Chuck Rozanski Gives Bettie Pages Her San Diego Comic-Con Debut

Chuck Rozanski is a well-known name in comic books, behind Mile High Comics, one of the most prominent comic book retailers in America, with the largest back issue comics warehouse. The backbone of the US comic collecting market throughout its history, visibly moving from large detailed print ads running in the comics themselves, to moving online and finding a global print audience for American comics.

Mile High Comics has set up at San Diego Comic-Con for decades but pulled out three years ago, very unhappy at how the show was being run. This year, Chuck Rozanski was an invited guest at the show rather than a retailer. But it appears that San Diego Comic-Con will be getting two for one.

Posting as Charles Rozanski on Facebook, we learned about the change a couple of days ago.

After the truly horrendous manner in which we were treated while exhibiting at the convention three years ago, I swore that I would never again return to San Diego Comic-Con. Well, it’s the 50th anniversary this year, and I am an invited guest. In a spirit of reconciliation I agreed to attend. I do sincerely hope that this journey helps to heal all the remaining bitterness. So far, the convention staff has been incredibly kind to me.

But there were other changes to make. And on the floor of San Diego Comic-Con, we got to meet Bettie Pages. And, for the first time, so did many fellow prominent members of the comic book industry.

Chuck has written in the Mile High Comics Newsletter, reproduced here with permission.

In today’s report about my adventures here at the 2019 50th San Diego Comic-Con I am going to breach forbidden walls by talking about both politics and religion. If you’ve heard about too much of both (as many of us have…) feel free to jump to the amazing list of great comics at the end of the newsletter. I won’t blame you one bit.

Chuck Rozanski Gives Bettie Pages Her San Diego Comic-Con Debut
Chuck in 1974 at San Diego Comic-Con (photo by Jackie Estrada)

I want to start today by drawing what may at first seem like an odd parallel between 50th San Diego Comic-Con and Pride Parades. While it is nearly forgotten today, there was a point in time, long before Hollywood legitimized geekdom, that fans of popular culture (and most especially the readers of comic books) were viewed as either degenerate, moronic, or both. As a teenage comic book dealer in the early 1970’s, I suffered innumerable insults and slights when members of the “straight” community learned of my chosen profession. When I dropped out of college in early 1974 to live in a borrowed 1963 Chevy, I was deemed by my peers to be beyond the pale of stupid. Those were hard, hard days, where only my ironclad personal resolve allowed me to persevere.

 

Vincent Zurzolo, Robert Beerbohm, Bettie Pages, and Steve Geppi

Within that 1970’s environment of open hostility and denigration toward geekdom, conventions were our only refuges. Much like Pride Parades, conventions were the one moment in a year where geeks in a given city could feel a part of a greater Community.Conventions were the place where we could openly celebrate with our fellow travelers that which enriched our spirits, and brought joy to our hearts. Tucked away in oftentimes seedy hotels and convention center basements all around America, we shared our love of comics, science fiction, old movies, and even early radio programs. Blessedly, we eventually enchanted a young filmmaker by the name of George Lucas into joining our despised tribe, and the tides of history, and public opinion, finally began to shift in our favor. Today a degree that exceeds even the wildest imaginings of our teenage years…

Michael Carbonaro and Bettie

I am now a member of another socially questioned tribe. While absolutely no one today would question the legitimacy of my company, Mile High Comics, the fact that I am also a gender-fluid drag queen still raises some eyebrows, and provokes a few homophobes into outright hostility. I do understand those reactions, as the norm in our country has been to always put everyone into the either/or binary male/female boxes. Truth be told, however, Kinsey figured out decades ago that both gender and sexual orientation are spectrum, and that many people are outside of the norms. As for myself, I present primarily as male, but my female side, Bettie, has become such a joyful extension of my core persona that I can no longer deny her existence. We are one, and will always be.

Bettie doing an interview at San Diego

So here I am at 50th San Diego Comic-Con, the greatest gathering of the tribes of geekdom, in a bright red sequined gown and covered sparklies. Why in the world would I do that? The “smart” (and safe) thing to do would be for Bettie to stay hidden, only to emerge in the company of those who already understand my gender fluidity. I have never in my life played it safe, however, and I’ll be damned if I will begin now. Especially considering that those in control in Washington today have chosen Transgender and non-binary people as their new whipping boys (and girls). If I have been forced into standing up for the rights of my brothers and sisters of my newly embraced Community, then so be it. I will be out and proud as Bettie, and I will gladly share the pure joy that she brings forth from my heart.

Billy Tucci and Bettie

As regards politics and religion, I will state unequivocally that no religion or creed gives anyone the right to tell us here in this great nation built upon ideals of freedom that we have to use separate drinking fountains (or bathrooms), sit in the back of a bus, hide in a closet, or find another lunch counter. We will cross whatever Edmund Pettus Bridge that is thrown in front of us, and brave those dogs and cudgels of repression. We have a right to be who we are, and dress in whatever attire that we find most comfortable, without any fear or intimidation, public or private. Period.

Ted Abenheim and Bettie

What I just said may sound overly dramatic, but word has already reached me that my advocacy for Transgender and gender-fluid children in Denver has potentially put me in the gunsights of some very dangerous people. White Nationalists and Proud Boys are not pleasant adversaries. So be it. I will not back down and I will not hide, but I will continue stand up and give voice to all my people. Most especially here at the 50th San Diego Comic-Con, where all are welcome and loved. Walking around this show in a beautiful gown is my public statement of commitment to my people, and most especially to our children, many of whom contemplate suicide on a daily basis. Never, ever, will I abandon my responsibility to give hope to those who most need to see it in the adults in their lives.

Bettie next to Lego Iron Man

Returning to the topic of 50th San Diego Comic-Con, my experience here during Preview Night last evening was nothing short of euphoric. I am asking Will to provide you with a link to the 24 photos I posted to FB last evening so that you can bear witness to my joyful countenance throughout the Preview night. I was just so darn happy! Everyone here has been kind, accepting, and almost unbelievably welcoming to Bettie. We are really and truly grateful that we have returned to our beloved home, at last. Love is love.

Happy collecting!

Identifying as gender fluid, Chuck/Bettie has told people at the show that in the mornings, they’ll likely get Chuck but in the afternoons and evenings, they’ll most probably see Bettie. And she’s gone down rather well.

Bettie Pages visits San Diego Comic-Con! None of my many thousands of clients (and fellow dealers…) who attend this immense annual popular culture event had ever met Bettie, so it was truly a delight when she was greeted with such universal warmth and friendship. Thank you Ricci Velasquez for all your expert help with painting, and for taking these delightful photos. Love is love.

Love is love.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.