Emerald City Comicon sued for not paying ‘volunteers’

Jerry Brooks, a former Emerald City Comicon volunteer, is initiating a class action suit against the con, alleging the convention broke Washington state employment laws. Volunteers, referred to as “minions” by the convention’s organizers, performed tasks normally performed by paid employees.

Emerald City Comicon minions were not paid.

Emerald City Comicon sued for not paying 'volunteers' - Bent CornerLegally, Emerald City Comicon was not in a position where it could take advantage of a volunteer labor force. They weren’t a non-profit organization. If they applied for and were granted non-profit status from the IRS, it could have used volunteers as worker bees.

They didn’t do that.

Emerald City Comicon is now owned by ReedPop, the Walmart of comic conventions. Reportedly, ReedPop paid Emerald City Comicon minions at this year’s event.

I’m no lawyer, but I would think that fact would be problematic for the defendants. If the 2016 minions were paid for the work they performed, why were minions in prior years not paid?

Something else that may be trouble for the defendants is the plaintiff. There’s a Linkedin profile for a Jerry Brooks who listed volunteer work for Emerald City Comicon, specifically, that he supervised over 100 volunteers. If this is the same Jerry Brooks who filed the lawsuit, he may have detailed, comprehensive records of the work done by the minions he supervised.

In retrospect, I wonder if the creators of Emerald City Comicon wish they had called their employees something other than “minions.” I doubt that term would go over real well in a courtroom deciding if you should have paid your employees or not. It’s probably related to the animated movie Despicable Me, but it sounds extremely pejorative.

Brianna Wu had blogger removed from RavenCon panel for taking her picture

RavenCon, a science fiction and fantasy convention, is taking place this weekend in Richmond, Virginia. One of the guests is Brianna Wu, iPhone game developer and vocal critic of GamerGate, the leaderless consumer revolt against unethical behavior in the video games industry. Wu claims GamerGate is a hate group and that she has received over 80 death threats from members of GamerGate.

That’s what she claims.

Brianna Wu conducted a panel Friday night at RavenCon called GamerGate 101. Before the panel officially began, she ordered event organizers to remove a prominent GamerGate blogger, Ethan Ralph of The Ralph Retort, from the panel. The reason? Because she discovered that he had taken her photo and posted it to Twitter.

She ordered convention organizers to remove him from the GamerGate 101 panel audience and to also have him removed from the convention. The organizers removed him from the panel, but not the convention. One of the organizers then announced to the remaining guests that there would be no recording or pictures taken during the GamerGate 101 panel.

I’ve never heard of photos not being allowed during a panel at a convention. I have taken photos at convention panels many times. The opportunity to take photos has always been one of the reasons I like to go to comic book and science fiction conventions.

If this no-photo rule was in place for the GamerGate 101 panel, why wasn’t it announced ahead of time?

RavenCon has no rules against taking photos. In fact, they have a rule that states they may use photos and other media recordings taken at RavenCon:

ravencon_photos

 

The rule seems to imply that attendees are more than welcome to take photographs at RavenCon. If the GamerGate 101 panel was under different rules, rules different from everywhere else within the confines of RavenCon, than they owed it to everyone involved to make this rule known.

I can understand that Brianna Wu doesn’t like Ethan Ralph. I totally get that. He’s been very critical of her and her positions on his blog. One might argue that he has been as critical of her as she has been about GamerGate. That doesn’t mean she should have the right to have him removed from a panel. Having someone removed from a panel because you don’t like things they have said, seems inconsistent with free speech. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Brianna Wu doesn’t believe Ethan Ralph has the right to express his views and opinions on his blog.

Instead of kicking Ethan Ralph out of the panel, imagine how much more educational the GamerGate 101 panel would have been if Brianna Wu had invited him to take part. If the goal was to educate the audience on GamerGate, something the name of the panel certainly implied, what better way than to have one of the more prominent GamerGate bloggers, someone who even lives there in Richmond, share his views and opinions too?

What a wasted opportunity.

Ethan Ralph has posted a video of the incident on YouTube.  Check it out if this is something you’d like to see.

What happened at the Calgary Comic Expo?

Last weekend the Calgary Comic Expo, an annual Canadian four-day comic book and pop culture convention, created some controversy after one of the paid exhibitors, the Honey Badger Brigade, an all-women group associated with men’s rights, was ordered to leave. Not only were they expelled from the show without receiving a refund, but the police were also later called because members of the Honey Badger Brigade assembled at a nearby public park, away from the convention grounds.

The reason they were ordered to leave the convention is still a little murky.

Jill Pantozzi of The Mary Sue accused members of the Honey Badger Brigade of gaining attendance under false pretenses, whatever that means, and being in cahoots with GamerGate.

marvel_hydra__15756.1366879093.1280.1280It’s true that they had merchandise for sale at their booth associated with GamerGate, but I’m not sure what crime that makes them guilty of. Exhibitors at comic book conventions sell things, or at least they try to. It’s what they do. Just because an exhibitor sells something at their booth doesn’t necessarily mean they’re affiliated with the subject of the merchandise. For instance, if you buy a t-shirt at a comic book convention with the Hydra symbol on it, it doesn’t mean the exhibitor is affiliated with Hydra.

Or maybe it does.

pqLAxKmThe Honey Badger Brigade paid for a booth at the convention. The name of the group appears on the map of the convention floor. That is, it did before it was removed from the website on April 20th.

And then there’s the issue of the “Women Into Comics” panel that members of the Honey Badger Brigade supposedly derailed.  Around 15 minutes into the panel, one of the members of Honey Badger Brigade stood up from her seat in the audience and asked if she could answer a question posed by one of the panel members about feminism, comics, and men’s rights.

The panelist who posed the rhetorical question replied with, “Yeah. Sure! Go for it”.

The woman from the Honey Badger Brigade then proceeded with giving an a semi-lengthy statement on why she doesn’t like the word feminism and how she is a men’s rights activist. There’s audio of the exchange available on YouTube, but the quality is bad. It didn’t sound as though the panel was being derailed, but this took place in Canada. They may have a different definition for the word.

According to Calgary Comic Expo organizers, people began to complain about the Honey Badger Brigade and their booth, saying that they were a hate group. The convention has lengthy rules against harassment, and people argued the booth’s mere presence with its GamerGate paraphernalia constituted harassment.

Not only were the members of the Honey Badger Brigade asked to leave, but each member also received a lifetime ban from attending future events.

So what got them into the most trouble? Being associated with a men’s rights group? Interrupting a panel? Selling pro-GamerGate merchandise at their booth?

My guess was a combination of all these things.

Wizard World acquires Pittsburgh Comic Con

Wizard World has acquired Pittsburgh Comic Con, the annual comic book convention held in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. This means that if you attend the Pittsburgh Comic Con, you won’t be financially supporting a man who was (twice) convicted of murdering his wife.

Michael and Renée George, owners and operators of Comics World, a comic shop in Windber, Pennsylvania, started the Pittsburgh Comic Con in 1994. It wasn’t the first Comics World Michael George owned and operated with his wife, only before, it was a different wife. Michael and Barbara George owned and operated Comics World in Michigan.

In 1990, Barbara George was murdered, shot in the back of the head, by Michael George, in the comic book shop the two owned. For whatever reason, the police were not able to gather enough evidence against Michael to charge him with the murder.

In 1992, Michael married former Comics World employee Renee Kotula. The two had been having a personal relationship while Michael was married to Barbara. They then moved to Windber and opened a new comic book shop, again calling it Comics World.

Murderer Michael George
Convicted murderer and comic book entrepreneur Michael George.

Michael George later went on to open a third Comics World in nearby Scotland, Pennsylvania. I used to buy my comics there, back when I used to buy floppy comics. Although I live in Hagerstown, Maryland, I used to work in Scotland, Pennsylvania. The store is still there, although much larger, nicer, and now under new ownership.

The Barbera George murder case was reopened years later by a special cold case unit created by Prosecutor Eric Smith.

If this whole sad, twisted tale of murder sounds like a story from Dateline, that’s because it was.

So the Pittsburgh Comic Con finally doesn’t have any connection to Michael and Renée George. Good. As long as those two owned it, if you spent money on it, you were supporting a convicted murderer and his mistress. Considering that Michael George pocketed $120,000 in life insurance money from Barbara’s death, there’s a good chance that the Pittsburgh Comic Con, founded less than four years after her murder, was at least in part financed with actual blood money. I remember there was talk of people boycotting the Pittsburgh Comic Con until Michael George no longer owned it, but I don’t remember whatever happened with that.

Now it doesn’t matter. Michael George no longer owns the Pittsburgh Comic Con. Wizard World does. Say what you will about Wizard World, at least it never murdered a woman.

New York Comic Con is now bigger than San Diego Comic-Con

The New York Comic Con was held this past weekend, and thanks to Thursday now being a full-day, they were able to sell tickets to 151,000 unique individuals. This makes the New York Comic Con the largest, most attended comic convention in all of North America. The San Diego Comic-Con is now the second largest comic convention in all of North America with its attendance capped out at around 131,000 nerds.

The New York Comic Con is number one. The San Diego Comic-Con is number two.

The New York Comic Con is run by ReedPOP, a division of Reed Exhibitions, which in turn is a division of Reed Elsevier, a publicly traded company based in the UK. The San Diego Comic-Con is run by Comic-Con International, a non-profit “educational” corporation. Even though the two organizations, ReedPOP and Comic-Con International, do the same exact thing, one pays taxes on its profits, and the other does not. One pays its fair share for local fees, the other does not.

Pretending to be a charity and getting out of paying taxes allows them to save a lot of money, allowing them to have the economic resources to engage in frivolous lawsuits.

Comic-Con International is legally classified as a charity, even though it’s no more a charity than ReedPOP or Wizard World.

The economic reality of comic book conventions

Denise Dorman, wife of illustrator Dave Dorman, wrote a blog post about how attending comic book conventions as an industry professional is a money losing endeavor. According to Denise, people go to comic book conventions not to see artists like her husband and buy some of their work, but to see cosplayers, folks who dress up as characters from comics, movies, and anime.

From Comic Book Wife:

I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, COSPLAY is the new focus of these conventions–seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place. I’ve seen it first-hand–the uber-famous artist who traveled all of the way from Japan, sitting at Comic-Con, drawing as no one even paid attention to him, while the cosplayers held up floor traffic and fans surround the cosplayers–rather than the famed industry household name–to pose for selfies.

The hard-working artists and creators who are the very foundation of this industry…the reason there even is an industry….those creatives who have busted their asses and spent money they perhaps didn’t have to spare in order to be there exhibiting for–and accessible to–the fans…have been reduced to being the background wallpaper against which the cosplayers pose in their selfies. At what point do you start to wonder if–other than your faithful, loyal regulars who are like family and who find you every time–the general fandom population even gives a shit about the creators more than they care about their Instagram profiles?

I agree with her, to a degree. Comic book conventions are no longer about buying stuff. That function is now being better served by Internet-based entities like Amazon or eBay. That’s been the case for a long time now.

We were planning on going to the Baltimore Comic-Con a few weeks ago, but I changed my mind at the last minute. I looked at the schedule of panels and quickly realized that none of them interested me. That meant if I went to the Baltimore Comic-Con, my main focus of interest would have to have been the dealer’s room. I did the math and realized that two one-day admission tickets, along with parking near the convention, it was going to cost us $70 just to walk in the door, and that didn’t include the price of gas going from Hagerstown to Baltimore and then back again. That meant anything I ended up buying in the dealer room was essentially coming with an immediate $70 surcharge.

Going to the Baltimore Comic-Con made no economic sense to me.

Denise Dorman is right about cosplayers now being the focus at comic book conventions. I think that’s because unlike everything else offered at a typical comic book convention, cosplayers offer the only true thing that cannot be found elsewhere. You can buy books on Amazon. You can buy back-issues and collectibles on eBay. You can listen to interviews on podcasts or watch them on YouTube. The only place you can get your picture taken with people dressed up as a Stormtrooper or a character from an anime series, is a convention.

Cosplayers offer the lone remaining unique thing available at a comic book convention. Do I personally find what they have to offer worth the cost of attending a con? No, but it should be no surprise to anyone that cosplay is stealing the focus from everything else.

Photo: Dork Dimension