The first official Comic Con was in New York City in 1964. Much of what contemporary fandom looks like today was shaped by 1960s housewives who were fans of Star Trek. Early fanfictions were published in fan-zines or shared within mailing lists. This corner of history is difficult to find clear record of, as much of it was kept secret.
For Wales' specific place within queer, fandom history, we are skipping to the late '80s. While there were no doubt scifi and fandom gatherings before this time, it is important we focus on a point upon which to build an understanding of how this community and culture has grown. The impact of Section 28 is still felt to this day in attitudes towards queer media.
During this period, two major events happened to shape contemporary online fandom space:
In UK media, another major event was happening for queer media:
In 1999, Queer as Folk aired on TV. Created by gay, Welsh TV writer Russel T. Davies the series depicted the lives of gay men in Manchester. During a time of great censorship of queer lives, it was one of the few peices of media portraying queerness in a normalistic way.
Russel T. Davies went on to make several more milestones in queer British media, and making major contributions for Wales as a hub of queer geekiness.
The "New Who" (Doctor Who reboot series) began in 2004 starring Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. In 2005, the episode "The Empty Child" aired, introducing the character Jack Harkness, portrayed by gay actor John Barrowman. Jack Harkness is openly queer, and shares an on-screen kiss with both The Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Jack Harkness was the first canonically queer character to have ever appeared in Doctor Who. He became an incredibly popular fan-favourite.
In 2006 the spin-off series Torchwood aired, created by gay Welsh TV writer Russel T. Davies. The series is set in Cardiff and follows the protagonist Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) as she discovers the strange alien beings appearing in wales and the work Torchwood to protect the world. The series aired later than Doctor Who, with more mature themes and more graphic on-screen violence and sexuality. Likely due to this after-watershed airing, the series potrayed an explicit romantic, sexual relationship between Jack Harkness and his male Torchwood colleage Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). This series was very popular on fan-forums and fanfiction websites, with particular focus on Jack and Ianto's relationship.
Though no doubt fan-events and smaller conventions had happened before this date, Fantasy Events UK organised the earliest convention in Wales that has been documented online. Two comic conventions were hosted, one in Cardiff and the other in Newport. Newport event hosted in the Newport Leisure Centre, and Cardiff event in the Marriott Hotel. The convention boasted guests, toys, comics, cards, collectibles and more from major dealers and traders.
The Organisation for Transformative Works is a non-profit organisation run by fans that advocates for the transformative, legal, and legitimate nature of fan labour activities, providing legal defence for fan creators. Much of their work is to prevent copywrite takedowns against fanworks such as fanfiction and fanart, as well as archiving and preserving various aspects of fandom.
After esablishing themselves in 2008, they successfully submitted requests to the Library of Congress for further exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow the fair use of video clips for certain non-commercial uses such as video remixes, commentary, and education, as well as to protect technology used for such purposes.
The same year Fanlore went into Beta. This independent wiki page was developed to preserve the history of fandom and transformative works.
A brief history of the OTW and their legal services can be found here.
In 2009 the OTW launched Archive Of Our Own. This began as an archive for fanworks, but soon became a popular fanfiction hosting site due to its legal protection against takedowns, as well as it's tagging system that allowed creators to search and filter through works that were hosted on the site. The lack of censorship on this website allowed creators far more freedom in what they published, which has been incredibly important in the role of creating and protecting LGBTQ+ themed fanworks.
Torchwood's third season, Children of Earth, was 5 episodes long and aired in July of 2009. In the fourth episode, Ianto Jones is killed by an alien virus, and dies in Jack's arms.
Ianto's death prompted huge outcry from fans, from campaigns to bring him back (including charity work), to angry letters sent to the creators of the show. Fans in Wales flocked to the "front door" of the Torchwood base (a small boat storage in Cardiff Bay) and decorated it, creating a permanent memorial to the character. To this day, flowers, letters, fanart and other offerings are hung on the trellis. Many depictions of Jack and Ianto as a couple are also pinned to this wall, alongside pride flags. Coming out letters and notes about the importance of their on-screen relationship have also been attached to it over the years.
The Management of Mermaid Quay formally installed a plaque on the wall, reading:
Gave his life in defense of the children of this planet.
The Management of Mermaid Quay salutes you"
Though this memorial is for a fictional character, it is a very physical representation of the overlap of queerness, geekiness, and Welshness. Barely six years after the repeal of Section 28, the public make a very visible stance of love and support for a queer character on TV, and continue to maintain a shine of love for what he represented.
Mercury Promotions organised the first Wales Comic Con at Glyndwr University in Wrexham, the biggest comic con at the time. Unlike it's smaller predecessors, WCC was able to host big-name TV and film stars for photos, autographs and Q&A panels. This is the earliest online recorded comic con in north Wales, and drew attendees from all across the UK.
deviantART was popualr for many reasons, but its group function was very useful for communities. It was though the groups that Cosplay Cymru was able to form, divided into Cosplay Cymru North and Cosplay Cymru South. The monthly meet-ups were for cosplayers to dress up, take photos and socialise. Meetups would occasionally be themed depending on the time of year.
The Cosplay Cymru South group would meet in Cardiff, congregating outside the Castle, within the park grounds, or later under the shelter behind the Millenium Stadium. Though never specifically stated as an LGBT cosplay meetup, many of the members were, or later came out as, some part of the queer umbrella. Some meetups were even held on the same weekend as Pride, for cosplayers to express both aspects of their identities.
Fantasy Events UK begin their association with Comic Expo, creating Cardiff International Comic Expo. This was held at the Mercure Hotel on February 23rd with tickets going for about £5. Many indie and small press comics are sold here, including the debut of 10thology, a comic anthology of Welsh creative talent.
In this year, the futuristic sci-fi/fantasy cartoon series Adventure Time airs on Cartoon Network and recieves quick international popularity. The series introduces the character BMO, who is a small talking video-games console style robot. BMO uses both he/him and she/her pronouns interchangeably. Though much debate is made about the validity of non-human gendeflud and nonbinary characters as representation, Adventure Time specifically only has one human character as it's premise, and the show introduced the concept of having fluid pronouns to a large young audience.
Joe Glass, a gay comic creator from Treorchy, publishes the first The Pride comics. The comic publication is funded via Indiegogo. The stories follow a team of LGBTQ+ superheroes fighting bigotry and a variety of supervillains representing queerphobic attitudes. He has since released more comics about queer superheroes.
Tumblr, prior to being purchased by Yahoo, was amostly uncensored and unmoderated microblogging platform. It's multi-media hosting capabilities, tagging system, options for complete blog customisation and dashboard format make it a perfect space for fandom communities to develop.
It's complete anonymity also makes it a popular space for online queer community to have discussions about gender and sexual identity spectrum. This allows people to access information about queer identity in a way that isn't taught in schools, and learn more about gender and sexuality that often is left out of mainstream queer spaces.
The interactive webcomic Homestuck, created by Andrew Hussie, began in 2009 and gained extreme popularity, peaking in the early 2010s. The large number of queer characters and diverse relationship dynamics naturally attracted a dominantly queer fanbase. Due to its immense size, it had a significant presence of cosplayers at comic conventions, resulting in some of the first formally organised fandom-specific cosplay meetups at these events for photos and socialising. Additionally, the first cosplay character panels were formed, where fans could ask cosplayers roleplaying as the characters questions and get in-character responses.
The WalesStuck cosplay group branches off from Cosplay Cymru South for Homestuck cosplayers to meet. Though many fandom-specific cosplay groups had formed before, including an Axis Powers Hetalia group and a Kingdom Hearts group, the WalesStuck meetups become popular outside of the original Cosplay Cymru attendees and runs as a completely independent cosplay meetup.
Many members who attended the meetups were young, queer people, and it was often treated as a meet-up of queer people with a shared interest.
The character Northstar (Jean-Paul Beaubier) was originally introduced in 1979. He was soon established as gay, making him the first gay superhero to ever appear in comic books. Since then, a wider variety of queer characters have been introduced to various comic publications.
In Astonishing X-Men #51, Northstar marries his partner Kyle Jinadu in Marvel comic's first same-sex wedding. This was significant as not only was this two firsts for this character, but also Marvel comics had already had several weddings happen before now, and was finally offering that to one of its queer characters. Not only was this wedding part of a popular X-men comic series, but it also was featured on the issue's variant cover, making it highly collectible and on-display within comic shops around the world.
12 years after the Netherlands historically became the first country to allow same-sex marriage, legislation was finally passed in England and Wales to legalise it as well. The act would not go into effect until 2014. Weddings would be able to take place in religious and non-religious ceremonies, however religious institutions could still refuse to perform the ceremony and recieve legal support for it.
Marches were organised in celebration of the legislation passing, with people marching in the streets carrying 'thank you' signs.
In August of 2013, both Madi Gras (rebranded to Pride Cymru) and Cardiff Comic Con are both booked for the same weekend. Here we see the a very visible divide in the queer community - those who picked Pride, and those who picked Comic Con. Pride Cymru was being held in the Milennium Stadium, and Cardiff Comic Con in the Motorpoint Arena, bringing huge crowds into the city and shutting them all away inside large venue spaces. The two communities were kept very separate during this weekend.
Pride this year was generally considered to be one of the worst, partly due to an unprecidented rise in hate-crime and disorderly behaviour at the event, but also the stadium's limited options for food and drink, on top of the price of entry and no leave-and-return options. The next week, Pride Cymru had to issue a formal apology for how the event went.
Conversely, Cardiff Comic Con's first event at the Motorpoint Arena was generally viewed as a success.
Fantasy Events UK rebrand their comic con once more to Cardiff International Comic & Animation Expo, which is hosted at the Mercure Holland House Hotel. Including animation in the name is one of the ways that the geek scene in Wales is now recognising the presence of cartoons and anime in the convention and fandom scene. Unfortunately, this is the last of the comic conventions that Fantasy Events UK ever run.
This year, however, they run the first ever Scardiff event. This is Wales' first horror convention, covering everything from movies, to games, comic books and everything else. This annual expo was hosted in the Mercure Holland House Hotel then later Cardiff Masonic Hall and ran until 2015.
Also this year, they hosted the first Cardiff Tattoo and Toy Convention. This was hosted at the Mercure Holland House Hotel. It later rebranded to Cardiff International Tattoo Convention.
With the rising popularity of comic con, local and independent conventions were becoming more in demand. Dragondaze began running events in 2014 at the Newport Leisure Centre, using money from the tickets for the chairity Barnardos Young Carers. Being smaller, more of the local queer cosplayers had a direct hand in running it, and more pride-themed merchandise and queer character fan merch was available at the stalls.
Also in 2014, Showmasters officially took over Cardiff Con, turning it into Cardiff Film and Comic Con and made its permanent home in the Motorpoint arena.
By 2015 the scene was expanding even futher. AnimeLeague came to Wales to run Cardiff Anime and Gaming Con, making them the first anime-specific convention in Wales. Several controvercies have since come to light about AL, but the convention continues to run.
Growing the scene further north, UK Conventions Limited began Sci-Fi Wales in Llandudno.
Rebecca Sugar previously worked on Adventure Time, and now became the creator and show-runner of the series Steven Universe, which aired on Cartoon Network this year. Having pushed for more queer representation on previous shows, they were now doing more work to ensure their own work offered queer representation to young audiences. The series introduced a large cast of femme-presenting nonbinary characters and pushed the boundaries of what was allowed on Cartoon Network.
The show was instantly successful, especially for older audiences, due to it's complex narrative, animation quality and music. Fan-merch became very common at conventions, and this boosted the presence of pride-themed merchandise being sold ad conventions, cementing the very visible queer presence within fandom and comic con.
Pride (2014) hit cinemas around the world. This film told the story of the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), who finanfically supported and campaigned for the mining community in Wales during Thatcher's government. For the first time, this piece of queer Welsh history is told on an international scale, celebrating rural Welsh history and queer solidarity.
The final episode of Avatar: The Legend of Korra aired on Nickelodeon. The final scene showed female protagonists Korra and Asami setting off tother, and was heavily implied that they were also together as a romantic couple. Though it was the creators intent that it should be romantic, there was much discussion about if it was or was not explicit enough compared to the heterosexual couples, and how much could get through Nickelodeon's censorship. Despite this, it was a monumental moment for queer representation in children’s media that started a domino effect of representation in future series.
NPC Tea, created by Cardiff-based illustrator and writer Sarah Millman, is an urban fantasy comic series set in modern day Cardiff. The story surrounds orcs, elves and othermagical beings who run a tea shop, and has explicitly queer characters in the main cast.
The comics were funded through Kickstarter, and has since had six successful campaigns until 2020.
She has also worked for several large publications and continues to create comics.
The hard work and effort of showrunners and the loud positive support of fandom in defiance of anti-LGBT campaigns successfully led to far more positive queer representation in popular media.
The character Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Caitlin Hildebrand) and her girlfriend Yukio (Shiori Kutsuna) appear in Deadpool 2. Though Marvel TV series produced for Netflix already had queer characters in their lineup, these two were the first openly queer characters officially within Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. Criticisms have been made that these characters could only exist because the Deadpool franchise is 18+.
Steven Universe, continuing its immense success and popularity, had years of showing two characters in a romantic relationship. In a monumental episode, it told a story about Ruby and Sapphire getting married. Previous international censorship of the series had dubbed Ruby over with a male voice to erase their same-gender identities. In this episode, Ruby was drawn wearing a wedding dress and Sapphire in a suit to prevent this, signalling that they were canonically queer.
The Adventure Time series finale, after years of implications and a huge active fanbase shipping the two characters, finally gave an on-screen kiss between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline.
Over the most recent years we’ve seen a significant increase in on-screen positive portrayals of queer characters, though it is worth nothing that many of these are in series that are exclusive to streaming services where they’re not being limited by TV regulations, such as She-Ra, Kipo and the Wonderbeasts, The Old Guard and The Umbrella Academy. The fantastic efforts of shows like The Owl House on the Disney Channel have come about because of the struggle of shows that came before them. Even now we see popular but heavily censored BL adaptations like The Untamed giving the audience far more queer content through subtext than we do from major western productions like Disney who gave Loki in the Loki TV series a passing line about his bisexuality and a nearly illegible “genderfluid” marker in the credits, despite his explicitly queer expression in the comics.
Gwyllion is a bilingual sci-fi and fantasy magazine published in both Welsh and English. The magazine publishes short stories written and submitted by Welsh writers/writers in Wales, with a focus on sharing works from those of marginalised communities - including LGBTQIA+ writers. Guest artists are also brought in to do cover art on individual issues.
The first issue was published on September 1st, 2020, in both physical and digital format, and has since been published bi-annually in Spring and Autumn issues.
The team behind the magazine itself include editor-in-Chief Laurie Raye, who is nonbinary, and illustrator Myla who uses he/they pronouns.
Copies of Gwyllion have also been sold at the Queer Emporium.
Geek Rretreat is a self-described retailer, cafe and events space for "geek culture". Though originally founded in 2013 in Glasgow, two sites opened in Wales in early 2022, first in Cardiff and then in Newport. Most events are socials, tabletop RPG campaigns and gaming tournaments that members of the public can join in on. Due to an already large and established LGBT geek community in Wales, it not only hosts official LGBTQ+ nights to create and encourage a safe space and community for queer geeks, but also is a monthly meeting spot for Trans Aid Cymru socials.