For several reasons, last month, Phoenix Comicon was a nerdtastic success, with over 77,000 attendees, tons of panels and events, as well as the Convention’s official position on an important issue: Cosplay is Not Consent.
A few weeks after the con I had the opportunity to interview Matt Solberg, the Director, Head Honcho, and Fearless Leader of of Phoenix Comicon! Below are the highlights, as well as my thoughts on how awesome it was that Phoenix Comicon made it a priority for everyone from the attendees, to the volunteers, all the way up through security staff and Phoenix PD!
Let me start by saying, as a cosplayer who once found out after the fact that someone may have been taking photos from an angle I didn’t appreciate, and never would have consented to (at SDCC 2013), Cosplay is Not Consent is a campaign I fully support, and Phoenix Comicon’s support is incredibly appreciated!
While our conversation went in a few different directions, one of the first things Matt said in the interview was that the decision to be proactive about Cosplay is Not Consent was because,
“It’s the right thing to do”
While Phoenix Comicon hasn’t had any known issues regarding harassment at the convention center that doesn’t mean that it won’t.
“the issue as far as Cosplay is Not Consent, we were having discussions around some of those issues before the message really came out. And when … people started standing up and saying ‘Hey this is what’s going on at some of these shows, it’s not right’ it creates uncomfortable situations. And we’re aware that the only difference between it happening at another convention, versus the ones that we’re involved in is really, just simply geography. “
So how can a convention try and keeping from happening, since according to Matt
“it’s by far easier to be preventative about something than it is to try and deal with an aftermath afterwards.”
Getting to the technical side of things, and how to actually work towards ceasing harassment in practical ways, Matt explained some of the “common sense practices” and expressed the value in having a good partnership, both with the Phoenix Convention Center’s security team, as well as the Phoenix Police Department. Part of this value is that by having that presence it helps to create
“a calming effect for a whole host of issues.”
A key part of this partnership, is that it’s developed and grown over time, and in addition to that serendipitously, as Matt further explained…
“the officer [Sergeant Mark Schweikert] that they assigned as the liaison happens to be a lifelong comic book fan, and happens to be somebody who has attended our convention prior to being at Phoenix Comicon. Being a person at our convention center who’s also attended conventions like San Diego Comic-Con and Emerald City Comic-Con. So he gets the genre, he gets the culture and he gets what costuming and cosplay is all about. And I don’t think that every convention has that.”
Another key piece of Phoenix Comicon taking action on this issue was working to make sure all volunteers were on the same page, as Matt and I discussed the training sessions that went on for volunteers. The final meeting (which I was present for) spent a big portion of time on the con’s costume policy and Cosplay Is Not Consent. Here were Matt’s thoughts on why this mattered:
“having that partnership with both the city of Phoenix and with having so many off duty police officers on site, it also makes our message surrounding Cosplay is Not Consent a whole lot easier because one of the challenges that we’ve seen when read news reports about other conventions that have had more issues, than we’ve seen is there’s a sense of something happened at a convention, and volunteers didn’t know what to do and they don’t know how to take care of whatever this issue is, and if someone is going to the volunteers and the volunteers don’t really know who to take it to and kind of just throw their hands up then that becomes an even larger issue.
And for us, knowing that we have security on site, and trained police officers on site, it makes it a whole lot easier because if something happens, find a police officer… Even if there isn’t one within sight, the message is very easy that get a police officer, and you’re .. not going to be more than a few hundred feet from one from someone that has the ability to get one… and you know we we put great resources into training our volunteers, and we had the all hands meeting one week before the convention, and we discussed Cosplay is not Consent and we had Sergent Mark Schweikert talking about it, we had close to a 1000 people at that, and we know not everyone is paying attention when we’re on stage … But if even a portion of them heard the message if even a portion of them understood that ‘Hey if something comes up that I should speak up, you know that I should get that person being impacted to a safe spot and that I know that there’s police onsite and I should get a police officer who’s trained who has experience and the authority to do something’.
If even a fraction got that message then I think we’re better off than a lot of other conventions or even organizations that might not have those tools
As one who sat through the meeting he referred to and others as a Phoenix Comicon Volunteer, I can confirm just how much they stressed the importance of being a resource if a cosplayer needed one, both to say harassment isn’t okay, and to get an authority figure or police officer involved if need be.
Regarding the challenges that other conventions may have, the conversation briefly turned to comments like those made by David Glanzer of San Diego Comic-Con, who, when asked about posting signs highlighting their convention’s policies was quoted in a Mary Sue article about SDCC’s harassment policies as saying:
“I think the story would be harassment is such an issue at Comic-Con that they needed to post these signs around there. Now, people within the industry, and fans, know that isn’t the case, but the general public out there, and I think the news media, might look at this as, “Why would you, if this wasn’t such a bad issue, why do you feel the need to single out this one issue and put signs up about it?” I think that’s a concern.”
When asked if any of Mr. Glanzer’s concerns were shared when Phoenix Comicon discussed promoting the message that Cosplay is Not Consent (something that they did with physical signs, as well as cards that went with badges), Matt responded with:
“In regard to those particular issues that he raises, those were never a concern or consideration for us at Phoenix Comicon… We never took that tact. We took the tact that we want to be preventative about this and to us it was just the right thing to do.”
As the interview was wrapping, Matt spent some time talking about the issue and the big picture, bringing up how at the heart of things this isn’t a convention issue. This is a sexual harassment issue. He cited Anita Hill and how the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has been making its way into other segments of society, including places like Comicon. And while it’s not a good issue, the dialogue that’s taking place is good. This is especially true because as we hear more and more about cosplay and consent issues (such as the “Cuddle a Cosplayer” issue at Toronto ComiCon) that in Matt’s (and this blogger’s) opinion that
“do I think it’s happening more? No. I don’t. People are much more aware of it… “
What it comes down to can be summed up in another quote of Matt’s during the interview that I support wholeheartedly:
“just because someone is wearing cosplay does not give you the consent to invade their space, or give the permission to ask lewd or demeaning questions, it doesn’t give you permission to well, to be an ass”
Matt also brought things back around to how this isn’t just a small issue. It’s about the big picture, for the convention, the attendees and everyone involved:
“but it’s really about trying to reduce the incidence of it happening. There’s stuff that will reach me as Convention Director, and some stuff won’t and since we’ve been at Phoenix, and in years before in terms of harassment of cosplayers has never reached me. That doesn’t mean it’s never happened and been handled, and sort of dealt with by the parties involved and security. It’s possible it’s happened and never been brought to our attention. And part of my hope, even in doing this interview that if someone reads the article and goes “Hey I’ve been to Phoenix Comicon and I didn’t have someone to talk to and I didn’t know what the response would be” that someone knows that they can come forward, and if that means if one comes forward that others come forward. And if people come forward that will benefit the cosplayers, it’ll benefit the convention, and it’ll benefit the city.”
I can easily express that when it comes to Cosplay is Not Consent, as well as other aspects of a convention, how pleased I am as an attendee and cosplayer that Phoenix Comicon is taking action like this. I can also easily say that I am incredibly proud to have volunteered with Phoenix Comicon, and that I look forward to doing it for many years, because of the forward thinking of Matt Solberg, and others who run the convention!
Transcript of the interview here!
Thanks for reading, and a big THANK YOU to Matt Solberg and everyone who was a part Phoenix Comicon and helping cosplayers feel secure and enjoy the con!