the first place: because they couldn't find a home in the traditional world for a story that featured people of color who were happy, or people of color helping people that were interested in other cultures.
It’s all about saying, “YAS."
Yes! [Laughs.] Again, that’s why conventions restore my faith in humanity. Because you get to see what is real and that you’re not an anomaly; that there are tons of people who are curious and open.
What pulls everyone together for these conventions?
I think people come to sci-fi conventions to find what they can't find in life. That's why they pay $100, and roam the aisles for days, and spend time with independent creators. They’re trying to find something new and interesting. And there are so many inspiring stories. I am continually inspired by the work that is created by independent artists.
That’s actually why I started reading manga; because I felt like I wasn’t finding unique stories in traditional markets. Plus, it’s not like I can visit the comic store right now.
You don't even have the choice, right? That’s the whole point behind Virtuous Con: to make it easier for you to find the stories and creators that are gonna lift you up, make you think, challenge you, and comfort you with so many different types of stories.
Like Robyn Smith; she has a comic about what it feels like to be the only Black person in the town. That's a story that a lot of people can relate to: isolation and being the only person of your kind in a town. Our stories aren’t just badass and kickin'. We have that here too and I love it, but there’s also deeper explorations.
What do you want to do with Virtuous Con?
I want to be part of raising the awareness of the availability of independent artists to audiences. I want to make it easier for people to find and meet these amazing artists.
[DC Comics has] been super supportive. There is no conflict because the next generation for DC is coming from independent creators. So our collaboration is about the continuation and the future of this industry. The next big superhero movie, Indian or American classic is going to come from independent creators because they believe in their stories.
To sign up for Virtuous Con: Black History Month, running Feb. 20-21, visit the con’s website. Attendance is free to all!