It’s March, and we are now weeks away from the beginning of Convention season.
I know that conventions actually go on year-round, but March is often considered the kick-off of convention season with Emerald City Comicon at the end of March and going through New York Comic Con at the beginning of October.
Already, I hear the laments of cosplayers trying to get their costumes done in time. I hear fans complaining that San Diego Comic Con sold out in under an hour, again. I have friends doing panels at conventions who are stressing about what they are going to say. I had one person explain to me how the Gen Con Hotel lottery system is broken and how he wrote a program to fix it, if they would just respond to him.
All in all, pretty normal stuff.
But this year feels different.
There has been a lot of stress lately in geek culture and, with convention season almost here, people have to deal with what is happening in person instead of just online. The concerns about harassment, and even violence, have a lot of people on edge.
Most of what is going on is not new. I have been covering it here for the last few years. A lot of the old factors are still at play: misogyny, gatekeeping, fear mongering, and privilege. What has changed is the level of focus.
It would be easy to say that this is all Gamergate’s fault, but that would be over simplifying the situation. Gamergate is not the cause of what is happening, it has simply provided a rally point for the problematic aspects of geek culture. The old triggers are still at the heart of what is going on, but what has caused things to go ballistic is actually the fact that things have been improving.
Last year we saw several conventions adopt harassment policies that were well worded and comprehensive enough to actually be effective. You have also seen women, minorities, and LGBT come forth and demand representation and a safe place to be geeks with the rest of us. You’ve seen the industries that fuel geek culture start to respond positively to these segments of their audience.
Sadly, for many people, strides made by others are seen not as an expansion of geek culture but as a threat to them. It’s as if even though 95% of everything is still being about them, they begrudge the other 5%.
Thus, we have the atmosphere of fear that now pervades geek culture. The old guard fear that they are losing something, and they use fear to try to drive off those they see as interlopers. And with the escalation of threats, there is a legitimate fear of violence.
But as awful as Gamergate is, it also has a silver lining.
Yes, there are people being driven off, or deciding never to join in geek culture due to this, but others are being galvanized. People who might have just been going along have become activists to show that the harassers are a vocal minority and not representative of our culture.
The escalation of harassment is terrible, but it has caused wider exposure to it, resulting in more discussion on how to deal with it. It has also led to more mainstream media attention, which helps.
I am not saying it is all rainbows and kittens. I know several people who have been targeted. One had to find a new bank, due to repeated hacking attempts at her account. Another deleted her twitter history after receiving a Gamergate education post, so that she could remove any potential information about her daughter.
As a white heterosexual cis male, I doubt I can even begin to imagine what it is like to be a woman, minority, or LGBT on the internet.
I also do not expect any of this to just go away. I have been writing about it since 2012 and I expect I will still be writing about it, on some level, in 2020.
But as long as we still talk about it, and make sure we as a culture strive to be better, I can have hope for the future.
Until then I am still going to several conventions this year, and plan to do my part to make sure they are safe and inviting events for everyone there.
Once again, we find ourselves wading into the issue of harassment in geek culture. This time it hits the big arena that is San Diego Comic Con (SDCC).
The growing awareness of the issue of harassment at conventions has led to many conventions addressing this issue in increasingly clear language. I have written about this several times. We have seen good examples (such as the policies put forth by Emerald City Comicon and The Calgery Expo), bad examples (such as with Fan Expo Canada), and even tragic examples (as was the case with Aki Con).
But unlike these shows, SDCC is well known to mainstream culture. It is THE big show, sells out in 90 minutes, and getting to go is akin to getting the golden ticket.
In light of all these factors, a group called GeeksForCONsent created an online petition to urge SDCC to create a specific anti-harassment policy. Right now, what they have is a broad code of conduct that mentions harassment, but does not define what it means.
Specifically, the SDCC code of conduct is as follows: Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy. Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner.
What GeeksForCONsent is looking for is a more clearly defined process that includes a visible reporting mechanism, signs around the convention outlining the policy, and staff training on how to handle these issues. If this sounds familiar, it is because I wrote about it here detailing Emerald City Comicons anti-harassment effort. These are also the steps that The Calgary Expo and many others adopted this year.
Unfortunately, any hope of this petition having any effect right now is stalled. We know this because the director of marketing for SDCC (Daniel Glanzer) has commented on the petition in an interview stating that he did not favor creating a more explicit and visible policy, because it may send the message that there is a harassment problem at SDCC.
I understand if you need to take a minute after reading that last sentence.
Glanzer’s stance is that he thinks that SDCC has taken sufficient steps to deal with harassment and anything else would just cause bad press. I want to go on record as disagreeing with Glanzer. While I do not think a policy needs to be point by point, I do feel it needs to be specific enough that it points out what harassment is defined as, and what mechanisms are in place for someone to report it and get help. In reading Glanzer’s, response I feel his message was that SDCC marketing and publicity was more important than making the convention a safe space. Not only do I find their position unsettling, I worry that they are sending a message to other convention organizers that they need not worry about their own harassment policies.
We are at a point in geek culture when the issue of inclusion vs harassment is now a major issue. Not every convention has a good policy, but as more incidents are having light shed on them, more organizers are taking steps to address the issue. The effects of these steps are visible. Conventions that make sure they are a safe space are reaping the benefits of good will and strong attendance. Conventions that ignore the issue are getting bad reputations and are starting to see more people staying away.
My biggest concern is that SDCC does not have as much incentive to change, since it is the big dog of conventions. Even staying with their lack luster policy they are going to sell out. The only thing that might be able to change their position externally is a lot of very bad press, or boycotts from major figures in fandom.
My hope is that someone with clout, either inside or outside the organization, can convince them that updating their policy is in everyone’s best interest.
Until then, it is up to those of us in the trenches to keep pushing this message and demanding better.
Convention season is upon us now and with it the questions about acceptable behavior have reared their heads again.
Specifically you had Fan Expo Canada, which was March 7th thru March 9th. In an effort to drum up last minute sales, they sent out an email which included the line “escape the deep freeze this weekend – cuddle a cosplayer.”
This obviously caught the attention of several people and eventually was brought to the attention of Jill Pantozzi of the geek news site The Mary Sue. There was concern that the statement could be seen as encouraging the harassment of cosplayers. Pantozzi reached out to Fan Expo Canada to attempt to get a response on their intent with the ad. The response she got was that they had thought about pointing out that consent was implied but felt bringing focus to the rules all the time would hurt the fun of the convention. They did resend the ad but added “with consent” in brackets to the end of the statement. So far, the only official response to this has been to accuse the Mary Sue of being inflammatory and making false statements. As the convention just happened, I expect more news to be coming out about this story, in the coming weeks.
While this was going on, another issue occurred with the Capital City Comic Con in Austin Texas. The convention, which is going to be held this upcoming July, put out several fliers; one of these was a close up of Power Girl’s Breasts with the tag line “Everything is BIGGER in Austin.” When a commenter complained about this on the convention’s Facebook page, the convention replied that the flier was all in fun and questioned if the commenter had ever been to a convention. A couple of days, later the convention responded to the issue as it started going viral. They stated that both the staffer who made the comment and the designer of the flier were no longer with the con staff, and apologized to the fans for what had happened.
Standing in contrast to this is Emerald City Comicon. The same week the two issues above were occurring, ECCC posted an image of the anti-harassment posters that will be going up around their own convention. The title of the posters is “Cosplay is not consent, and it goes on to detail the convention’s anti-harassment policy, including who to go to if you are harassed and the penalties you face if you violate the policy.
The contrast in the above examples illustrates where we stand in geek culture, in regards to dealing with the issues of harassment and making events safe and inclusive.
On one hand, you have people who have not matured in how they deal with these issues but find themselves running conventions. They want to grab people’s attention and fall back on the old adage “sex sells.” Unfortunately, they do not consider the broader message of what they are putting out, nor how it can ultimately promote a hostile environment. It is not from a place of malice, but ignorance. The best way to handle it is to do what was done above and call them out. Make it clear that even if they don’t see the harm in it, harm is still there. The ones that are receptive to the message will thrive, and the ones that aren’t will find their reputation falter and their event suffer. The ones that take steps to make sure their events are promoted as a safe and inclusive space will find more people wanting to go, and can use it as a means to actually promote their event. With all the concerns about hostility in the convention scene, the ones that make sure you know they will do everything in their power to make sure you are safe will be the ones that ultimately thrive.
In the shadow of events like Aki Con, (where we saw the worst case scenario play out),and other ongoing tales of harassment, this is going to continue to be a hot button issue. I think this year is going to be very interesting in this regard, and I for one am interested to see how conventions actually play out.
I’ll keep an eye on things, and let you know what comes from this.
The kickoff for convention season, in the Pacific NorthWest, is just around the corner, which means the people who put on these shows are gearing up with prep for the challenges that go with running an event with potentially thousands of people attending.
Last year a lot of focus was on creating awareness of some of the pitfalls that exist in the convention scene, with particular focus on harassment at conventions and the associated gate keeper mentality that lead to the idea of the fake nerd girl. A lot of work was done to bring these conversations to the forefront (such as John Scalzi’s call for all conventions to have a clear anti-harassment policy).
With the greater focus on these issues, I think this year is going to be about how these policies are enforced, and in general how we, as a community, can insure that conventions are a safe environment.
I’ve heard some discussion that this is a non-issue and focusing on it is actually a detriment to the convention community. For these people I would like to present the events surrounding a Seattle area convention called Aki Con.
Aki Con is an anime convention, held in the Seattle area, that is going into it’s 7th year. It already had a bad reputation, due to putting it’s artists alley in the parking garage the previous year, but the issue at hand happened this last October. Aki Con had regularly hired a specific DJ to play at the event. It was learned that the DJ was a sex offender who had done prison time in Arizona, but had failed to register in the state of Washington after he moved. The convention was informed of this, but did not remove him. During the convention an 18 year old girl was drugged and assaulted. The DJ was arrested and is awaiting trial. More details about this can be found here.
Aki Con posted a statement about the incident that can be found here. If you look at the statement it has the appearance of a neutral statement, but it is actually siding with the DJ and placing blame on the victim. It is also worth noting that Aki Con has no formal harassment policy.
Of course I was horrified to hear about what had happened, particularly as a member of the Seattle convention community. I am also disturbed by the fact that the Aki Con staff has gone completely silent. The community, however, has not. The story has become a rallying cry for making conventions safe and not allowing something like this to happen again.
And there are people taking this very seriously. The organizers of one of Seattle’s biggest events, Emerald City Comicon, are being proactive in making sure that their convention is as safe as possible. ECCC is conducting training for their volunteer staff, with a heavy focus on harassment prevention. This means that the staff will know exactly what to do if they witness something or an attendee approaches them with an issue. The staff is making sure they are also up to speed in case a volunteer needs to bring them in on something. The anti-harassment policy is going to be very prominent in the program book, and lay out what is and is not acceptable and what the penalties could be, including being booted from the show. It also instructs the attendees on who they can approach if they have an issue. The staff is not only working out a system of dealing with problems, but on recognizing and possibly rewarding good behavior.
I can only hope that this level of proactivity will become the norm for conventions in the future.
Outside of that it is up to those of us who attend to make sure we are keeping up the pressure to make conventions a safe place, both by watching out for each other and not supporting events that do not value the safety of attendees.
One of the most noticeable factors about this year’s Emerald City Comicon is the attendance numbers. It was a recorded breaking year of approximately 64,000 attendees, which was the maximum the Washington State Convention Center could handle. For the first time ever, the convention sold out, with all three day passes being gone about two weeks before the show, and only a handful of day passes available at the door, which were sold quickly. I heard people on the floor saying that it is now the third largest comic convention in the country. This is explosive growth for the show, which only drew 20,000 attendees in 2010.
Clearly there are several factors that play into this. As the show grows it is able to attract higher caliber guests. It also benefits from a good reputation amongst pros, with many saying it is their favorite convention of the year.
But I think another factor may be at play, and it involves San Diego Comic Con and its attendance issues.
To explain this theory I first need to explain the parallel that a friend alerted me to.
This came to me by way of my friend Matt. Matt carpools with me to work every day, formed the writers group I belong to, has worked with me for over a decade, and is my proof reader / editor for my articles here. He is also a ten year veteran of Burning Man.
For those not in the know, Burning Man is an annual event that takes place in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. It is an Art/Alternate culture/self-expression-driven event that requires high levels of attendee participation. It started an explosive growth in the late 1990’s that lead to it reaching a max capacity of approximately 56,000. In 2011, for the first time, it sold out before the event. The 2011 sell out included all discount tier tickets selling out in half a day. This now appears to be the norm. Many feel this is due to it catching the attention of mainstream culture. It has also left many veterans feeling disenfranchised from the event.
What Matt says this has done is caused an increase in what is known as regional Burns. These are smaller Burning Man-style events that take place around the country. This started with an event in Texas called Burning Flipside, organized by Burners (the self-applied name for people who attend Burning Man) completely separate from the main organization. The idea spread, and Burners in other places formed organizations to put on their own, similar event in their area. It has even spread to other countries.
They started as events that allowed Burners to have the Burning Man experience if they couldn’t make it to the main Burning Man event. Now, in the wake of increased difficulty in getting to the main event, some Burners are turning to the regional Burns as their main outlet and forgoing the main event all together.
As Matt explained this too me I saw clear parallels with the comic conventions. In 2008 San Diego sold out before the show for the first time ever. The following year the event sold out months ahead of time. By 2011 the event was selling out within hours of tickets becoming available.
Looking at the timeline of Emerald City, you see that it took a major jump in attendance in 2011. So my theory is that because it is becoming impossible for most fans to get tickets to San Diego they are turning to the other comic conventions. I looked at a few other conventions numbers, and those that I could find generally show attendance jumps around the same time. In the interest of fairness, I want to point out that I have no other data to back up my theory, such as surveys.
One other thing that I have been hearing is that both fans and pros like Emerald City, as it is still focused on comics and related media, where San Diego has branched out to the point where it is really a media con focused on TV and movies, be they genre or not. This gives Emerald City and the other regional shows an advantage in reputation.
If I am correct you are going to see growth at other comic cons continue. This does have another issue that needs to be considered: the fact that Emerald City itself sold out this year. Selling out a week or so before the show isn’t too bad, as it did give fans plenty of opportunity to get tickets. But what happens next year? After all, it took a couple of years before the San Diego sell outs were counted in minutes instead of months.
Part of the answer is expansion. This can take two forms. The first is actual space. Right now both San Diego and Emerald City have maxed out their venues. In the case of San Diego, there is always the option of moving to another city with a bigger venue, but pressure from the city and reluctance by the convention committee has prevented that through at least 2015. Emerald City could still use space in nearby hotels if they can negotiate with them. Other than that, there are not a lot of other options for the Seattle show, as it wouldn’t make sense for them to move.
On the upside, Emerald City is exploring the other expansion option, starting a secondary show. Staff from Emerald City are involved in the promotion of a sister show in Portland Oregon called Rose City Comic Con in September. Originally a separate show, Rose City has teamed up with Emerald City to help the show grow. This is a good move, as Rose City is still small but has potential. It is also far enough away from Emerald City both in distance and time of year, to offer up the convention experience without cannibalizing the Seattle show.
Overall this kind of growth is good for geek culture. It shows that there is enough interest to support multiple shows and that the culture is thriving.
In fact the only downside is for San Diego. As the smaller shows grow, more people will not bother with San Diego. At some point this could result in fan abandonment. While not certain by any means it could damage and even potentially kill off the show. This is also a danger that Burning man could face.
Clearly the lesson here is to manage growth. A challenge when there is so much demand. I will be very curious to see what happens to all of these shows in the next year.
We are 10 months into the relaunch of the DC universe with the New 52. Originally I had not planned on touching on the event again until we reached the 12 month mark. But as a good friend of mine is fond of saying “When man makes plans, the gods laugh”.
Between some stories that broke in the last week I felt it was time a good time to go over how I feel about the direction DC is going with its titles.
The event that set this off was an interview with George Perez on why he stepped down as the writer on Superman. It came down to a frustration due to lack of consistency on what he was being told. Implied in the interview was a high degree of executive meddling over the head of DC publisher Dan DiDio. According to George he was given contradictory instructions on an almost constant basis.
He also did not like that his book was set 5 years after the story in Action Comics, being written by Grant Morrison. Grant was not telling anyone what he was planning meaning George had to limit what he wrote as he was not to contradict anything Grant wrote.
From this we can extract the following points.
DC did not go into the relaunch with a coherent plan.
The creative staff is not getting a consistent message.
Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee are not in complete charge of guiding the stories due to executive meddling.
DC is giving way too much leeway to Grant Morrison and I suspect Geoff Johns.
From the start there has been a feel that the whole relaunch was an executive plan to reinvigorate the line and make the properties friendlier to other media. The big concern was that it was a rushed half-baked plan and now that seems to be confirmed at least in part by Perez.
Looking at the books there are some points we can see.
Some books have done well. These include Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, Aquaman, Justice League Dark, and Dial H. The thing about these books is that because of how they are written they would have succeeded just as well without the reboot of the DCU. Other books that have done well are the Batman and Green Lantern books, which have largely ignored the reboot.
But then you have the books that have not done so well. Superman has had problems since September. Action is ok, but both Action and Superman feel disconnected from each other. And as you can tell from Perez’s comments Superman has been a disjointed mess. Another book that is troubling is Green Arrow. It started out ok, but like Superman there was a creative team change and now it is borderline confusing.
Another issue is that there is inconstancy in the continuity. In Justice League International you have Batman as a member of the team and very supportive of team leader Booster Gold. In the main Justice League book Batman is loudly calling for the UN to disband the JLI. Add to this the fact that the members of the Justice League are acting like stuck up pricks in contrast to how most of them act in their own books.
There is another thing that makes me worried about the level of executive meddling at DC, and this one I witnessed with my own eyes.
At Emerald City Comic Con I attended two different DCU panels moderated by Batman group editor Michael Marts. In both panels questions were raised about the status of three characters, former Flash Wally West, original Wonder Girl Donna Troy, and most importantly previous Batgirl Stephanie Brown. In both cases there was someone in the audience making a slashing motion across his throat signaling Marts not to answer. In one of the panels where the audience would not let the question go Marts stated that the person making the gesture was a PR guy telling him not to answer.
To recap there was a PR guy in the audience making sure the Batman group editor did not give answers to certain questions.
Now maybe this is not that weird, but for me I have never witnessed anything like that at a convention before.
So what do I hope to see? Personally I am hoping that in another year or so that DC will announce that the new 52 is over and they are fixing the timeline to return to the more familiar continuity with maybe a few hold over changes.
After a few days rest and the prep for another convention I am ready to look back on Emerald City Comicon.
For any convention after it is over there are two central questions to you need to ask to gauge it’s success: Did I enjoy myself and will I be back next year. For me the answer to both is a clear yes. I had a good time and I look forward to attending again.
With that covered there are a few things I would like to go over.
First is the size of the crowd. As I covered in the day two update attendance was so high on Saturday that the fire marshal shut down registration. One rumor I heard was that Saturday’s numbers were greater than all of last year’s. I can’t say for sure as I have not seen any officially numbers yet. ECCC has been a steadily growing convention, and has slowly been using more and more of the Washington State Convention center. Based on this year’s event they will probably need to use even more of the facility next year.
Due to some of the behavior’s I witnessed at the show, after I finish with Norwescon this upcoming weekend I will need to write more on con attending etiquette. Someone suggested I need to write a book on the subject, but let’s start with a couple more articles and see where we go.
The panels still tend to be centered on the comic book industry. Yes you have the media guests and they do get the biggest room, but the majority of the other rooms are used for panels based on the comic book industry. This has certainly given the show a good reputation in the industry and I hope they stay the course on this.
Cosplay was in fine form during the show. The one down side was that the area set aside for cosplay photo ops was right outside the main dealer floor. When the crowding happened on Saturday you could barely move.
And for those who were following my cosplay tally, here are the final numbers for the show.
·Doctor who: 29
·Captain America: 18
·Harley Quinn: 13
·Poison Ivy: 11
·Wonder Woman: 9
·Green Lantern: 7
·Black Canary: 4
·Iron Man: 3
·Death (from Sandman): 3
·Doctor Octopus: 2
·Green Hornet: 2
·Red Ranger: 2
·Doctor Horrible: 2
·Captain Hammer: 2
An Honorable mention goes to Hawkman. Only one person went as him, but his wings moved.
That wraps up this show. I will have a new post mid next week after I recover from Norwescon detailing how that show goes.