“Hi. I would like a refund.” she wrote. “Due to recent interaction from the organizer of this event I don’t feel it would be a safe place for female cosplayers. Thank you for understanding.”
Throw a large crowd into a room and there’s bound to be a few assholes in the bunch. Ones who have to be told that cosplay doesn’t equal consent. That if a person attends a comic convention or entertainment expo, and they just happen to wear a tight and/or revealing costume, that doesn’t automatically give others license to touch or otherwise harass them.
To counter this and keep events fun for everyone, many of the event organisers have adopted policies designed to stamp out harassment. Mileage may vary depending on how these policies are designed, how they’re enforced, and by who. If someone has a concern and asks for a refund in advance, event organisers should give one. No muss, no fuss.
Chana W. an event ticket holder, noticed on Sunday that the Facebook page for the upcoming Cherry City Comicon in Salem, Oregon* had uploaded 9 pictures of adult female cosplayers for every 1 male. She asked about it. The reply from event organiser Mark Martin was that she should “Feel free to create a Sexy Men of Cosplay page”.
At the same time another ticket holder was voicing concerns of her own about the photos. Jennifer’s opinion was that if these were the costumes Mark was encouraging, the event may not be as family friendly as their other promotional material would suggest.
When Chana (not Jennifer) privately messaged Mark for a refund she was expecting a response of “We’re sorry to see you go. Here is your money back” or maybe “We’d be glad to refund your money. May we also ask the details of your concern or negative experience, so we can address them?”
Instead Mark seemed to confuse Chana and Jennifer as one person “Because obviously,” writes blogger Stacy H sarcastically, “there’s no difference between a woman who would speak out about a gender disparity, and a woman who is concerned that scantily-clad cosplayers might not be as family friendly as she likes.”
Mark copy and pasted Chana’s request for a refund onto his personal Facebook timeline, calling her “bat-shit crazy”:
“Mark made a post to his personal account about the message received and someone took screenshots and shared it. ” claimed a Cherry City Comicon organiser who identified themselves as “Cassie”, the vendor co-ordinator. “Me being a females [sic] and being the one who chose most of the pictures I find the sexist bit quite amusing.”
Samantha C., who operates Maddening Designs and is listed as a vendor at the event, isn’t amused. “I met Chana W. about 2 years ago when I first started vending. She is well known around the Comic con, Steampunk shows, and Masquerade events. She is highly respected, and a huge supporter of the arts and local charities. For her to get offended and to not want to be involved in CCCC says a lot.”
According to several Facebook users following the event page Mark posted the screenshot of his quote of Chana’s refund request and his “bat-shit” rebuke to the event’s Facebook page. Some supporters joined event organizers, including Mark’s wife Alexandra, in shaming Chana:
Many cosplayers and convention enthusiasts felt differently. “Someone asks for a refund and then they get berated on Facebook because they don’t feel safe?” asked Christina M. “How is that anything near ethical.”
Black Mariah, a cast member of the podcast Fangirls: Dames of the Roundtable, stated “a bunch of females in Dallas saw this public shaming of a female cosplayer in Salem Or[egon], who just asked for her money back because she didn’t feel safe! Why does he need to publically shame anyone? The comments afterwards are appalling!”
Lezlie D. seems to agree. “This makes me extremely sad. Just because they have all of these policies in place doesn’t mean it’ll be safe. I cosplayed as Michonne (comic book version) at comic con and despite their similar policies guys still thought it was okay to touch me and fuck with me because I was dressed as her. …If you’re an event coordinator and that’s how you respond to someone whose saying she feels unsafe, I’m very worried for the people who do encounter real danger at the event. ”
Vendors reactions are mixed, though the general sentiment was that they were unimpressed with Mark’s handling of events but were hoping for a fun, family friendly event enjoyed by all.
“Simply put the lack of professionalism on the part of Mark pisses me off,” The Warrior Inkeeper responded. “I’ve spent a lot of money prepping for this con so, I’ve got a right to be angry should this cause attendance to dwindle.” But, he adds, “It is stupid and immature on both parties and not a proper reflection of the geek community as a whole. We are all better than this.”
Jeremy K. of The Coin Jam noted that Mark “does not reflect our views.” While he looks forward to being a vendor at the event and having a great time with others in attendance, Jeremy feels that Chana “maintained her professionalism and tact in asking for her refund.”
“I understand there are people that will offend you or get on your nerves like most professions” adds Samantha C. “but the way things were handled wasn’t professional. The more negativity I see the more I feel like I’m wasting my time and money.”
Publishers at Living Dead Magazine agree. “Running a large event can be very stressful and everyone is going to have an opinion and a demand. It is your job as the creator and owner to stay professional, respectful, and understanding to your consumers. If you aren’t, and it is done especially in a public forum, there are going to be strong reactions” wrote Deanna Vuleta in a statement about the events. “I personally as the owner of Portland League of Geekery and Living Dead Magazine feel for the owner and the stress he must be going through but I don’t agree with his reactions. We support the cosplay community wholeheartedly. I will advise my managers to back out of the convention, this year at the least.”
Ulfgar Props “will no longer be attending the convention due to the way the convention handled their business.”
Cherry City Derby Girls informed this blog that “Cherry City Derby Girls has declined participation as a vendor at ComicCon this year. CCDG supports the empowerment of women and we are a family friendly organization.”
Cassie is unmoved. “[Mark's] feelings were hurt, obviously, and he may not have handed it in the correct manner but sharing the image is petty.”
“I feel sorry for the person who requested the refund.” Cassie added. “She is going to be internet famous now and it was her wrongful actions that started this.”
*CherryCity ComicCon in Salem, Oregon, the subject of this article, is not to be confused with Cherry Capital Comic Con, now in it’s 6th year in Northern Michigan. The two are unrelated save for their similar sounding names
UPDATE 1: At 8:30pm PST Mark Martin issued the following statement:
I would like to publicly apologize for the remarks made on my account earlier. I was angry over a situation and wrongfully took it out on someone. I understand what I did was wrong and have definitely learned a valuable lesson. I don’t want my actions to reflect the event. I know they have, at this point, but we are 2 separate entities and I hope that moving forward my bad behavior won‘t have further effect on the event. Cherry City Comic Con has always been publicized as a family-friendly event and there is a zero tolerance harassment policy in place. I broke the rules and I am sorry. I have messaged the person I made fun of and apologized to them also and I truly hope they can accept my apology as well.
Chana W. responds:
His private apology sent to me personally still doesn’t address the original concern. It was about his feelings and how he was affected. As for this one on his public page it comes across the same. I think at this point it’s simply damage control. However the effort is appreciated, it’s a start towards understanding.
UPDATE 2: Following the apology, Mark Martin is denying that someone named Cassie exists and is libelously accusing this blog of “creative journalism”:
When we contacted CCCC for this article the preamble of the conversation made it clear that what was about to follow was an interview for publication. It was only when we asked for a name that their expectations changed, and only for that response:
Though Mark Martin has used, and continues to use, fictitious or borrowed identities (commonly called sockpuppets or catfish) such as “BigDaddy Thestickerpro Stickers” and “Devon Marie” in efforts to appear to be a third party speaking on Mark’s behalf, he also has supporters like “Kassie Acrylic” and “Will Vertigo Thompson” arguing that he did nothing wrong with many of the same talking points. We were therefore willing to give Cherry City Comic Con the benefit of the doubt that the name of the representative given by CCCC during the interview was an authentic identity and not an effort by CCCC to deceive us.