Tagged: Marc Fishman

Martha Thomases: Gen Con Freedom Fighters

When I first started to work in comics, even though the medium was looked down on by mainstream culture as a bunch of geeks, it was very much an old boys’ club. There were women involved, even feminist women, but we were few and far between, leftovers from the hippie and underground comix scene. The boys in the boys’ club were as terrified of being considered feminine or queer as everyone else in the world was terrified of being considered geeks.

And now, being a geek is cool.

As geek culture becomes more mainstream, the definition simultaneously becomes more vague and more specific. That is, the meaning is in the ear of the beholder.

This week we saw some evidence that geek culture has transcended homophobia. Not that there aren’t still plenty of homophobes (and misogynists) (and racists) among us, but they are no longer our loudest voices.

As my pal, Marc Fishman, noted here on Saturday, Indiana recently passed a “religious freedom” law that, according to the Associated Press, “prohibits state laws that ‘substantially burden’ a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of ‘person’ includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.” For example, a bakery owned by conservative Christians (or Muslims) (or Jews) could refuse to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

The people who support the bill don’t like the way it has been perceived by the public, because it makes them look like the bigots that they are. As this Christian news site describes it:

“Under Indiana’s religious freedom law, not one Gen Con attendee (gay, transgender, cross-dressing) could be denied a seat at a lunch counter by that mythical boogeyman – the Christian bigot burger-maker with his ‘gaydar’ fully activated. That’s not what this law does.

“Instead, it protects a private business owner (who might be gay themselves) from being coerced by the power of government to act in a manner incompatible with their deeply held religious convictions. In other words, it protects the Jewish sign maker from being forced by the state to make pro-Nazi placards for the next skinhead convention.”

Aside #1: There is a long history of printers refusing to publish work with which they disagree, whether because the content is “pornographic” or otherwise politically distasteful. These printers simply turn away work they don’t want to do, without wrapping themselves in any kind of religious trappings.

Aside #2: So far, there have been no laws protecting the religious freedom of those devoted to other proscriptions from the book of Leviticus. I eagerly anticipate the first case in which a tattooed person or a menstruating woman is denied service because such things are forbidden by the Bible.)

Gen-Con, by the way, was one of the first companies to announce that they would look for a more hospitable business environment. Yes, the game convention. Rarely have I been so proud of my geek-dom. Instead of presenting themselves as the home of the Gamergate crowd, Gen-Con chose to stand up for all the people who enjoy gaming, insisting that everyone be welcome.

In the process, they pointed out that geeks (even queer and female and trans and non-white geeks) have money to spend and we won’t be shamed into use our dollars in ways that insult our own selves.

In other nerd news this week, the tech venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers won a Pyrrhic victory over Ellen Pao. She had sued them for gender discrimination and lost, but in the process she opened the curtain on the casual misogyny of tech culture. As with Anita Hill a few decades ago, this case will have long-term effects that will last longer than the particular judgment.

And the Ellen Pao decision has the added benefit of not putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court!

It’s been a good week. Say it loud, “I’m a Geek and I’m Proud.”

Martha Thomases: Doing The Comic Con-Con

Knitting YarnThere was one point at this year’s New York Comic Con when I almost said, out loud, “Do you know who I am?” That’s because I was having trouble getting my badge.

Here’s why I’m glad I didn’t:

  1. It’s a dick thing to say, the kind of thing that proves a person is self-absorbed to the point of obliviousness.
  2. I might have made a mistake when I registered, so the trouble might have been my fault.
  3. This had happened the day before. I am willing to bet that George Clooney didn’t ask if anyone knew who he was. At all times, I aspire to be at least as well-behaved as George Clooney.

Still, it’s an indication of how much things have changed in the short life of this show that I needed more than my smiling face to get in.

I understand that, with more than 150,000 people expected to attend, that it can be difficult for the staff to keep track of everybody. Unlike their other New York consumer show, Special Edition, NYCC is packed to the rafters.

There was a time when very few people wrote about comics, and I knew all of them. Even now, there aren’t that many people who write about comics every week. The (probably overworked and underpaid) person at press registration treated me like I was some kind of scam-artist trying to put one over on her.

Compare this to the way my pal, David Glanzer, says that San Diego treats press (and they get an even bigger crowd):

“I know press registration is a very difficult area. Heavens knows we’ve had our issues in the past. However we’ve actually received criticism for who we consider for press credentials. The truth is we have always considered independent press and bloggers/podcasters as our mainstream press. They are the ones who write about us throughout the year (not always positively LOL) while the bigger outlets really only tend to write about us once a year or so. The independents reporters have been with us since the start and they really still are the lifeblood for our publicity.”

The Javits Center is simply not designed for this many people. I mean, it’s not that well-designed to start-out with. Unlike, for example, the San Diego convention center, this has rather narrow hallways, and the exhibition floors are not close together. Under the best of circumstances, one must do a lot of walking. In this case, it’s nearly five Manhattan blocks (about a quarter mile) from one end of the building to the other.

When you add 150,000 people, it’s easy to create anxiety.

Still this year’s event seemed to run more smoothly than last year’s, at least according to initial feedback. There were lots of signs saying, “Cosplay does not equal consent,” and, while I don’t know if they make any difference (I’m not in costume), they made me feel more welcome. Perhaps in a related event, there seemed to be just about as many women in attendance as men.

The Mary Sue had a room for Geek Girls, which was a lovely respite in a sea of bodies. The room had signings and press materials, but also comfy chairs and books to read, and a crafts table to make friendship bracelets. I sat for a while with my knitting, talking to strangers about what they wanted to see and do. Truly a delight. I only regret that, by talking about it, I’m probably encouraging it to be more crowded next year.

Here are my suggestions to make this a better show:

  • Find a bigger venue, or additional venues. Not only was the exhibition floor jammed, and Artists Alley jammed, and various panel rooms jammed, but the hallways were always jammed as well. I didn’t go to any panels because there were lines everywhere and I was overwhelmed trying to figure out which mass of people were lines for which rooms.

The Javits Center is not designed to hold so many people. It was designed – poorly – for trade shows, not mass media events. More space would permit some room to breathe.

  • Set up special areas for cosplayers to change and to pose. It’s annoying to stand on line for half an hour to use the ladies room only to find that the stalls have been full of people changing, not peeing. Similarly, a lot of the clog on the show floor is people posing for pictures and expecting traffic to stop.

If there were special rooms set aside for changing, and special areas for pictures, then cosplayers and their admirers would have enough room to enjoy themselves, and traffic would flow more smoothly.

I don’t mean cosplayers should be segregated. I love seeing them randomly in the crowd (and on the subway). They make the event much more fun.

  • Now that fans are getting the message that harassment is not acceptable, can we teach them other aspects of crowd etiquette? For example, if you want to stop and talk to a friend, please step to the side. A bunch of people having a conversation in the middle of the aisle blocks the flow of traffic.

Maybe stop-lights at major intersections? I don’t know. I just want to be able to walk with a normal gait, instead of pivoting at a moment’s notice.

  • In general, we should remember that we are all humans in this together. Pay attention to your peripheral vision, people.

I get very short-tempered in crowds, but then I’ll see someone I know and be happy again. Klaus Janson talked with me about the blueberries at the Green Market. I brought the world’s most delicious matzo to fellow ComicMixer Marc Fishman and the Unshaven boys. I saw all kinds of creative new ideas for comics and illustration.

And then …

Some oblivious person with a backpack swiped against me hard enough to rip my sweater. My beautiful, one-of-a-kind hand-knit sweater.

Didn’t he know who I am?