Friday, August 15, 2008

Sexual Harassment @ ComiCon

A number of websites are reposting a blog by John at Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!, called "A serious note." I could do the same, but the link is right there, and I have an opinion to express.

I'm a longtime comic nerd, but I only ever got to ComiCon once, on someone else's dime, in (I think) 2001. While I was there, I ran into two women with whom I have a "sexual history." The first was Erin Gray, who in an episode of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" was responsible for my childhood sexual awakening. The other was Alley Baggett, promoting her "Alley Cat" comic, and a source of masturbation of more recent vintage. The thing is, I didn't approach either of these women. I could have bullshit Gray by telling her what a "Buck Rogers" fan I was, but I honestly hadn't seen that show since I was prepubescent, and doubt it would hold up today. I gave her and Baggett a brief look, thought they were pretty ladies, and moved on. I have enough sense and courtesy to know that there are some conversations neither they nor I want to have.

The same was true of female participants, both professional and amateur, in a variety of costumes and states of dress. I certainly gave the occasional sideways glance at a table, got an eyeful of exposed butts on the escalator, and if you're running around in a transparent top, I figure I can look as I pass you by. There's a time limit on that sort of thing... typically 5-10 seconds, before you officially become a creep. I'd rather not be a creep, so I abide.

I think most geeks are the same way. Most of us have our lapses or awkward encounters, but if you spend your life reading about heroic figures in idealized circumstances, that's bound to rub off on you. It's difficult for thinking individuals to step outside the bounds of decency, and Lord knows nerds are prone to putting their brain pans into gear.

Another thing-- back in those days I was a bit of a message board troll. I rarely said anything I didn't mean, but hyperbole can be great fun. At the time, I routinely ranted about how awful John Ostrander's writing on the Martian Manhunter comic was, often to Johnny O. himself. Well, Ostrander was going to ComiCon that year, and I think someone, perhaps Ostrander himself, suggested we should meet. I absolutely refused. Yes, I was a fan of some of his earlier work, especially Grimjack, but when "Martian Manhunter" inevitably came up I would be prepared to let him have it. To what end? To sour both his and my con experience? Hell, he could very well have taken a swing at me, but with our difference in age I figure I could take him. So then we're both tossed on our assess, or better yet, I'm in jail out of state. Not gonna happen.

Now I'm hearing there were multiple assaults this year committed by and against convention-goers. The hell?

The great thing about the internet is that it serves the role of confessional and safety valve. You can go off on a blog, get it out of your system, and move on with your life. I may have spent the last couple days calling Wonder Woman a cunt, but she's a fictional character, and I only meant Robert Kanigher's take on her in one comic book. No one's hurt by that. I also do some reviews of other people's work here, and sometimes I can be rough. This being the internet and amongst vigorous readers, I hope creative types can tell the difference between genuine animosity and a piss take. Also, I'd never use the word "cunt" around Robert Kanigher, because I'm pretty sure at any age he could kick my ass. I'm not certain he won't rise from the dead and donkey punch me at the keyboard as soon as he can drag his rotting carcass to Texas. It would have been wise for me to have never dicked with Bob Kanigher in any way.

My point is, proper nerds like me have attended ComiCon for its entire life, and for the most part, what problems arose have been more sad and pathetic than anything. Sure, deals have been broken, and people have been fucked over metaphorically, but nothing truly heinous.

So here we are in our second consecutive year of sexual misconduct at ComiCon, and I have to wonder, is this about us? Are we, the comic geeks of the world, responsible for this breakdown in civility? I sincerely hope not. Over the last decade, ComiCon has become less about comics and more of a consumer spectacle. Hollywood, the video game industry, and other big shots have been steadily changing the nature of the convention. Perhaps it's just a matter of increased size and more bodies meaning an expanded unsavory element, but damn it, I think more highly of comic book people than that. Maybe it's just xenophobia, or resentment over "the" comic convention being increasingly compromised, but I feel like it's the "others" bringing this shit into the con. The guys who can't get enough kicks vicariously through fantasy, who have to run in a pack abusing women who could previously enjoy the relative safety of a geek environment.

Any other time of year, wandering the streets of San Diego at night in a "Slave Leia" outfit would have people saying you were "asking for it" if something terrible came your way. During ComiCon, even on the streets, it's just a second Halloween. You expect to see Klingons at McDonalds. It's assumed, and since all us geeks were out in force, there was a sense of community protection.

Regardless of who the guilty parties turn out to me, I'm proud of John for standing up for these women, and putting the spotlight on a major concern that clearly needs more attention. Nothing would be more revolting than to see our ComiCon become another trade show where women are conditioned to accept harassment as part of their job, and perhaps worse fates await them after. We should be better than that, and I hope more people will be willing to step up and see to the safety and welfare of people drawn together to enjoy an art form, not to abuse one another.

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