A few weeks ago I took a little vacation from my day job selling comics for The Beguiling, to head out to Seattle and sell some comics for my friends at Udon. They exhibited at the Penny Arcade Expo, or PAX, in Seattle, WA, a video-game convention hosted by the popular webcomic Penny Arcade. They’re really strict about who does or doesn’t get to exhibit at their show (though anyone can attend), and it’s the incredible devotion of the Udon guys to the Street Fighter videogames that got them through the door. I had a fun time, ate some great food, hung out with cool folks, and played a lot of Bomberman on my DS… I really gotta buy that at some point.
Anyway, the above notice was posted by the entrance ways to the exhibit hall, and a version of it appeared in the convention booklet that every attendee was given. Notice #5 there? It doesn’t take a genius to realize that getting a bunch of folks all in one place and getting them amped up, and maybe even a little turned on? There need to be some ground-rules laid out. The PAX guys throw an outstanding convention, really top-notch, and figuring out little things like this help a lot. Better still, security guards were both centralized and roaming, they received solid training, and there was never someone more than a yelp away. It was a safe, attentive, and solidly planned event. An event that ballooned from under 3,000 people 5 years ago to more than 50k this time out, with only the most minute of growing pains.
Why is this so hard for comics? Why all the hand-wringing and endless debate about nothing? It’s just like the bullshit about drinking or not drinking at the Hyatt during San Diego… endless chat and recrimination and “fun” suggestions and “concerned” suggestions and nerds marching to “a different drummer” but in the end? Just do the right thing. It’s not even hard. You’d think it was, but it’s not.
John DiBello is by all accounts a nice guy. I’ve never met him but people I like vouch for him, so that’s really all it takes–he’s a nice guy. He witnessed some pretty severe-sounding sexual harrassment at Comicon this year, tried to do something about it, and then realized that the biggest comics event in North America doesn’t have a policy on sexual harassment at their show… So he made some noise about it. Seems pretty open and shut, right? But… Angry nerds are still cluttering up comments sections with this stuff though, arguing against it, against him. But yeah, you can go to PAX and they (proudly, even) post right at the front door “Don’t be a dick guys, we’re all here to have fun.” and it’s not controversial, it’s not a problem that needs to be solved with zany solutions or protesting against organizations by giving them our money (I mean come on…). Some people just get it, and do the right thing. So, do it.
It’s funny, the first time I went to the Ad-Astra science fiction convention in Toronto, a small, fan-run and fan-oriented event north of the city, I kinda chuckled when I got to the part in their convention program about proper behaviour for attendees, and that included unwanted sexual advances… I mean, what kind of nerd needs to be told not to touch someones tits or that not everyone wants to hug you? But as soon as a friend I was hanging out at the show with expressed that same disbelief out loud, it clicked for me–this is a sexualized environment. Some people are going to be wearing little clothing, some people are being paid to be friendly (up to a point), some people are going to be demonstrative about their… affections. And that might give someone the wrong impression–that impression being “Holy shit she just made out with that guy I’ma gonna make out with her too!” There’s nothing wrong with setting ground rules.
It’s not like I don’t understand why certain comics folks get a little defensive about stuff like this… The idea is that having a sexual harassment policy means that you need a sexual harassment policy because comics people can’t be trusted to behave themselves. But guys (And It Is All Guys), that’s not the case. Every modern company of more than 4 or 5 people has a sexual harrassment policy, I’m pretty sure you need to have one by law in most places. Every con should have one just like every con should have rules regarding people taking pictures in the aisles, people with carts full of long boxes of books to be signed, and even when the doors open to let people in. That just ensures that a show happens that’s well organized, where everyone is on the same page, and if someone does behave badly there’s a clear statement saying “you shouldn’t have done that” and a very clear set of reprecussions for that person (“gtfo”).
So let’s take a cue from our kissing cousins over at PAX; there’s nothing wrong with telling people how to behave at your event, period. It not that hard to do the right thing.
P.S.: This is nice to read.