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When Good Cons Go Bad: Harassment and Creeping at Conventions

By most measures, the New York Comic Con that happened this past October was a huge success. Although there were large crowds, most feedback from fans, creators and publishers was positive. However, there were some troubling comments as well. Becky Cloonan, the talented artist who won an Eisner for her comic The Mire and is currently working on The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys with writers Gerald Way and Shaun Simon for Dark Horse Comics, mentioned on her Tumblr that she felt like some male attendees at New York Comic Con were too aggressively invading her personal space and/or rudely hitting on her. Unfortunately, this type of things happens way too much at conventions.

Fabulous Killjoys 1

The comic book world is a different place than it was twenty or thirty years ago. Despite the still-persistent perception that only lonely male nerds read comics, anyone who attends a comic book show will notice that there is a sizable female presence. This has increased dramatically even in the past decade. For some longtime comic conventions attendees, this may feel unusual. There might even be resentment from some men who have been into comics their whole lives and want to keep girls out of their treehouse. Let's face it – some comic book fans are socially awkward, if not downright antisocial.

Women of Marvel NYCC

However, most people in comics, whether fans or industry professionals, are actually very nice and open. That brings me to another point about the changing demographics of comics. Although there is still the perception I mentioned that only dorks read comics, there is also the opposite idea that is gaining momentum in culture: that it's cool to be a nerd. This has led to widespread accusations of "fake geek girl" (basically that a girl will pretend to be a geek in order to be seen as cool). However, if the popular of Marvel's movies and things like The Big Bang Theory have brought more female fans into comics and to conventions, it's also brought in more male fans who may have not read comics in decades, if at all.

NYCC floor

Just as there are more women at conventions now, there are also more regular guy-guys, some of whom are lecherous. It's clear if one reads the Internet, usually via Tumblr, Twitter and personal blogs, that women confront obnoxious behavior or weird creepers at cons. Whether this is done by old-fashioned and awkward nerds or guys who are generally jerks and are now into comics, it's still not cool that this happens at conventions. It's worth thinking about what factors come into play here, too.

It you attend big conventions (and even some small ones), you will see some companies promoting their products with scantily-clad models. Sometimes the companies sell comics and sometimes they don't. At NYCC, Arizona Ice Tea was one of the big sponsors (the main stage was labeled with Arizona logos). At various spots on the floor they had models offering Arizona products wearing shirts that read "I [heart] BIG CANS" (please hold your vomit). On the most basic level, these promotions are attempting subconsciously please the consumer's sexual impulse in order to develop a positive association with their product. It's the whole "sex sells" cliché.

Arizona shirt

At the same time, cosplay has developed into a major component of virtually every large comic convention. Cosplay is popular with both genders and with many kinds of costumes. At the same time, there are many women who cosplay in sexy or revealing costumes. I don't particularly "get" cosplay, but I don't have to. It's something that some fans enjoy, and I understand that fandom gets expressed in different ways. While I may enjoy reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story or digging through back-issue boxes, other fans like to dress up. That's what they like, and so that's awesome. Some women like to attend cons in jeans and sneakers and some like to attend as Catwoman. Different strokes, people.

Catwoman cosplayer

I think part of the issue at conventions is that men are transferring the voyeuristic sexual urges that are raised by con models and promoters onto women who are cosplaying (and sometimes women who are just attending). While many cosplayers enjoy admirers and will be happy to have their picture taken, they generally don't want guys staring at their boobs or taking pictures of their ass. There's nothing wrong with being sexually attracted to someone or being sexually attractive, but there is something wrong with saying or acting in a crass way towards another fan.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where bad behavior and abrasive comments on the Internet is accepted and even expected. Generally, people are more reserved with their comments in person, but large crowds – such as the ones at a comic convention – can give people the anonymity that the Internet provides and they act terrible. It's true that some people are just jerks, but that doesn't mean that the comic book community should abide their shitty behavior. It's really not that hard to attend a con and not be a harassing creep. I think comic fans have to be vocal about not permitting this type of douchery. C'mon, everyone, let's not let the jerks win.


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