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.

- Christopher
P.S.: This is nice to read.

11 Comments on “Things I Learned On Vacation: It’s not that hard to do the right thing.”

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  1. Chip Zdarsky says:

    It would also be a good idea to be more bold in spelling out for convention guests what their options are in these situations. Hopefully, that will remind women being harassed at events like this what their rights are and how to respond to shitty, potentially criminal behaviour. And especially that it’s perfectly fine to give a shout to security to give certain dudes a talking to/trouncing. Hell, when anyone’s picking up a pass they should all be given a quick speech about when to call security, how to do so, what to say to people that are being shitheads, etc. It’s good to have this kind of thing at the top of your mind whether you’re a con-goer or guest.

    This kind of thing makes me especially sad when you think that there’s other people around that are, y’know, decent, that don’t step in and help when it’s obvious someone’s being harassed. They need to be reminded of their options and civic duties as well.

  2. Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » Revisiting convention rules and boycotts says:

    [...] September 15th, 2008Author Kevin Melrose Retailer and commentator Chris Butcher returns from vacation, and revisits a pair of heavily discussed Comic-Con-related issues from earlier in the summer. [...]

  3. Rachel says:

    Yay, PAX!

    Possibly of interest:

  4. maija says:

    I commented on John DiBello’s column when it was re-posted at Newsarama. A lot of the other responses were quite demoralizing. I’m amazed at the defensive reaction against something that should be obvious and, and PAX demonstrates, simple and painless. I get the impression that some folks have the protection of personal safety and comfort confused with censorship. Strip clubs have “NO TOUCHING” rules, but you don’t see agonized debate about that online. (Then again, nothing’s out of the realm of possibility on the internet).

  5. maija says:

    *and, AS PAX demonstrates…

  6. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to throw all those people under the bus. While there are a ton of excuse-makers and not-the-boss-of-me people out there I do know some people that honestly, intellectually believe that codes and policies are more in the bullshit column rather than the solution column.

    Now, I’m not with those people, and I’m for simple policies when my fellow industry members want them and believe it provides them with dignity and safety just as I’m against drinking in a place that makes people feel less safe and dignified. But I do see their point of view, and I wouldn’t want to lump that point of view in with the loathesome creatures that think the ladies want it or whatever.

    That strip club example is hugely problematic. Ee-yikes.

  7. Chris says:

    Tom- I don’t really make the same distinction between detractors of the two issues, sorry. People can use intellect to come to incorrect conclusions.

    And I don’t think I’ve quite thrown anyone under a bus here, even metaphorically… Maybe I’m giving a more generous reading to the post though?

  8. maija says:

    I should have contextualized my (admittedly bad) example better. I was a fragment of an unfinished response to another argument that fell out of my brain. One of the protests I read against having a stated rule was a ridiculous argument something like “What’s next? Do we ask scantily clad women to cover up? Do we remove adult content?” Like a prohibition against sexual assault would be some kind of thin edge of a puritanical wedge. I was going for an example of a rule applied in a situation that isn’t puritanical, but instead opened another messy can of worms.

  9. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’m all for getting rid of the costumes. Down with costumes!

    I think this whole thing actually is a slightly more complicated issue, and I’m not sure I know exactly how. Like for one thing, I’m pretty certain the harassment thing is a different beast, because I was robbed at CCI a couple of years ago, and I don’t see the PAX prescription against stealing as having anything at all to do with my situation. Does it? Shouldn’t I of all people be pro-prescription against steling?

    I think my solution is going to be never going to any show of any kind ever again.

    Especially if I can’t take drugs at them anymore.

  10. Diana S says:

    Sigh, the anime cons also react like the comic people… anytime you complain, you’re the bad guy. Even REAL concerns get you nothing but scorn. I’m amazed every time this happens and it’s ruining the cons for us since I’m getting old and I’m not going to be fucking quiet like I’m “suppose” to be.

    Hell, they are trying to make most of the anime cons more “family friendly” but aren’t putting in the time and money to hire more security to deal with all the parents dropping their children off, in rather skimpy outfits, at a convention with zero parental supervision or knowledge of how they need to behave. And with the attendees age plummeting way below 15 there are less adults around to lead people to not do what the rest of the crowd is doing. This creates a bad situation for all involved.

  11. Shifting fallwards | Charming Monsters says:

    [...] Butcher on Doing the Right Thing, con-style. Like it? Share [...]

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